A controversial talk by Tuck Ngun at the ongoing American Society of Human Genetics 2015 meeting in Baltimore presented evidence of epigenetic mechanisms associated with homosexuality in discordant male twins (i.e., one gay, the other straight). The conference organizers and news outlets quickly trumpeted that scientists had discovered epigenetic markers capable of predicting the sexual orientation of a male; however, the reaction of scientists at the meeting was less enthusiastic. Ed Yong at the Atlantic wrote a particularly thorough takedown. Criticisms centered around the small sample size (37 pairs of twins), the fact that the samples were taken from saliva (whereas you'd expect epigenetic variants influencing sexuality to occur in the brain), and the fact that the predictive model they developed was not terribly predictive (67% accuracy). [more inside]
Every day, news sources report on medical studies that describe promising new treatments. Most of them don't pan out in the end. Julia Belluz reports on "why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study." Her article includes a figure showing which foods are reported to cause cancer and which ones are reported to prevent it. (Spoiler: they're the same foods.)
Polyhedra and the Media - On the new polyhedra of Schein and Gayed, and mathematical journalism.
Science journalist and NOVA correspondent extraordinaire Miles O'Brien was working on a story in Japan and the Philippines when a piece of luggage fell on his arm causing minor swelling. The next day his arm was amputated due to Acute Compartment Syndrome. He recounts his experience with as much humor and grace as one can muster.
"Why biotech whiz kid Jack Andraka is not on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list." Forbes science and medicine reporter Matthew Herper sends out Andraka's draft paper on his cancer diagnostic test to scientific experts, who find the results do not match the breathless excitement attracted by initial coverage, seen previously on MetaFilter and elsewhere. [more inside]
2013 Science Journalism Award winners from the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
- Large Newspaper: Deep Trouble, about invasive Asian Carp, sewage, the Chicago River and Lake Michigan
- Small Newspaper: Warning: Quake in 60 Seconds, about why California doesn't have a decent early warning system for earthquakes
- Magazine: Attack of the Mutant Pupfish, about genetic integrity vs. genetic restoration in the fight to preserve endangered species
- Television (20 minutes or less): NOVA's profile of computer scientist Adrien Treuille and Foldit, a crowd-sourced protein-folding game
- Television (more than 20 minutes): Smithsonian Channel: Killer in the Caves, about bats and the deadly white-nose fungus
- Radio: NPR and The Center for Public Integrity - As Mine Protections Fail, Black Lung Cases Surge and Black-Lung Rule Loopholes Leave Miners Vulnerable
- Online: An environmental scandal that’s happening right underneath your feet, about the hidden cost of natural gas leaks in pipelines underneath cities
- Children's Science News: Cold Water Corals: Paradise on the Seabed [pdf]
Jonah Lehrer has reportedly sold a book proposal to Simon and Schuster. In Slate, Daniel Engber examines the book proposal for possible plagiarism and comments: Having read through this proposal, I’ll propose a different lesson: If your underwear is full of grit, it might be time to change.
The New York Times has faced criticism after an obituary of Yvonne Brill, rocket scientist, opened with "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said." [more inside]
Women enjoy video games, to the astonishment of local TV newsreaders. Women enjoy science, to the astonishment of Facebook users.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has named the 2012 winners of their science journalism award. The winning text, radio and TV segments -- which cover subjects ranging from bat ecology to nuclear power post-Fukushima -- are all free access. [more inside]
We only wanted one thing from Jonah Lehrer: a story. He told it so well that we forgave him almost everything.
TED Fellow Evgeny Morozov (previously, previously) calls bullshit on the "increasingly" "simplistic" "anxiety-peddling futurology" surrounding the TED conference in generally and especially the new TED book Hybrid Reality by Ayesha & Parag Khanna. [more inside]
"The business of recycling dead humans into medical implants is a little-known yet lucrative trade. But its practices have roused concerns about how tissues are obtained and how well grieving families and transplant patients are informed about the realities and the risks." After an eight month international investigation, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has published an extensive four-part exposé into the black market for cadavers and human tissue: Skin and Bone: The Shadowy Trade in Human Body Parts (Via) [more inside]
Nine ways scientists demonstrate they don't understand journalism. Ananyo Bhattacharya, chief online editor of Nature, writes in the Guardian that science journalism will never and should never be what some scientists want it to be. Meanwhile, aggregators like Futurity (previously on MetaFilter) and The Conversation are aiming to let scientists present their findings to the public without mediation through the traditional press. Bhattacharya describes both as "a bit dull." Bhattacharya, previously: "Scientists should not be allowed to copy-check stories about their work."
"...we still can’t tell whether we are all about to die or whether we are being sold a bill of goods."
'The stories about epidemics that are told in the American press—their plots and tropes—date to the 1920's, when modern research science, science journalism, and science fiction were born.' This is the story of how the media back then (January, 1930) helped fuel fears about a parrot-fever pandemic, and the subsequent public backlash. (Via) [more inside]
"It seems that the majority of health claims made, in a large representative sample of UK national newspapers, are supported only by the weakest possible forms of evidence." So states the Guardian's Bad Science columnist and blogger Ben Goldacre in an article describing a study he performed with several colleagues investigating the quality of health advice given in British newspapers. The study can be found here (only the abstract is free for those who don't subscribe, unfortunately). The Guardian's science editor, James Randerson's critique of the article. Goldacre replies in the comments.
The Line Between Science and Journalism is Getting Blurry….Again by Bora Zivkovic is an excellent, James Burke-ish, essay on science, journalism, and a hopeful future for science journalism. [more inside]
The Best American Science Writing has a diverse set of offerings for this year, including five articles already featured here on the blue. Starting off with Benedict Carey - Surgery for Mental Ills Offers Both Hope and Risk (The New York Times) [more inside]
Targeting the Good Cell: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covers the latest stem cell advances, built around a gripping 2008 series (1, 2, 3) about the competitive race to reprogram mature cells into functionally embryonic stem cells. [more inside]
In response to the declining quantity and quality of science journalism in U.S., a group of 35 universities have created their own online wire service called Futurity.org to distribute research results directly to news sites like Yahoo and Google News. [more inside]
Kill or cure: making sense of the Daily Mail’s ongoing effort to classify every inanimate object into those that cause cancer and those that prevent it. Paul Battley uses automation and crowd-sourcing in the war against bad science reporting.
The death of SciAm. It's no secret that print media is getting hit pretty hard, but the butchering of Scientific American seems particularly brutal. [more inside]
Knight Science Journalism Tracker is a new-ish blog (project of a program at MIT and Charles Petit) that follows science writing and reporting in a very wide range of publications. It's a good way to learn about how science news is reported, and an efficient way to keep up with the news itself. [some recent examples]
Scientific American to stop reporting science, more creationism. There's no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don't mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming...But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there's no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.