Bad News is Good News, Because This is How Science Works #science #diet #research

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know, that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. Carl Sagan

It happened again, in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Stay with me – there’s statistics – but it’s worth the read.

Gazpacho Ingredients

A Mediterranean diet is still a good idea – make yourself some gazpacho

A 2013 study of the Mediterranean diet claimed proof that people eating the fruits/vegetables/olive oil/nuts/fish diet were less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than people eating a low-fat diet.

Statistical problems were discovered and the study retracted and revised to say, while the subjects had fewer heart attacks and strokes, the diet wasn’t proven to be the reason.

Okay, this may not seem earthshaking. But how it happened is so cool.

We can thank John Carlisle, a British anesthesiologist.

He wrote a letter to an anesthesiology journal bemoaning the fact that his field was polluted by one researcher’s data that many suspected were problematic. The journal editor told Carlisle to prove it.

He studied statistical methods so he could prove it, and got over a hundred papers in his field retracted. But Carlisle wasn’t done. He looked at many more papers in many fields and found 2% were flawed – that they claimed to use a gold standard of randomized trials but had blocks of non-randomized data. (There, that’s the statistics part.)

The lead author of the 2013 study quickly acknowledged the problems when Carlisle pointed them out, and revised the paper. That’s got to hurt. Studies cost a lot of time and money, but he did it. Carl Sagan would be proud.

If that still doesn’t sound earthshaking, consider that studies like these can impact the health of millions of people all over the world. And that “paper mill” journals with fewer scruples than the NEJM have sprung up recently, further complicating our lives.

Carlisle praised the journal’s response. ‘I think that the NEJM editorial team responded very maturely to my paper,’ he says. ‘They took the possibility of a problem seriously and acted quickly and thoroughly.’

That’s science. That’s why science transforms our lives.

Thanks to npr.org for reporting to those of us who don’t read the NEJM. Also check out Retraction Watch, a website that reports on scientific retractions and related issues.

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Summer is the Time for Reading! Discover a New Author #book #reading #ready4summer #scifi #sciencefiction #ebook

Instafreebie GiveawayDoes anyone use Instafreebie? The site offers free downloads of previews, excerpts, and even full length novels in exchange for you giving the author permission to contact you via email. These contacts are pretty well regulated now (especially in Europe), and you can always unsubscribe.

Interested? I added a 13 chapter preview of my Glory on Mars book (more than any store will give you) to the science fiction giveaway group Brave New World – step into new worlds – available from June 6th to July 10th.

This could be the summer that you discover a new favorite author ūüôā and it’s not just scifi. There are other genres too.

UPDATE: It’s Thursday June 7th and 92 readers have already claimed my Glory on Mars preview. Thanks readers. Here’s a secret: SUBSCRIBE when you download and you’ll receive a coupon for a free download of the entire book. Join me on Mars ūüôā

I’ve Been Baffled for Years, but Maybe Here’s the Reason Why Birds Survived Dinosaurs’ Horrific Extinction #evolution #dinosaurs #chicken #science

guinea fowlIn 1980, the Alvarez hypothesis ¬†suggested that an asteroid impact killed off the dinosaurs and many other species in one of the six largest mass extinctions in Earth’s history. That went from crazy idea to mainstream science fairly quickly (because once scientists knew what to look for, the data were overwhelming) and the details are still being studied.

It was such a spectacular, world-wide disaster that I understand why three-quarters of animal and plant species on Earth died out. Evidence supporting a vast loss of forests includes “a thin rock layer formed during the first thousand or so years after the impact, [where] 70 to 90 percent of the spores found come from just two species of fern… pioneer species rapidly recolonizing open ground, such as seen today when ferns recolonize lava flows in Hawaii.”

I’ve always wondered how anything survived. I’ve read that, on land, small burrowing animals were doom-dayers surviving in their Cretaceous bunkers. That seems plausible.

But how did birds survive? Sure, birds had relatively large brains, but I’m not sure my enormous ape-brain will help me if another 9-mile wide asteroid hits.

The only birds that survived were ground-dwellers, including ancient relatives of ducks, chickens, and ostriches. Following the cataclysm, these survivors rapidly evolved into most of the lineages of modern birds we are familiar with today, according to paleontologists led by Daniel Field at the University of Bath in the U.K., as argued in the journal Current Biology.

Climates changed catastrophically, temperatures were depressed for years, and the food chain left tattered. I have mental images of chicken ancestors peeking out from scrubby reeds in deep valleys or along the wet edges of streams and lakes, staring in slack-beaked awe at a dark, ash-filled sky. Modern kiwis nest in burrows, so perhaps this is plausible too. It’s an amazing thought.

However they did it, birds did survive and prospered. But now I have a lot of new questions. Where on the globe were the survivors? Did they migrate? What path led the ground dwellers back into trees to nest? And while we’re at it, how did tree seeds survive? Maybe in the burrows of those doom-dayers? Many more studies will fill in the gaps and support or falsify Field et al. Can’t wait!

Berlin ArcheopteryxNote: The evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds was originally hypothesized in the 1860s when fossils of feathered dinosaurs were first described by scientists. It took decades to assemble enough evidence to turn this speculation into mainstream science.

Thanks to nationalgeographic.com for their article and the quotes above.

Science Studies Poetry – compare this to what you like in a poem #poem #poetry #science

What makes a poem pleasing to its readers? It’s about time science took another crack at this question.

Researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics… found that vividness was the best predictor of aesthetic appeal. smithsonian

Sad or scary poems lacking vivid imagery scored worst. Perhaps the next step is to see if similar traits make a song or story pleasing.

My Own Science Challenge, how to run a genuine dowsing experiment you can do at home #research #math #citizenscience

18th century dowser

!8th century dowser, but the concept is older

I recently ran into this post on the Ideomotor Response, a real and captivating effect. You experience unconscious, unintentional physical movements that seem to contain knowledge beyond your own. It’s sort of neuromotor crosstalk that feels magical and has given us Ouija boards, automatic writing, and dowsing.

If you’ve never tried dowsing, give it a shot. It’s one of those remarkably compelling experiences that only science can sort out.

As I had a chance to see for myself.

Out here in rural New Mexico a lot of well drillers use, or at least offer, dowsing. I live on thick layers of ancient limestone and dolomite, crisscrossed with volcanic intrusions and alluvial deposits. Water is usually deep and not found in the lovely, predictable aquifer layers that favor much of North America. We see a lot of expensive dry holes.

Superstitions thrive when you seek an outcome that is very important but heavily influenced by chance. Whether winning a ball game or drilling a well, it’s hard to avoid developing a belief in lucky socks or dowsing. The ideomotor sensations are compelling – dowsers are honest people.

One of my neighbors was convinced he could detect water with dowsing rods. He was as curious as I was to find out if dowsing could be proven. We worked out a test protocol, and agreed that 5 or more “Hits” would be good evidence.

I added my procedure under the More Tag below – feel free to use it if you’d like.

Here are our results:

My neighbor got 2 hits, well within chance and below his expectation. He’s a bit mystified (indeed, one experiment needs to be replicated) but it was fun to be able to run an experiment ourselves.

Continue reading

Poetry of Fire and Firefighters #poem #poetry #inspiration #firefighter

firefightersI found a wonderful site, a firefighter and paramedic writing poems about his experiences. Here are topics you may have never thought of, “telling stories that rarely get told.”

For those who dream of being firefighters,
For those who struggle to tell of their day,
For those who don’t understand,
For those who remember,
For those who can’t forget

Check it out.

How do firefighters tell their stories?¬† Not often and often not in a way that civilians understand.¬† Our fraternity has few books written about it, few TV shows true to the profession, and few movies that capture the nature of what we do.¬†¬† The “Heart of Fire” is a project I’m creating to tell the stories that rarely get told.¬†¬†¬† I know it may seem odd, but after years of trying to capture,¬† with words, the experience of being¬† a firefighter, its only in verse form¬†¬†¬† that I’ve come close.HowHow do firefighters tell their stories?¬† Not often and often not in a way that civilians understand.¬† Our fraternity has few books written about it, few TV shows true to the profession, and few movies that capture the nature of what we do.¬†¬† The “Heart of Fire” is a project I’m creating to tell the stories that rarely get told.¬†¬†¬† I know it may seem odd, but after years of trying to capture,¬† with words, the experience of being¬† a firefighter, its only in verse form¬†¬†¬† that I’ve come close. do firefighters tell their stories?¬† Not often and often not in a way that civilians understand.¬† Our fraternity has few books written about it, few TV shows true to the profession, and few movies that capture the nature of what we do.¬†¬† The “Heart of Fire” is a project I’m creating to tell the stories that rarely get told.¬†¬†¬† I know it may seem odd, but after years of trying to capture,¬† with words, the experience of being¬† a firefighter, its only in verse form¬†¬†¬† that I’ve come close.

Archeology Takes Courage, Obsession Helps, in this fascinating tale of an ancient lost city #archeology #science #adventure #discovery #history

Lost City of the Monkey God book coverI usually post short science news pieces, but it’s a shame to miss the story behind science. The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story offers a fascinating tale of discovery.

Since the first Europeans set foot in the Americas, they chased rumors of “lost” cities of gold. The first third of his book, Douglas Preston recounts the adventures of an amazing group of, generally, con-artists claiming to have found the Monkey God City in an inaccessible jungle – and would rich donors just give them more money to prove it. These characters make for fun reading.

But there are real ruins in Honduras, and the Monkey God City legend is a conglomeration of real places. Space age technology and changing politics in Honduras enabled a scientific team to take up the search. Deadly snakes, deadly insects, drug cartels, dense jungle, and sucking mud all provide a thrilling backdrop to the expedition.

Scientists must be brave sometimes, and it helps to hire ex-military survival experts.

Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.

Read about the history of the Americas. Read about their discovery – as exciting as any tale spun by one of those early con-artists.

By the middle of the book I thought the story was done, but there’s more coming. Preston recounts what is known today of the first contacts between Americans and Europeans. I have read before that European diseases spread ahead of the Spanish, but had no grasp of the magnitude of the disaster. Current studies indicate that about 90% of the Native Americans were killed, most before they ever saw a European.

Those deaths tie into the aftermath of Preston’s Honduran trip. An horrid disease spread by sand flies infected many of his group.

This disease is worthy of a scifi horror movie – it can eat your face away, right into the bones. They required care by federal government infectious disease experts, and even the latest treatments can only put the disease into remission. There’s irony in comparing the modern and historical experiences.

Danger has not stopped the research in Honduras. The team has returned and expanded. Watch the news for more about this ancient Honduran civilization. And in the meantime, read this book.

What others are saying
With 4.4 stars and over 1400 reviews on Amazon, the book deserves its place as #1 in its Archeology category. Some reviewers didn’t want to read about the history, or modern Honduran politics, or other topics that surround the Lost City itself. Others thought the technologies used to discover the city were covered in too much detail.

If all you want is the archeology, the book may be too long for you. But if you enjoy the gem of a Lost City placed in a magnificent setting, this is for you.