Social Sciences

I was measured, science-based, and reasonable in yesterday's post about the new American Cancer Society guidelines for screening mammography (which is obviously why that post garnered so few comments, thus teaching me my lesson yet again0, but regular readers know that I can be quite obnoxious and sarcastic and there's a reason why this blog is called Respectful Insolence. It's based on a quote from a character (a computer, actually) in a 35 year old British science fiction series. That character, Orac, is my namesake, and the adopted quote is, "A statement of fact cannot be insolent." Of…
There is no longer any need for the phrase “gay marriage.” There is just “marriage.” For a while we shall still have to put up with an occasional Kim Davis or right-wing judge who gets mopey about it, but most people have simply moved on. They either don't have a problem with marriage equality, or they don't care enough to do anything about it. It is the ones who do who are increasingly on the defensive. And well they should be. One reason public opinion turned around so quickly was the complete inability of the anti's to make any reasonable argument at all. Once you get beyond, “It'…
Anger is an energy, as a certain old punk sang back in the 1980s. It can even be a great motivator, such as when anger overtakes us for injustice or over crimes. Anger, however, is not a particularly good intellectual tool, nor does it help in analyzing science. Which reminds me: J.B. Handley is back. You have to be a bit of a long time reader—OK, a really long time reader—to remember that Mr. Handley's antics used to be a regular topic of this blog. After all, he and his wife were the founders of a long-standing antivaccine group, Generation Rescue. It was an antivaccine group founded on the…
Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler by Philip Ball and Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War by Brandon R. Brown are two of the best history of science books I've read in a very long time. And even though they're both about World War II, some seventy years in the past, they've both also very topical because they are both very much about the relationship between politics and science. In a sense, what comes first, the political chicken or the scientific egg. Are scientists responsible for how their work is put to use by their political "masters?" Do scientists…
Bill Nye talks about the realities of reproduction, and the right wing completely loses its shit. It is not Nye at his most eloquent, but…he's actually right about everything important. Read this title for an example of the inanity of far right responses, titled WATCH: Bill Nye, Science Guy Makes An Idiot Of Himself On Reproduction. Nye is clearer and more correct than whoever wrote that, making it particularly amusing. It makes a lot of claims. Not that this writer had all that great an affinity for Bill Nye anyway, but the video below has to be the most smug, snide, atheistic diatribe…
A week ago, I noted that one of the stranger and less credible conspiracy theories promulgated by quacks and their believers was still going strong nearly three months after the first death that triggered it, the death of autism quack Jeff Bradstreet, apparently by suicide. Basically, three months ago, Dr. Bradstreet, who has long been a fixture in the "autism biomed" movement and a frequent speaker at autism quackfests like Autism One, was found dead in a river from a gunshot wound to the chest, an apparent suicide. A recent story about the investigation into Dr. Bradstreet's death included…
The Associated Press has changed the AP Stylebook, tossing out a commonly used set of terms in favor of an entirely inappropriate word, for describing those who incorrectly and without foundation claim that climate change science is a hoax, or wrong, or misguided, or otherwise bogus. The term "skeptic" has a long history, but has come to refer to those who regard claims, usually about nature, health, or anything where science may inform, with studied incredulity. The skeptic wants evidence, and they are organized. The Skeptics Society has a magazine, and the magazine has a podcast. The…
Last week, 203 business-school faculty members from 88 institutions across the US wrote an open letter to members of Congress stating, "It is time to ensure that the entire United States workforce has access to paid family and medical leave." The signatories urge our legislators to consider the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FAMILY Act) as one solution. This bill, which I wrote about here when it was first introduced, would use a payroll tax of two-tenths of one percent to fund a "social insurance" system that would allow all workers to take up to 12 partially paid weeks off work to…
A pig flying at the Minnesota state fair. Picture by TCS. I've been involved in a few discussions of late on science-based sites around yon web on antibiotic resistance and agriculture--specifically, the campaign to get fast food giant Subway to stop using meat raised on antibiotics, and a graphic by CommonGround using Animal Health Institute data, suggesting that agricultural animals aren't an important source of resistant bacteria. Discussing these topics has shown me there's a lot of misunderstanding of issues in antibiotic resistance, even among those who consider themselves pretty…
NOTE: Orac is on vacation recharging his Tarial cells and interacting with ion channel scientists, as a good computer should. In the meantime, he is rerunning oldies but goodies, classics, even. (OK, let's not get carried away. Here's one from all the way back in 2008 in response to Dr. Offit's excellent book Autism's False Prophets. Notice how, the more things change, the more they stay the same. One of the major points made by Dr. Offit in Autism's False Prophets is how badly the media deals with scientific issues and stories in which science is a major component. Indeed, he devotes two…
I didn't think I'd be writing about acupuncture again so soon after deconstructing another "bait and switch" acupuncture study less than a week ago. True, the quackery that is acupuncture and the seemingly unending varieties of low quality studies published to make it seem as though there is anything more than nonspecific placebo effects invoked by sticking needles into the skin against an even more unending variety of diseases, conditions, and complaints. Basically, according to its adherents, acupuncture can treat almost anything. Particularly galling to me as a cancer surgeon is the…
It's always disappointing to see a good journal fall for bad medicine, particularly when it's in your field. For example, the Journal of Clinical Oncology (affectionately referred to by its abbreviation JCO) is the official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and probably the most read clinical journal by those involved in the clinical care of cancer patients. Just as most oncologists, surgeons, and radiation oncologists who specialize in the care of cancer patients belong to ASCO, most of them also at least peruse JCO on a regular basis because major results of large…
David Futrelle missed an opportunity! He posted about this awesomely stupid Reddit thread that asserts the biologically inferior nature of women, and then he admits to reading only a few of the comments in the resulting mess. I do love that statement that They have very little conceptual understandings of mathematics, physics, IT or anything that matters -- so many presumptions packed into one short sentence! -- and it's amusing that this poor boy hasn't met any intelligent women because he defines "intelligent" as being as intellectually stunted as he is. But there are so many other…
Men and women are different, on average, in a number of ways. It all probably starts with who has the physiology to have babies and who doesn't, and the differences spread out from there, affecting both the body and the mind. Decades of research show us that many of the body differences (but not all) are determined by developmental processes while many of the mind differences (but maybe not all) are determined by culture, but culture still has men and women as being different, so those differences tend to be persistent and predictable, on average. One of the differences which seems to…
Gabriella Coleman's Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous is largely a laudatory history of the Anonymous hacker activist movement with some anthropological and political analysis. Whitney Phillips' This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture on the other hand, is much more geared towards an analytical and philosophical analysis of past and present (and even future) of how online trolling relates to contemporary culture. Neither book is perfect, and both tend to falter where it comes to how closely…
And now for something completely different...but depressingly the same in some ways. Longtime readers—and I do mean longtime—might remember from several years ago a certain case adjudicated before the Vaccine Court. I'm referring, of course, to the Autism Omnibus. In Autism Omnibus, some 4,800 claimants were bringing action seeking compensation for "vaccine injury" characterized by autism. Basically, it was a large number of parents who thought vaccines had caused their children's autism seeking compensation from the Vaccine Court, and they implicated the MMR and thimerosal-containing…
by Peter Gleick and Heather Cooley Debates about water in California, the western U.S., and indeed, worldwide, have traditionally focused on the question of how best to further expand water supply to meet some hypothetical future increase in water demand. And the solution frequently offered is to build massive new infrastructure in the form of dams and reservoirs, drill more groundwater wells, or expand water diversions from ever-more-distant rivers, in order to “grow” the supply available for human use. “Build more traditional water infrastructure” is increasingly the wrong answer to the…
I came across this neat press release from the American Physiological Society which describes new research on understanding how the genes of burmese pythons are actually altered by feeding. Fascinating! The research was published in the May issue of Physiological Genomics. Here is a brief synopsis. For the full story, visit the APS website. Yep, that's a python eating a rodent. What is so fascinating about Burmese pythons is that their body literally is reconstructed within 3 days of eating resulting in the doubling or organ size and a 10-44 fold increase in metabolism. Then, within about…
A bit of a change of pace for me and my reviewing habits -- a book written in French! Of course, books about science or scientists are pretty typical review fodder for me. And even more typically, graphic novels about science or scientists are incredibly common for me to review. But books in French? This is a first. During my recent month-long stay in Paris (sabbatical life FTW!) one of the things I really enjoyed about the City of Light was the profusion of bookstores. Bookstores, record stores, bandes dessinées stores, every neighbourhood had a least a handful of good ones. Which is in…
Just one more example of how much humans and chimpanzees have in common. Check out this podcast describing wild chimpanzees seen drinking fermented tree sap as well as the video below. Supplement video uploaded by the study's authors (Hockings et al., Royal Society Open Science, 2015) on Youtube. Sources: Scientific American KJ Hockings, N Bryson-Morrison, S Carvalho, M Fujisawa, T Humle, WC McGrew, M Nakamura, G Ohashi, Y Yamanashi, G Yamakoshi, T Matsuzawa. Tools to tipple: ethanol ingestion by wild chimpanzees using leaf-sponges. Royal Society Open Science. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150150 (…