Education

I've been at this blogging thing for more than a decade now. Looking back on those years, I find it incredible that I've lasted this long. For one thing, I still marvel that there are apparently thousands of people out there who still like to read my nearly daily musings (or, as George Carlin would call them, brain droppings) after all these years. More importantly, being a public advocate for science is a rough business, as I've documented over the years. Back when I first started out, I was completely pseudonymous and anonymous. I kept my real name relatively secret. It was less than five…
If there's one thing that's amusing about the antivaccine movement, it's the disconnect between its members' perception of their own importance and the reality of it, which is that they tend to be a pretty pathetic, risible band. They post their blogs, full of the rage of Dunning-Kruger, thinking that they are putting forth the most sophisticated scientific arguments that real scientists, who have spent their entire professional life studying vaccines and autism, somehow missed and finding evidence of a link that no other scientist can. Of course, pesky things like rigorous study design tend…
Anyone who’s lived in a big, dense city is familiar with the sight of bicycle messengers weaving their way in between metro buses and taxi cabs, down side streets and around packed crosswalks, pedaling at impressive speeds and often with remarkable agility. Surprisingly, however, there’s little data on these workers, even though it seems they’d be particularly susceptible to injuries on the job. To fill in that knowledge gap, a group of researchers from New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center decided to take a deeper look. Hypothesizing that those commercial…
Naturopathy is quackery. I like to start most, if not all, posts about naturopathy with that simple statement. The reasons are simple. First, it's true. Second, most people—including doctors—are unaware of this simple fact. Finally, it irritates naturopaths and their fans. It also has the benefit of setting the tone I want to convey whenever I hear about naturopathy being granted the appearance of academic legitimacy by being embraced by a real academic medical institution. Such were my thoughts when I was made aware of this press release entitled SCNM Offers Dual-Degree Program for Master's…
Collective bargaining and the fair-share fees that enable unions to negotiate for better working conditions that ultimately benefit all workers in a particular sector or workplace may truly be in peril, writes Lily Eskelsen García in The Nation. In “Unions in Jeopardy,” García writes about the legal precedent upholding fair-share agreements and recent legal threats threatening to dismantle a core tenet of labor relations. She begins the article with the 2012 case Knox v. SEIU, in which she said the Supreme Court “went out of its way to cast doubt” on fair share representation fees. In…
“I was strongly encouraged by a science teacher who took an interest in me and presented me with a key to the laboratory to allow me to work whenever I wanted.” -Frederick Reines, discoverer of the first neutrino That kind of education is irreplaceable, and at Starts With A Bang we do our best to bring the stories, knowledge and wonder of the Universe to everyone. Here's a look back at what we hit on this past week: Have we solved the black hole information paradox? (for Ask Ethan), The ultimate superhero cake (for our Weekend Diversion), See inside the swirling storms of Saturn (for Mostly…
Classes started on Monday. I'm actually pretty happy about that. This summer was rather hectic and stressful in many ways. Also productive, but still. It was basically a good counterexample to the clueless types who insist that teachers only work nine months out of the year. For me, the summer tends to be harder work than the regular school year. Teaching isn't easy, and it's rather time consuming, but it's familiar and predictable and routine. Of course, if all you know about higher education comes from what you hear in the news, you could easily think that modern academic life is an…
Sociologist Jennifer Laird was researching unemployment among Mexican immigrants when she came upon some interesting numbers on black workers in the public sector and employment effects of the Great Recession. It piqued her interest and so she decided to keep digging. She found that while public sector employment had long served as a source of stable employment among black Americans, often enabling mobility into the middle class, downsizing during the Great Recession disproportionately hurt black workers and resulted in greater racial disparities in the public sector. Specifically, Laird, a…
About a month ago, a number of news stories were published reporting that the University of Toronto had offered a course in alternative medicine taught by a homeopath named Beth Laundau-Halpern that presented a segment that was clearly highly biased towards antivaccine pseudoscience. It was worse than that, though, because this homeopathy just happened to be married to a dean at the university named Rick Halpern. The whole thing blew up into an embarrassing fiasco that demanded a response from the University. Unfortunately, this came in the form of a weaselly report, in which Vivek Goel,…
I frequently discuss a disturbing phenomenon known as "quackademic medicine." Basically, quackademic medicine is a phenomenon that has taken hold over the last two decades in medical academia in which once ostensibly science-based medical schools and academic medical centers embrace quackery. This embrace was once called "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) but among quackademics the preferred term is now "integrative medicine." Of course, when looked at objectively, integrative medicine is far more a brand than a specialty. Specifically, it's a combination of rebranding some…
Archive finds strike me as a weak kind of empirical discovery. OK, so you've found a piece of writing that had been forgotten. Now you're writing a paper about it. How long will it take before your paper is forgotten? When will it be found again, as an archive meta find? Or conversely: is any piece of extant writing really in a state of forgottenness? On a planet with 7 billion people, is there an important difference between no living person knowing about a piece of extant writing -- and seven specialists knowing about it? As in any strong democracy, you have the right to voter…
There can be no doubt that, when it comes to medicine, The Atlantic has an enormous blind spot. Under the guise of being seemingly "skeptical," the magazine has, over the last few years, published some truly atrocious articles about medicine. I first noticed this during the H1N1 pandemic, when The Atlantic published an article lionizing flu vaccine "skeptic" Tom Jefferson, who, unfortunately, happens to be head of the Vaccines Field at the Cochrane Collaboration, entitled "Does the Vaccine Matter?" It was so bad that Mark Crislip did a paragraph-by-paragraph fisking of the article, while…
A common hurdle in the field of occupational health and safety is delivering what can sometimes be life-saving information to the people who need it most. After all, not all employers are amenable to workplace health and safety education. But what if safety advocates could find and connect with the most at-risk workers out in the community? Perhaps even reach vulnerable workers with safety education before they experience an injury at work? New research from the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health could help safety advocates do just that. Linda Forst, director of the school…
The saga of SB 277 just keeps getting stranger and stranger as its end game comes into view. SB 277 is, of course, a big deal. If it's passed by the California Assembly and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, it would eliminate nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates, making the largest state in the union only the third state that only allows medical exemptions. Since its passage by the California Senate last month and its clearing the Assembly Health Committee last week on a 12-6 vote, SB 277 has taken on the air of inevitability. Sure, it could still stall or be hopelessly…
Lee McIntyre has a good article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is discussing the wholesale assault on truth in our culture: To see how we treat the concept of truth these days, one might think we just don’t care anymore. Politicians pronounce that global warming is a hoax. An alarming number of middle-class parents have stopped giving their children routine vaccinations, on the basis of discredited research. Meanwhile many commentators in the media — and even some in our universities — have all but abandoned their responsibility to set the record straight. (It doesn’t help when…
I've been paying attention to the antivaccine movement a long time. Indeed, it's been just under a decade since I made what was my first big splash in the blogosphere, namely my particularly "Insolent" takedown of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s conspiracy-laden, pseudoscience-spewing super-concentrated antivaccine nonsense known as Deadly Immunity. So here it is, almost ten years later, and RFK, Jr. is still around, spewing the same nonsense that he did ten years ago, except that this time he's using Holocaust analogies to describe the vaccination program. Unfortunately, some things never seem to…
When it comes to the use of what is sometimes called "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) or, increasingly, "integrative medicine," there is a certain narrative. It's a narrative promoted by CAM proponents that does its best to convince the public that there is nothing unusual, untoward, or odd about CAM use, even though much of CAM consists of treatments that are based on prescientific concepts of human physiology and pathology, such as traditional Chinese medicine or homeopathy. In other words, it's a narrative designed to "normalize" CAM usage (and therefore CAM practice), making…
After 18 years as a professional house cleaner in the suburbs of Chicago, Magdalena Zylinska says she feels very lucky. Unlike many of her fellow domestic workers, she hasn’t sustained any serious injuries. Zylinska, 43, cleans residences in the metropolitan Chicago area five days a week. An independent contractor, she cleans two to three houses each day. Fortunately, she doesn’t do the job alone — she always works with at least one other person, so they can help each other with much of the lifting and other types of repetitive physical labor that can often lead to preventable injuries and…
What is digital governance in the first place? Digital governance is a discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards. A digital governance framework, when effectively designed and implemented, helps to streamline digital development and dampen debates around digital channel “ownership.” -- From the Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design website. Universities Intellectual autonomy and stubbornness of staff -- From the index, Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, p. 229 Time to take a little medicine! All those…
Once again, repeat after me: Homeopathy is quackery. In fact, it's what I like to refer to as The One Quackery To Rule Them All. You would think that, in a modern world and given the incredible advancements in our scientific understanding of biology, physiology, chemistry, and physics over the course of the over 200 years since Samuel Hahnemann pulled the concepts behind homeopathy out of his nether regions, it never ceases to depress me that there are large numbers of people who think that homeopathy could ever work. But they do. A couple of weeks ago, I took notice of a, well, notice from…