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Is the coronavirus a pandemic, and does that matter? 4 questions answered The new coronavirus has now affected more than 20,000 people in China and claimed more lives as of Feb. 4 than the SARS epidemic from 2002 to 2004. Hong Kong has reported its first death. Some public health officials have said the outbreak is likely to soon be a pandemic, but the World Health Organization said Feb. 4 that it isn’t, yet. Just what is a pandemic anyway? An epidemiologist and public health researcher explains. 1. What is a pandemic? When a disease outbreak, or epidemic, crosses international boarders…
The spread of misinformation about the novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, seems greater than the spread of the infection itself. The World Health Organisation (WHO), government health departments and others are trying to alert people to these myths. But what’s the best way to tackle these if they come up in everyday conversation, whether that’s face-to-face or online? Is it best to ignore them, jump in to correct them, or are there other strategies we could all use? Public health officials expect misinformation about disease outbreaks where people are frightened. This is…
After a newborn (born to a mother infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing positive for COVID-19 infection within 36 hours of birth, there were concerns about whether the virus could be contracted in the womb. A new study finds that COVID-19 does not pass to the child while in the womb. The women in the small study were from Wuhan, China, in the third trimester of pregnancy and had pneumonia caused by COVID-19. However, it only included women who were late in their pregnancy and gave birth by caesarean section.  There were two cases of fetal distress but all nine…

Channel Surfing

Brain & Behavior

Almost 2 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), where the cells in the retina, which is the layer of tissue in the back of the eye, break down, causing central vision to become blurry. Over time, 100,000 of those will become blind. An international team of scientists has identified a protein, FHR4, which is strongly linked to AMD when its levels are raised in the blood. …
Researchers 35 years and younger, the annual Eppendorf &Science Prize for Neurobiology, which is awarded for contributions to neurobiological research based on methods of molecular and cell biology, is now open for entries. Applying requires a 1,000-word essay and tell the prize committee about your work. The prize is $25,000 plus Science magazine will publish an essay about your work. You'll…
Two science books cheap (Kindle version, two bucks): The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think Dr. Louann Brizendine, the founder of the first clinic in the country to study gender differences in brain, behavior, and hormones, turns her attention to the male brain, showing how, through every phase of life, the "male reality" is fundamentally different from the female…

Education

It's not infrequently that, whenever I complain about the increasing infiltration of quackery and pseudoscience into medicine, I sometimes lament that skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine are massively outgunned, because we are. Thus, we have the continued growth of what I like to refer to as "quackademic medicine," the infiltration of pseudoscience into medical academia in the form…
I've caught a fair amount of flak over my opposition to so-called "right-to-try" laws. Right-to-try laws have proliferated throughout the US like so much kudzu over the last three and a half years, to the point where 37 states now have some version of these profoundly anti-patient laws on the books. At the federal level, three weeks ago the Senate passed a federal version of right-to-try, with…
Acupuncture is nothing more than a theatrical placebo. I wish I could take credit for the term "theatrical placebo" to describe acupuncture, just as I wish I could take credit for coining the term "quackademic medicine" to describe the unfortunately increasing infiltration of quackery into academic medical centers and medical schools and as I wish I could take credit for the term "Tooth Fairy…

Environment

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a coalition of activist groups which recently charged that climate change is contributing to exploitation of women, is now arguing that various factors are causing 2,000 species of fireflies to go extinct.  They came to the conclusion by surveying affiliates to ask them what is driving fireflies to extinction.  According to survey…
Insects scuttle, chew and fly through the world around us. Humans rely on them to pollinate plants, prey on insects that we don’t get along with, and to be movers and shakers for Earth’s ecosystems. It’s hard to imagine a world without insects. That’s why news reports in recent months warning of an “insect apocalypse” sparked widespread alarm. These articles, which were based on long-term insect…
Natural climate solutions let nature do the hard work in the fight against climate change by restoring habitats such as forests and wetlands. This could absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help biodiversity thrive. Stephen Woroniecki – a PhD Researcher in Climate Change Adaptation from Lund University in Sweden – discusses how this approach could address the ecological crisis with…

Free Thought

For nearly as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of Jeopardy! Indeed, if I'm at home at 7:30 PM on a weeknight, Jeopardy! will usually be on the television. Given that, I remember what was basically a bit of stunt programming in 2011, when Jeopardy! producers had IBM's artificial intelligence supercomputer Watson face off against two of the most winning champions in the history of the show,…
The 75th World Science Fiction Convention took place in Helsinki and seems to have had the second-highest attendance ever: more than 7000 people in the Messukeskus convention centre, 2000 of whom had (like myself) never attended a WorldCon before. There were 250 programme items only on the Friday between 10 am and 10 pm, so there is no way that I'll be able to tell you everything that went on. (…
“The ability to listen and learn is key to mastering the art of communication. If you don't use your verbal skills and networking, it will disappear rapidly.” -Rick Pitino It’s been a week full of amazing and controversial stories about the Universe here at Starts With A Bang! Did you catch the fantastic live event on Wednesday at Peddler Brewing Company in Seattle: Astronomy on Tap, starring me…

Humanities

The spread of misinformation about the novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, seems greater than the spread of the infection itself. The World Health Organisation (WHO), government health departments and others are trying to alert people to these myths. But what’s the best way to tackle these if they come up in everyday conversation, whether that’s face-to-face or online? Is it best to…
Over the last two Mondays, I've been writing about an unproven cancer therapy that I hadn't really heard much about before. The cancer treatment is called Rigvir; it is manufactured in Latvia and marketed primarily through a Latvian entity called the International Virotherapy Center (IVC). To recap, Rigvir is an unmodified Echovirus, specifically ECHO-7, that, according to the IVC, seeks out…
This blog is based in the United States, and I'm an American. Unfortunately, this produces a difficult-to-avoid baked-in bias towards medicine as it is practiced in the US and, to a lesser extent, as it is practiced in the English-speaking world, because English is my language and I can read accounts coming out of English-speaking countries. The same bias exists with respect to pseudo-medicine,…

Life Science

After a newborn (born to a mother infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing positive for COVID-19 infection within 36 hours of birth, there were concerns about whether the virus could be contracted in the womb. A new study finds that COVID-19 does not pass to the child while in the womb. The women in the small study were from Wuhan, China, in the third trimester of…
In the first-ever (sanctioned) investigational use of multiple edits to the human genome, a study found that cells edited in three specific ways and then removed from patients and brought back into the lab setting were able to kill cancer months after their original manufacturing and infusion. This is the first U.S. clinical trial to test the gene editing approach in humans, and the publication…
When the big tsunami hit Japan in 2011, many objects were washed out to sea. This flotsam provided for a giant "rafting event." A rafting event is when animals, plants, etc. float across an otherwise uncrossable body of water and end up alive on the other side. With this particular event, I don't think very many terrestrial life forms crossed the Pacific, but a lot of littoral -- shore dwelling…

Medicine

Is the coronavirus a pandemic, and does that matter? 4 questions answered The new coronavirus has now affected more than 20,000 people in China and claimed more lives as of Feb. 4 than the SARS epidemic from 2002 to 2004. Hong Kong has reported its first death. Some public health officials have said the outbreak is likely to soon be a pandemic, but the World Health Organization said Feb. 4 that…
A new study finds an easy way to reduce the spread of many infectious diseases, from coronavirus to influenza; washing hands more frequently in just 10 airports.  Though the findings were published in late December, just before the recent coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, the study's authors say that its results would apply to any such disease and are relevant to the current outbreak. The…
A recent paper, "Higher U.S. Rural Mortality Rates Linked To Socioeconomic Status, Physician Shortages, And Lack Of Health Insurance," published in Health Affairs Journal, seeks to explain differences in rural and urban people when it comes to mortality, but also rank states using county level data on outcomes and health care access. The study focused on five explanatory variables within each…

Physical Science

As surprising as it may sound, no one really knows what an electron is, and it is this fundamental question that has been the driving force for much of modern physics and eventually led to the development of quantum field theory. To answer the question “What is an electron?”, you would think the first step would be to observe it. However, that is easier said than done. Electrons are simply too…
“We do not realize what we have on Earth until we leave it.” -Jim Lovell Well, the Scienceblogs comments are still on the fritz, requiring me to manually un-spam them one-at-a-time, but Starts With A Bang! is still going strong with some fabulous stories based on the best knowledge we have! This next week is poised to be a doozy of a fantastic one, as Treknology is out at last (Amazon is having a…
“There will be days when we lose faith. Days when our allies turn against us...but the day will never come that we forsake this planet and its people.” ―Optimus Prime There was too much to simply keep it to a single article a day this week here at Starts With A Bang! The dynamic duo of Megan Watzke and Kimberly Arcand published a delightful contribution on scale, and we're gearing up for a month…

Politics

A man who was not even known as a gun collector amassed an arsenal that all experts agree included illegal fully automatic weapons. He carried out an act of carnage, alone and using only those weapons, that exceeded in casualty count almost every military battle fought in recent decades by American troops, and that equaled or surpassed all but a very small number of terrorist attacks. He shot…
Two years ago, I wrote about a study that demonstrated how the antivaccine movement had learned to use Twitter to amplify their antiscience message. At the time, I noted how in 2014, when the whole "CDC whistleblower" conspiracy theory was first hatched, antivaxers were so bad at Twitter, so obvious, so naive. The Tweeted inane claims at government officials, scientists, legislators, and whoever…
Republican Senators have proposed one more bill to repeal the ACA. The Graham-Cassidy (or Cassidy-Graham) proposal would dramatically shrink the pool of federal money going to healthcare and revise how it’s distributed to states, in a way that is especially damaging to states that accepted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. They hope to pass this destructive bill before the end of September, due to…

Technology

Scientists have used an unnatural amino acid and a catalytic copper complex to create a new, artificial enzyme.  Enzymes are natural catalysts that operate under mild conditions. This makes them an attractive alternative for industrial chemical catalysis, which may require high temperature and pressure and toxic solvents or metals. However, not all chemical reactions can be catalyzed by natural…
DNA evidence often isn’t as watertight as many people think. Sensitive techniques developed over the past 20 years mean that police can now detect minute traces of DNA at a crime scene or on a piece of evidence. But traces from a perpetrator are often mixed with those from many other people that have been transferred to the sample site, for example via a handshake. And this problem has led to…
“You endure what is unbearable, and you bear it. That is all.” -Cassandra Clare Well, the cat's out of the bag. A little over a week ago, Scienceblogs announced to us writers that they no longer had the funds to keep the site operational, and so they would be shutting down. They asked us to keep quiet about this, people didn't and now you know. As of the end of this month, there will be no new…