Scandal Rocks Diet Research – Tips You Rely on Exposed #health #diet #nutrition #weightloss

bell shaped curveEuropean science was once so quaint. A wealthy family’s second son ensconced in a small parsonage in the country was free to classify local butterflies. Or perhaps the lord himself financed his own laboratory to study whatever he wanted. Sometimes a poorer soul might rise from employment under a Great Man (yes, mostly men!) or receive a scholarship, as Isaac Newton did at Cambridge in 1664.

Innocent days are gone. A craving for glory always created some scientific fraud, but the motivation seems to be growing. Big science is big business, requires big money, and can yield big rewards if a lab produces big results. This can be insidious, because if you receive fame and fortune for what you do, it’s easy to believe that what you do must be right. Especially in a field like nutrition, where there’s so much public interest, and lots of money to be made, sometimes, mistakes happen. Sometimes studies go “down in flames in a beefy statistics scandal.”

An internal investigation by a faculty committee found that ‘Professor Wansink committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.’

That’s a politely phrased condemnation, and may derail the careers of grad students who did the dirty work for him.

You may not recognise Wansink’s name, but if you buy 100 calorie snack packages, you’ve been fooled by his research. Ditto for using small plates to trick your brain into thinking you ate more, or hiding potato chips on the top shelf to help you lose weight. Read more truisms that have been retracted here. Maybe your favorite tip is among them.

Retraction Watch logo

Here’s a good place to keep an eye on scientific findings

Fortunately for science, you, and me, reality is a powerful force, and there are always researchers willing to challenge a famous author. As a consumer of science, avoid becoming anyone’s acolyte, don’t get too emotionally invested in someone else’s position, and keep reading, even if only in the popular press. Good consumers, like good scientists, are honestly open minded.

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. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. Carl Sagan

Let’s all make Carl proud.


Better Contraception Will Improve Lives

I am reading Think Like A Freak, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics fame. They challenge preconceptions and accepted wisdom about the world, offering compelling arguments to show that what I think I know may not be so. I love their work because, as Carl Sagan wrote, “Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.” Besides, reality always wins.

The book reiterates their earlier conclusion about crime and abortion in America. Crime rates have been dropping steadily in the US since the early 1990s, and while more police and longer prison sentences account for some of the drop, Levitt and Dubner conclude that legalization of abortion (in the early 1970s) was the major factor. Over a million fewer unwanted children are born each year, children who would have likely been raised in difficult circumstances, notably poverty, that increase the chance they’d become criminals.

This is a jarring theory for Americans to ponder, since abortion and certain forms of contraception remain emotionally charged topics, hotly debated and far from settled legally. If we adopt policies that increase the number of unwanted children, we must decide if society (that is, taxpayers) owes them something extra, either morally or through enlightened self-interest.

The agonizing debate puts too much energy into the divisive symptom and not enough into unifying prevention. We need contraceptive methods that are easier to use and more effective “in the field” where real people live.

Now there is another step, hopefully, towards better contraceptives.

It’s worth a lengthy quote:

“A remote-controlled contraceptive computer chip which would be implanted under the skin has been developed with the backing of Bill Gates. The chip, which would last for 16 years, would release levonorgestral daily, a hormone which is used to prevent pregnancy.

However with the new implant, a woman could choose when to deactivate or reactivate the chip using a wireless control. It is designed to be implanted under the skin of the buttocks, upper arm, or abdomen. The implant provides a long-term solution to birth control and would mean no more trips to the clinic or a procedure to remove the implant… The creators believe it will be more convenient and if it passes safety tests, it could be on the market as early as 2018. They said it would be ‘competitively priced’.”

Note that levonorgestral prevents ovulation, so it avoids the divisive argument over when fertilization occurs and when the fertilized egg deserves legal protection. For those who feel the threat of pregnancy is needed to inhibit pre-marital sex (a weak argument to my mind, but important to others), the threat of sexually transmitted diseases can still be invoked.

Sixteen years is long enough to get through the impulsive adolescent/early adult years. A young woman would only have to get to a doctor or clinic once; she’d only have to make that mature and responsible choice once, only have to overcome obstacles to travel or access once. We already make a big deal out of turning thirty; I envision “chick check your chip” party favors for the Big-Three-Oh.

Of course, this will raise other issues; for example, should a woman who is found (through proper legal channels) to be an unfit mother be required or coerced into accepting the chip? The question makes me shudder when I recall early 20th century eugenics. And there will be individuals who make poor choices. Nothing is perfect, but on balance, I think this chip could be a huge advance for individual women and for society. As a taxpayer, I’d be happy to finance a contraceptive chip for anyone who wants one for free. Every baby should have a bright future.


Cosmos is Worth Watching


Tyson, with his famous sun and moon vest peeking out of his jacket

Are you watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s remake of Carl Sagan’s iconic mini-series Cosmos?  You should.

The theme of the first episode was that space-time is really, really big.  The episode received excellent reviews and I agree: the special effects and cinematography were stunning (“faster, brighter, and more explosive” as Wired says), though the use of cartoon animation to present a historical story struck me as less compelling than live action would have been.  There seem to be high hopes that the new Cosmos will rekindle America’s love affair with science, as anecdotes (if not rigorous studies) suggest the original Cosmos did.

The second episode tackled a fundamental principle that also has religious implications for some people: evolution.  Cosmos did not shy away, mentioning Darwin and our chimp relatives as well as a nicely done segment on the evolution of the mammal eye. Personally, I have never understood why some people want to limit god to an old book. As 16th-century philosopher Giordano Bruno said to his persecutors in the first episode, “your god is too small.”

The second episode covered some profound topics, like the five great extinctions on Earth, presented as displays in a solemn museum-like pyramid.  The episode also presented a fascinating small creature, the tardigrade, the only creature known that can survive, unprotected, in space. Maybe the producers won’t allow an entire episode to be set on Earth; there was a quick trip to the hydrocarbon seas of Saturn’s moon Titan.  Again, the animated cartoon (dogs becoming domesticated) seemed the weakest part of the show.

Cosmos courtesy Fox

Tyson confronts The Big Bang, courtesy Fox

Five years ago, Fox wouldn’t have made Cosmos, Tyson said in a recent interview. Today, we geeks are fashionable. “The geeks have found each other.” Hurray at last; it’s good to have friends who understand.

I like Tyson’s Cosmos and will watch the rest of the series.  I’m not sure what impact the original Cosmos had; we geeks also found inspiration in Star Trek. I plan to simply enjoy the new Cosmos and not burden it with expectations of inspiring a generation or solving America’s political problems.

Cosmos airs at 9 p.m. ET on Fox on Sundays. It will re-air on Mondays on the National Geographic Channel at 10 p.m. ET. Does anyone have information on international showings?

Looking Up #Science #quote #WednesdayWisdom


Carl Sagan

Merriam-Webster, recorded a 176 percent increase for the word “science” on their web site compared with last year. I don’t know why people wanted to look up “science”, but it seems like a good thing.

Science can’t tell us what the “right thing” to do is in most cases, but understanding science should inform our choices. You can’t participate fully in discussions about climate change, or genetically modified crops, or disease prevention, or government spying, or much of anything else without understanding the science behind the topic as well as the ethics and values involved.

Take a look at here for a checklist on how to spot pseudoscience. As Carl Sagan said

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

We Are Made – a Poem by Kate Rauner

We Are Made – a Poem by Kate Rauner

Up, up, and down,

Quarks in a cloud

Are bound.

Quiescent, they coalesce; ignite;

Balance heat and mass;

Warm to yellow-white.

Proton, proton, proton chain,

Dense enough at zero age.

Ashes sink in orange flame.

Now expanding, heating more,

Bright red shell,

Collapsing core.

Until explosion, flares away

The nebula; all that remains

Cooling dim and gray.

It will coalesce again

“We are made of starstuff”

says Carl Sagan

With thanks to Hertzsprung and Russell

eagle nebula NASA (244x250)

Eagle Nebula NASA