Science and politics
- New Statesman guest editors Brian Cox and Robin Ince have written a pointed commentary on the role of science in policymaking. They highlight that non-scientific political issues have invaded public interpretation of science; this risks damaging society's confidence in scientific truth. It's a good read. A couple of responses quickly followed, including two weakly critical responses from Rebekah Higgitt (The Guardian), Jack Stilgoe (also The Guardian), and a favorable reply from Jon Butterworth (still at The Guardian). I commented on this earlier this week here.
- Discover Magazine blogger Keith Kloor (Collide-a-Scape) comments on the above article and also on the current toxic environment of the science-vs-religion fights. He argues against the "Puritanical" zero-tolerance policy of Richard Dawkins and like-minded skeptics.
- Bill Nye has written a sort of open letter to the federal legislature regarding the impending fiscal cliff; he urges (like most of us do) a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, but makes the case that legislators avoid cuts in science. His argument is that science drives innovation which drives American economic superiority. Is science going to be immune from the cuts? I doubt it, unfortunately.
- Antibiotic use (also discussed last week) in livestock is a major contributor to widespread drug resistance. Laura Rogers reports on recent issues and developments in laws and regulations regarding antibiotic use, including increased oversight of how and where the drugs are used, an end to non-prescription antibiotic use for animals, and stopping the practice of using antibiotics when they're not needed.
Bad science and bad journalism
- Under the "bad journalism" theme comes a Fox News (!!!) science section piece titled "Duh! 12 obvious science findings of 2012". I have a problem with pieces that pander to readers by highlighting "obvious" research (especially since many things previously considered "obvious" are now known not to be true). To be fair to Fox News, this same piece appeared at Huffington Post.
- Complementary to bad journalism is bad science. Christopher Wanjek writes on HuffingtonPost about the top five science retractions of 2012. The first one (the scientist who made up his own peer reviewers and clued editors in by responding too favorably and too quickly) is the best. This, too, is cross-posted to Fox News. Although the retractions highlighted are certainly disturbing, the tone of the article's introduction sets an atmosphere of general mistrust of scientists and science. Of course, scientific misconduct is serious (and increasingly we are being made aware of it) but the author seems to de-emphasize the role of kneejerk journalism in public disappointment.
- Disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield (the guy who had that fraudulent study linking autism and vaccines) has been given the Golden Duck award for 'lifetime achievement in quackery'. The award is part of an effort by scientists and science advocates to spread awareness of bad science and pseudoscience. However, some, such as Frank Swain of SciencePunk, feel the award is counterproductive: things like this come across as smug and contemptuous, and the group giving out the Golden Duck isn't influential enough to matter.
- To the long list of "people at The Ohio State University who have gotten caught committing research fraud" we can add pharmacologist Terry S. Elton, who apparently manipulated over two dozen figures in papers and grant applications. (For other examples see pharmacy professor Robert J. Lee and, most familiar to chemists, Leo Paquette).
- Michael Zimmerman describes Indiana State Senator Dennise Kruse's attempt to insert creationism into Indiana public school science classes under the tired guise of "academic freedom". Zimmerman points out the ridiculousness of expecting middle schoolers to be able to be able to reach the same scientific conclusions as scientific researchers.
- A New York Times piece by Jennifer Kingson gives a brief and interesting history of chemistry sets.
- Mark at Chemistry Blog takes issue with the model of bonding/antibonding used in one of this year's Christmas Lectures. Meanwhile, we in the USA (i.e. 'Murica) remain confused.
Imagery in science
- Imagery and aesthetics are usually the last thing on scientists' minds, but they can be instrumental in promotion of science. See not only this post by Alex Wild asking readers to submit the year's best science imagery, but also this fascinating blog where a chemist uses large quantities of materials and takes beautiful high-resolution -- and artistic -- photos of labware and reactions.
- Wired features a gallery of what they describe as the best scientific figures of 2012 (i.e. figures in journals, not "figures" as in people/scientists). I like "The Essence of Tomato" -- it's the one that looks like a DNA microchip heat map and it describes relative abundance of various flavor compounds in varietals of tomatoes. There's also an image of a lonely yttrium atom.
- On a related tangent, there's a piece by Virginia Hughes on Only Human over at National Geographic regarding perception of science and the importance of creativity. It's short and well-written and highlights important issues in how children at impressionable ages are losing interest because they don't see creativity in it. The piece also addresses strategies for combating this notion.
- An incidence of chemophobia from a science blog (Last Word on Nothing) has attracted attention from the chemblogosphere (namely this post by See Arr Oh). It's part of a series where the writers talk about their fears of certain sciences. Though it perhaps comes off as anti-chemistry and can be seen as pointing the central science in boring/incomprehensible tones, I think that it importantly highlights the need for science educators to address this (read the last two paragraphs) in making the subject more broadly accessible. I suppose I object to the post less than See Arr Oh does.
- The winners of the National Medal of Science this year include chemists Allen J. Bard (electrochemistry; UT Austin) and M. Frederick Hawthorne (inorganic chemistry; Missouri, previously UCLA). Also on the list is influential biomedical scientist Leroy Hood (systems biology; Johns Hopkins).
- B.R.S.M. comments on the the synthetic biology vs organic synthesis rivalry.
- See Arr Oh asks readers about vacation time in academia, industry, etc. 1 day a year should be good enough for anybody, right?
- Here on Not the Lab I've added a Biology Resources page that may be useful to some; it'll grow.
- The Huffington Post featured Sense About Science's list of the year's most science illiterate celebrities; it's a pretty amusing read. It also includes a list of buzzwords that are commonly used but are meaningless, including "detox", "immune-boosting", "superfood", "oxygenating", and "cleansing". Meanwhile, the Huffington Post swings to the other end of the quackery spectrum by publishing a favorable article about holiday "cleanses".