January 30, 2012

As my few regular followers may have noticed, it’s been pretty slow here lately. I haven’t been super-inspired to write new entries, and time has been in short supply between work, family, teaching, and other interests. So I’m going to take a break for a while. I’ll keep the existing posts up, and I’ll try to pop my head in once in a while in case there are any questions. At some point in the future I may return to posting more regularly, but I don’t have a timeline for that right now. Thanks to everyone who has been reading – I hope you’ve learned something.

Why we don’t believe science

May 9, 2011

There’s an interesting article by Chris Mooney called “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science” that is worth reading. In a nutshell, it talks about how, due to the way humans think, we tend to reject arguments that aren’t consistent with our current beliefs, and sometimes even become more entrenched in our position when faced with contradictory data. It is very hard to change an ingrained belief, no matter how convincing the arguments and data.

One year of exposure/effect

April 1, 2011

Well, I’ve made it through a full year with this blog; not bad since I’ve heard the average blog only lasts 3 months. A big “thank you” to all my readers, regular and casual – if no one was reading then it wouldn’t be worth my time to keep this up. To mark the anniversary I’ve added a new page, “Best of exposure/effect”, with links to some of what I think are the best posts here, mostly for the benefit of new readers.

I’ll indulge myself in a brief review of what I’ve accomplished this year, and what my hopes/plans for the future of this blog are:

The DDT Dilemna

January 24, 2011

ResearchBlogging.orgThe insecticide DDT (dichlorodiphenytrichloroethane) has been in the public mind ever since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962. Growing awareness of its environmental effects, persistence, biomagnification in food chains, and presence in humans (including in breast milk) led to severe restrictions being placed on its use, particularly in the developed world. However, its effectiveness against malaria-carrying mosquitoes led to the continued use of DDT in many areas of the world, including within residences. Now a new paper by Hidrik Bouwman, Henk van den Berg and Herik Kylin reviews the current state of knowledge about the risks vs. benefits of DDT.

Read the rest of this entry »

Libel laws and science

November 11, 2010

free debate

As I discussed a while back, there has been a disturbing trend among quacks and scam artists of launching libel suits against scientists who expose them. Even though the scientists are correct, defending against even a frivolous libel suit is extremely costly and time-consuming, so often this tactic has the result of suppressing the truth. To make matters worse, libel laws in the UK are essentially “guilty until proven innocent”, and lawsuits can be launched in the UK regardless of where the scientist lives or works (internet blogs in particular can be sued in basically any jurisdiction). Today, several science bloggers have been posting messages calling for libel reform, I believe to celebrate the first anniversary of the publication of “Free Speech is Not for Sale”.

A few examples:


DC’s Improbable Science


I would encourage everyone to go to the Libel Reform Campaign website and sign their petition.


Perfluorinated chemical exposure from food wrappers

November 11, 2010

Perfluorinated chemicals, which are organic molecules with several fluoride atoms attached to the carbon chain, have had a fair amount of attention from environmental scientists over the past several years, primarily due to their long persistence in the environment. They’ve been used in a large number of consumer products – probably best known for non-stick coatings such as Teflon, but also used in fabric protectors, paper coatings, lubricants, inks, varnishes, cosmetics and more. Due to concerns about their environmental persistence and transport in the environment (they’re now found in the environment worldwide, including in blood and breast milk samples), the major producers began phasing out production of perfluorooctyl materials (perfluorinated chemicals with 8 carbon atoms), which were the most commonly used perfluorinated compounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves

October 22, 2010

Just a quick post this week since I’m enjoying a vacation and mostly staying off the ‘net.

Flu shots are available now, so I just wanted to take the opportunity to stress their importance. Sure, for the average healthy person influenza usually isn’t life-threatening (though H1N1, which is still around, can be in rare cases, and was worse than some people seem to think it was as I talked about last spring), but it still knocks you down for a few days. If you think the flu is an upset stomache or a bit of a cough, you haven’t had it.

The main reason it’s important even for healthy people to get it is to protect others. I have a grandma in her 90’s and a 4-month old daughter; in the case of my grandma the vaccine is at best moderately effective, and my daughter is too young to get it. So by getting the vaccine myself, I’m helping to protect them, and other susceptible people I may come into contact with. This only works if most people in contact with them are vaccinated. It’s particularly important for children to be vaccinated, since they’re the most common transmission vector for influenza.

Modern flu vaccines are very safe (unless you are allergic to eggs), and highly effective for the strains included in the shot. Even for a healthy person, the risk vs. benefit is strongly in favour of getting the shot. So please get your flu shot – if not for yourself, then for those around you.