Today’s Guardian has a profile of Elizabeth Murchison on the Grrl Scientist blog. Murchison’s TED Talk explains the work of her team trying to prevent the extinction of Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) due to a contagious facial cancer, spread by biting.
Scary stuff, with some – very – graphic images.
She mentions the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is responsible for cervical cancer. Their first thought was that the source of this cancer was similar – viral, but that is not the case. In fact, the cells are implanted into other devils through biting – where they colonise and run rampage.
With all the apps and fan pages out there, you too could turn your facebook into a feed reader.
We have a Facebook page!
Thanks to a really helpful tutorial from FreeTech4Teachers, I was able to create a Facebook page for this blog, so you can ‘like’ it and follow the posts in your feeds. I know you check fb way more than you check your school emails or this blog, as I always see the ‘Facebook shuffle’ as you open the conveniently-placed work-looking window when teachers walk by.
Will this be a useful tool? Let me know!
“There is no evidence because it would be hard to prove…” Aduh.
BadScience hero Ben Goldacre and Jeremy Paxman take on Baroness Greenfield, The Daily Mail (always a good target) and Aric Sigman in this interview from Newsnight. For a bit of background this is all a response to this story from the Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1149207/How-using-Facebook-raise-risk-cancer.html
If you’re in my class, the page you need to comment on is here.
The Daily Mail reports Sigman is claiming (without any real evidence) that time on the computer takes you away from real people. This makes you isolated and lonely and means you are not producing the right hormones and your genes will act up – potentially leading to cancer, immune problems and impaired mental function. That’s a far reach for a newspaper article to be making, but these kind of shock headlines sell papers, or get more traffic on their website.
In this debate we see the importance of peer-reviewed research before making public claims. We see that correlation does not necessarily imply causality and we see that poor reporting of sensitive issues can lead to gross misunderstandings. If we remember, the Daily Mail was central in the reporting of the MMR vaccine scare.
When you watch this interview and read the article, can you think of responses to these questions?
- Are there parts of Sigman and Greenfield’s claims that might sound plausible?
- What kind of evidence would you want to see to support these claims?
- What is the significance of Goldacre’s comment “… you can make anything look dangerous if you are selective in which evidence you quote” ?
- Sigman makes a comment “The paper weas supposed to be a one-sided provocative feature article for The Biologist to make people think more carefully about where society is going.” How does he feel about the media attention that his words have attracted outside this publication?
- Central to Sigman’s claims were that internet use increases social isolation. He had no peer-reviewed work after 1998 to support this, yet Goldacre pointed out all these references that suggest otherwise.
- Sigman tries to re-state ‘social networking’ as a phrase meant for real-life interactions between people rather than internet-based interactions. How has his interpretation of the term led to confusion in the wider public? Who do you think is responsible for this confusion and how could it be rectified?
- Sigman tries to distance himself from the headlines and the conjectures of Greenfield and returns to his concern that internet use is having a direct and negative impact ont the lives of children. Take this opportunity to discuss the benefits and potential negative impacts of the internet with regard to childhood use.
- Goldacre makes a comment that it woudl be bad for research to prioritse what research is done based on the headlines in the newspapers. Do you agree/ disagree? Why?
- How do you think the precautionary principle might relate to the decisions parents make based on this issue?
How would you like to see this story develop? What further research would convince you of the harms or otherwise this debate?
Following in the footsteps of the NewScientist channel, ScientificAmerican have branched out into YouTube vodcasting. They have uploaded 27 videos in 4 weeks, which is pretty prolific. Let’s hope they keep up the pace and the quality. Their style is much more MTV than their British counterpart, which you may or may not like.
Features include The Monitor weekly roundup, Instant Egghead articles (like the synthetic biology one in the last post) and some SciAm special focus episodes.
Here’s an example of The Monitor:
What do you think?
Here’s a response to silly graphs on TV news shows (is it Brasseye?)
The Graphjam blog has loads of funny (and not so funny) pop-culture referencing graphs…
… as does the Facebook group “You’re having a graph“
Idea: have a stupid graph-making challenge – middle school link with Maths?
Here is Brasseye with Heavy Electricity: