Social Sciences

What is the Serengeti Strategy? "The Serengeti Strategy" is a term coined by climate scientist Michael Mann in which "special interests faced with adverse scientific evidence ... target individual scientists rather than take on an entire scientific field at once." His invention of the analogy must have been an interesting moment, given the context. In his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Line, Mann talks about a trip to scientific meetings in Arusha as an IPCC co-author, during which he took the usual side trip to the Serengeti: After the meeting, I…
I finally got around to finishing Greta Christina's Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God. It's good! This book is the sort of thing atheism needs more of: an acknowledgment that the phenomena most important to human beings can be addressed effectively without imagining fantastic supernatural creatures. Atheists have this reputation of being nerds all wrapped up in abstract concepts and making arguments against the superstitious props that people claim to find useful in day-to-day life, and it's good that some of us make the effort to show that no, we do deal with…
There will be a spring after winter! They're planting bulbs down at the Saltsjöbaden Centrum mall. Anglophones, why do you say "might" instead of "may" when expressing uncertainty? If you're certain, you say "I'll eat some bread". If uncertain, you sometimes just say "I may eat some bread". But usually you form a needless subjunctive, "I might eat some bread". Sometimes you even use this mode to express certainty! I sometimes wonder if you aim at grammatical optimisation at all. Do you even know that ”may” and ”might” are the same verb? Some people are angry because they have no voice in…
I tooke a bodkine gh & put it betwixt my eye & [the] bone as neare to [the] backside of my eye as I could: & pressing my eye [with the] end of it (soe as to make [the] curvature a, bcdef in my eye) there appeared severall white darke & coloured circles r, s, t, &c. Which circles were plainest when I continued to rub my eye [with the] point of [the] bodkine, but if I held my eye & [the] bodkin still, though I continued to presse my eye [with] it yet [the] circles would grow faint & often disappeare untill I removed [them] by moving my eye or [the] bodkin. If [the…
Last week, I discussed a monograph published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs entitled Clinical Practice Guidelines on the Use of Integrative Therapies as Supportive Care in Patients Treated for Breast Cancer. As you might remember, I was completely unimpressed. However, those guidelines were not the only thing in that particular JNCI monograph. There were lots of other articles, and, given that some of them show just how deeply quackery has insinuated itself into oncology in the form of "integrative oncology," I thought it was worth revisiting one more time.…
Image from Scientific American (Credit: S Gart, J Socha, Vlachos, Jung) I have to be honest. I have always wondered whether my dog actually got any water in his mouth. It always seemed to me that the majority of water ends up on my floor. High speed video collected and analyzed by a team of researchers from Virginia Tech (Sean Gart, Jake Socha and Sunghwan Jung) and Purdue University (Pavlos Vlachos) has shown exactly how a dog is able to drink water...and also explains why they are so messy doing it. Their research was presented at the 67th Annual Meeting of the American Physics Society…
On Pharyngula, PZ Myers criticizes a stirring new short film imagining humanity's presence on the far-flung worlds of our solar system. PZ writes, "There’s nothing in those exotic landscapes as lovely and rich as mossy and majestic cedars of the Olympic Peninsula, or the rocky sea stacks of the nearby coast." So let's not get ahead of ourselves in turning Earth into a dust bowl. On Respectful Insolence, Orac considers the demerits of a new monograph on 'integrative oncology,' saying it's a false dichotomy polarizing aspects of actual science and pure wishful thinking. And on Uncertain…
The Rolling Stone article, "A Rape on Campus" should be a must read for every one who attends college, plans to attend college, or has children or loved ones on a college campus, especially one with a significant fraternity presence. UVa is my alma mater for two of my degrees, but this story reminded me more of my experience as an undergraduate at Bucknell University, a small, private, liberal arts university in Pennsylvania which is also dominated by fraternity culture. My experience there with sexual assault was not as a victim, but as a member of one of the pseudo-legal sexual assault…
(Orac note: I was away at Skepticon over the weekend, where I gave a talk entitled The Central Dogma of Alternative Medicine. (When the talk’s up on YouTube, I’ll provide a link, of course.) Because of all the fun and travel delays I didn’t get a chance to turn my slides and notes into a blog post yet. Also, I’m on vacation this week. However, this gives me the opportunity to resurrect a blog post from 2007, because I think the concept is interesting. I even use it in a slide that shows up in many of my talks (above). I’ve updated dead links and added some text to include relevant links to…
Brandenburg is a physicist who submitted a paper to the 42nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference a few years ago. It's way outside my area of expertise, but it postulated an interesting scenario from the ratios of rare isotopes in the atmosphere of Mars: that there was evidence of a natural nuclear reactor, like Oklo on Earth, that had exploded over 180 million years ago. He makes a good case, at least to this biologist's eyes, and it seems reasonable. Natural Nuclear Reactors formed and operated on Earth, there is no reason this could not have happened on Mars. Conditions on Mars: lack of…
Gayle DeLong has been diagnosed with what she refers to as “autism-induced” breast cancer.” She’s even given it an abbreviation, AIBC. Unfortunately, as you might be able to tell by the name she’s given her breast cancer, she is also showing signs of falling into the same errors in thinking with respect to her breast cancer as she clearly has with respect to autism. As a breast cancer surgeon, regardless of my personal opinion of DeLong’s anti-vaccine beliefs, I can only hope that she comes to her senses and undergoes science-based treatment, but I fear she will not, as you will see. Her…
Here's an interesting article from Quanta. It's about efforts by physicists to test the idea of the multiverse: If modern physics is to be believed, we shouldn’t be here. The meager dose of energy infusing empty space, which at higher levels would rip the cosmos apart, is a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion times tinier than theory predicts. And the minuscule mass of the Higgs boson, whose relative smallness allows big structures such as galaxies and humans to form, falls roughly 100 quadrillion times short of expectations. Dialing up…
Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014, edited by Pulitzer-winning writer and professor Deborah Blum, features two pieces that remind us how public-health interventions can become less effective if we as a society don't use them appropriately -- and, based on the spelling of the authors' last names, they're right next to each other in the anthology. Maryn McKenna's "Imaging the Post-Antibiotics Futre," published in Medium, and Seth Mnookin's "The Return of Measles" from the Boston Globe Magazine warn that diseases we thought we'd conquered could easily return and become major killers…
We really only know things work when we test them to the limit and see what it takes to make them fail, or nearly fail. All those air planes and space ships and regular shops and nice cars that usually don't fail have a pedigree of prototypes or prototypes of parts that were pushed until they broke. Chickens fired into running Boeing 757 engines with a special Chicken Cannon. Crash dummies driving vehicles into specially built walls. Rocket engines exploding on test ranges. But many systems are never tested that way, and really can't be. We build the systems and convince those who need…
As I mentioned yesterday, here it’s that time of year again: October. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While the topic of my post then was how antivaccine activists have tried to glom on to the attention that Breast Cancer Awareness Month gets in order to create their fake “awareness month” known as “Vaccine Injury Awareness Month,” unfortunately antivaccinationists are not the only quacks who take advantage of the various “awareness” months to peddle their quackery. Naturally, because Breast Cancer Awareness Month is one of the oldest and definitely the best known of these various disease…
David G. Victor & Charles F. Kennel have an opinion piece in Nature arguing that it would be a really good idea to re-arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic. Or possibly ask the orchestra to play a somewhat different tune. I paraphrase somewhat, you understand. Naturally, you should read their actual article first, and then secondly you should read the excellent RC response by Stefan. However, I disagree with both of them. To be somewhat less sarcastic, V & K urge that Average global temperature is not a good indicator of planetary health. Track a range of vital signs instead, or…
On Twitter Sunday morning, the National Society of Black Physicsts account retweeted this: Using Lasers to Lock Down #Exoplanet Hunting #Space http://t.co/0TN4DDo7LF — ✨The Solar System✨ (@The_SolarSystem) September 28, 2014 I recognized the title as a likely reference to the use of optical frequency combs as calibration sources for spectrometry, which is awesome stuff. Unfortunately, the story at that link is less awesome than awful. It goes on at some length about the astronomy, then dispenses with the physics in two short paragraphs of joking references to scare-quoted jargon from the…
It’s been a bad week for celebrity quacks; that is, after starting out looking as though it would be a good week. For example, as I discussed a couple of days ago, contender for the title of world’s most brain dead antivaccine conspiracy theorist, washed up comedian Rob Schneider, having somehow managed to land a gig resurrecting his 20 year old “Richmeister” character (a.k.a. the “Makin’ Copies Guy”) in the service of an ad campaign for State Farm Insurance, found his ad dropped like the proverbial Ebola-laced bedding when State Farm was made aware of Schneider’s virulently antivaccine…
This one's a bit of a head-scratcher. Richard Evan Schwartz's Really Big Numbers has a great premise. A kids book that takes some fairly advanced mathematical concepts and presents them in a lively, engaging and understandable format. So far, so good. Schwartz does a commendable job of taking the concepts surrounding Really Big Numbers and explaining them in a fairly comprehensible format, from simple counting to very high numbers, visual representation of big numbers, conceptual representations when there's no more space for dots on the page, an explanation of powers of 10 all the way to…
My friend Iain Davidson tagged me with the facebook novel meme. Here are the rules: Oh, hell, never mind the rules. I wanted to provide links to the books so I decided to do this as a blog post which I'll paste on my facebook page (and of course tag some unlucky facebook friend). Here it is. I broke some rules. So what? Moment in the Sun: Report on the Deteriorating Quality of the American Environment by Dr. Robert Reinow was my Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. As a child I watched Reinow’s Sunrise Semester course on TV a couple of times. He would give a lecture on some manner or other by…