Aug 24 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Why do people believe lies after being told the truth?
Sociologists from four major research institutions have published a study in the journal Sociological Inquiry examining how we support our false beliefs. They examined the false belief of many voters during the 2004 general election, which held that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was responsible for the primarily Saudi-conducted attacks on September 11, 2001.
The researchers concluded that the false beliefs were not caused by lies told repeatedly by the Bush Administration and some cable news channels, but by the individuals’ own personal need to justify a war that was already being waged. They named their study “There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification,” and claim that their findings offer serious challenge to democracy – in that the people cannot be trusted to discern truth from falsehood.
Now, while it is a trivial observation that people tend to believe what they want to believe, and that they will seek out information sources that support and/or confirm their already-held beliefs, this blogger is not convinced that these sociologists should have so pointedly ignored the fact that it was the Bush-Cheney administration that invented the lies, started the war, and was backed up in that false propaganda effort by the mainstream broadcast and cable news media establishments. Seems like giving political liars and media propagandists a free pass on misleading the public does serious damage to the conclusions of the supposedly scientific study itself.
Jan 27 at 8:08pm by Aileen
On the fifth of this month I posted Supernovae, Comets and Holey Mammoth Tusks, about a recently-developed theory with apparently lots and lots of confirming evidence, that purported to demonstrate the mass extinction of North American megafauna – wooly mammoths, giant bison, saber-tooth cats, etc. – was the result of effects from a supernova explosion 250 light years from earth, and a 10-kilometer wide comet produced that hit or exploded just above Chicago nearly 13,000 years ago.
Well, this week researchers from the University of Bristol say they have disproven that theory, by examining charcoal and pollen records for the great fires the comet must have caused. Their results, they say, provide no evidence of continental-scale fires. Though they do say their examination of this material dated between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago, somehow establishes that an increase in large-scale wildfires all over the world during the past 10 years is attributable to global warming.
Ah, well. So much for grand theories about great and sudden climate change in past ages, as well as ongoing disagreements about climate change in the current age. Perhaps what is best to be learned from this back and forth of disagreements about evidence and what it means is to take the pronouncements of various groups of scientists with a grain of salt, for their conclusions are often so short-lived as to not even make it past the publication schedule of two successive issues of the same journal!
Eventually, maybe, they’ll work it all out.
And while we’re here looking at research from different sources that can end up with entirely different conclusions, check out a new project site from Creative Commons – ScienceCommons. Making the Web work for science, to develop technologies to make research, accumulated data and materials easier to find and use. I’ll be reporting on this again in the near future, so stay tuned!
Jan 5 at 11:11pm by Aileen
…a tale of mass extinction and woe
Blue Sky Studios
Not so very long ago the wizened gatekeepers of scientific orthodoxy staged a vigorous and extremely nasty campaign designed to prevent any possibility that impressionable science students or the great unwashed masses might come to suspect that things in our cosmic neighborhood were ever anything but perfectly peaceful, perfectly ordered, and perfectly safe. It was the middle of the 20th century, a bit over 150 years since the staid scientists at the Royal Society in London had discovered the hard way that stones really can fall from the sky despite their pronouncements to the contrary.
Yet the publication of Worlds in Collision in 1950 – and Ages in Chaos in 1952 – purported to demonstrate that the Earth had suffered some serious cosmic upheavals within the memory of human civilizations. These ideas drove such astronomical lions as Harlow Shapley to use every underhanded method and scheme available to destroy the author and reassure the public once again that, despite all evidence and witness through the ages, stones do NOT fall from the sky, comets do NOT wreak havoc on the Earth, and the perfect clockwork of cosmic orderliness is NOT violated by disorderly events. Thus did the notorious Velikovsky Affair take its place in the annals of science’s ample history of internal turf wars.
Many young people today are quite used to the idea that our planet has been bombarded by cosmic billiard balls of one sort or another, learning about the epochal events that marked transitions from one age to another, usually by causing mass extinctions of life forms and altering the course of evolution. Even children’s books and movies portray the catastrophic events of 65 million years ago when a large asteroid ended the age of the dinosaurs. Yet apart from those now-recognized disasters in the distant past of our planet, scientists have tended to remain skeptical of the notion that such world-shattering events have ever occurred – or been recorded – in the short (~100,000 year) history of human beings on this planet.
Oct 29 at 5:05pm by Aileen
More Melamine in Chinese Food Products
It seems like the entire month of October has been one big Halloween Trick (not Treat) as the grotesque and blatantly illegal ‘melamine in food’ imported from China horror just keeps getting worse and worse. Some might wonder why all food products from China weren’t immediately banned back when tainted pet food cause the painful deaths of thousands of dogs and cats last year, once it was confirmed that Chinese state-owned food processors were adding the industrial plastic to wheat gluten to fool tests for protein content in this ubiquitous protein additive. Alas, imports were not banned, and now this dangerous adulterant is in hundreds of common food items.
Thousands of Chinese infants were poisoned when melamine was added to infant formulas and milk products. It’s in medicines exported and has caused sickness and death in Central and South America. Now it’s in candy and eggs and almost every wheat product from China. The US does not require country of origin labeling of foods, thus American consumers have no real way of knowing they’re buying poison.
Tainted Chinese Products Criminal Timeline traces the tainted Chinese food scandal back through 2004, and includes many other adulterants Americans have been ingesting. Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical. Frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics. Scallops and sardines coated with putrefying bacteria. Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides. It is not a pretty picture, and our FDA has been criminally lax in their duty of protecting the safety of our food supply.
Jul 24 at 9:09pm by Aileen
In an unprecedented move, the head of a prominent cancer research institute issued a warning to his faculty and staff on July 23, that cell phone use may pose a cancer risk to users.
There is no consensus in science that electromagnetic radiation in radio frequencies – such as is emitted by cellular phones and is absorbed by the user’s head – causes or increases the risks of brain tumors. Yet Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said he issued the warning because the question is still being researched, and it is better to err on the safe side than to be sorry later on.
Of particular concern to Herberman is the increasing use of cell phones by children, whose brains are still developing. The body of research on the question is ongoing, but so far has demonstrated no firm link between cell phones and cancer. The fact that it takes a relatively long time for cancers from environmental sources to show up in a population leaves risks of cancer from long term exposure to the radiation an unanswered question.
One bit of interesting research on cell phone radiation recently came from Clermont-Ferrand University in France, where it was found that…
…tomatoes, when exposed to the magnetic waves of mobile phones, get stressed within ten minutes. They start secreting a molecule which usually only occurs when they get damaged.
If tomatoes can physiologically go into stress mode when cell phones are present in their vicinity, it’s certainly possible that physiological effects may occur in animals – including humans. I’d like to see some mouse studies. But in the meantime, remote use of the device (so it’s not sitting on your ear) isn’t that bad an idea.
A pretty strong warning can also be made that if you grow tomatoes, don’t take your cell phone when tending them. The world won’t stop turning if you’re out of communications availability for a little while. Honest.
Jul 21 at 6:06pm by Aileen
USPS Alzheimer’s Stamp
The open access journal BMC Neurology published research this week detailing some amazing results from the use of the anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha [TNF-alpha] drug to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease from a novel immune system approach. Researchers documented improvement in language function within minutes of administering the drug, tending to confirm preliminary evidence that disrupted neural communication in Alzheimer’s patients may be reversible.
This is a very hopeful development, as are results from clinical drug trials in recent years slowing the progression of the disease in elderly patients as well as ongoing research into substances that may help clear the beta amyloid placques in the brain tissue, characteristic of the disease. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, it is estimated that up to 10 million of them will get this awful disease.
Some doctors are expressing concern about unduly raising hopes in patients and their families on these very early findings. Dr. Sam Gandy, chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association’s medical and science council, has expressed suspicion due to the private nature of the research because the lead researcher has a financial interest in the drug. It is hoped that other laboratories and scientists will be able to duplicate the results, but that more rigorous clinical work remains to be done.
UCLA associate professor of neurology John Ringman and colleagues have reported in the journal Neurology that there may be a way to detect Alzheimer’s even before symptoms appear by measuring the level of certain proteins in the blood and spinal fluid. These proteins are potentially useful biomarkers to identify and track progression of the disease before the patient shows any signs of deteriorating mental acuity.
The amount of suffering for the families of those 10 million people could be reduced drastically if there were effective treatments, so there is a good deal of public and private research ongoing. Hopefully when the Boomers reach an age where they have ready access to medical care via Medicare, diagnosis and treatment will be available to them.
Apr 29 at 6:06pm by Aileen
In its mad bid to privatize and control the world’s agriculture and food supply with its patented biotech seeds and cushy revolving door within governmental regulatory agencies, Monsanto cannot be very happy with a recent Soil Association report that shows GM crops decrease yields, whether it’s cotton or soybeans or corn.
As reported in The Washington Post, the biotech industry immediately released yet another bought-and-paid-for report claiming totally opposite conclusions (some things don’t change just because the science is against you). The Soil Association report took a serious look at reality, something quite refreshing in this field. The material included among other citations:
• a 2007 study from Kansas State University that showed Roundup Ready soy has suffered “yield drag” since it was introduced, producing an average of 9-25% less per acre than conventional soy.
• a rigorous independent US study under controlled conditions demonstrating that Bt corn yields up to 12% less than conventional corn.
• an article in Nature Biotechnology reporting that Bt cotton doesn’t even express the engineered pesticide in 25% of some varieties sold under exclusive license.
Mar 29 at 2:02am by Aileen
The Nonprophets radio show comment on what happened.
The science blogosphere erupted this week after biology professor Paul Myers [a.k.a. PZ Myers] was summarily expelled from a pre-release screening of the Ben Stein movie Expelled, even while his wife, daughter and guest Richard Dawkins were allowed in to see the film.
Myers blogged about the incident in several posts to his #1 rated science blog for Seed Media Group, Pharyngula. Other science bloggers for the same outlet also blogged about it – Greg Laden bestowed sainthood on PZ and compiles the buzz from Dawkins, other bloggers, national and international media… it’s an exhaustive (but dated) list.
Dec 18 at 6:06pm by Aileen
They’re calling it Science Debate 2008. It’s a grassroots initiative to petition for a Presidential candidates forum specifically about issues of science and technology. The list of science bloggers in the Blogger Coalition is impressive, and represents almost all of Seed Media Group’s ScienceBlogs stable. The list of initial signers includes Nobel Prize laureates, academics, corporate CEOs, congresscritters, political science policy advisors, journal editors and regulatory agency veterans.
I heard about the initiative from Steven “DarkSyde” Andrew’s front page post announcing it over on Daily Kos on December 10th. He called for bipartisan and independent science bloggers to sign up, so I emailed the group through their form and offered my support. I didn’t get a reply and I’m not listed as a supporter, but I’m going to talk about it anyway.
Nov 29 at 5:05pm by Aileen
On November 29 the New York Times published an article about the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission, highlighting findings from that mission that suggest Earth and Venus are “really twins which are just separated at birth.” Hmmm…
In New Findings Underscore an Earth-Venus Kinship, author Kenneth Chang cites scientists’ surprising findings that Venus experiences lightning, wide swings in temperature, and evidence that Venus once hosted oceans covering as much of the planet as Earth’s oceans do.
Eight different articles about findings from the mission were published in the 11-29 issue of the journal Nature. The scientists speculate that Venus’ oceans evaporated to form the water vapor canopy that shrouds the planet, trapping heat in the good old ‘greenhouse effect’ to cause surface temperatures approaching 900º F, yet the mission also found that the temperature varies as much as 70º F between day and night. Which must be quite a relief in a climate hot enough during the day to melt metals!