The week in six bits:
1. NASA startled by ‘Jelly Donut’ on Mars. Probably not a doughnut, though. Personally, I’m more startled by how dumbed down USA Today actually managed to make this report.
2. Conflicts of interest. It’s been a noisy week for sugar. Some folks want it taxed, others want it banned, and a few want it declared “the new tobacco.” In this insight into the petty politics of public health, Christopher Snowdon sums up what happens when you attempt to respond to such accusations by examining the research evidence. It’s not pretty. (This response to Dispatches on UK’s Channel 4 is also worth a look.)
3. Acupuncture Assists Penile Surgery: New Finding. This study recruited 1,481 males, who agreed to have acupuncture during penile surgery (it is some consolation to learn that, in true acupuncture fashion, the needles were administered to parts of the body other than the penis). The researchers reported that the men experienced “less discomfort” during the surgery. Way-hay! Too bad there was no control group. Boo!
4. Smoking while pregnant could make your baby gay says Dr Dick Swaab. Or, to quote exactly from the first paragraph of this Sunday World article: “smoking and drinking during pregnancy can make your infant gay and stupid“. Yes, they said “gay and stupid.” (If your infant is gay, be sure to avoid the Winter Olympics. Vladimir Putin will want your child to keep away from itself).
5. New river dolphin species discovered in Brazil. Lacks that stereotypical dolphinesque cuteness, I feel:
6. The Myspace Fallacy. Apparently, Facebook is going to die just like Myspace. Except, apparently, this is a fallacy. So let’s call it the Myspace Fallacy. It turns out that the original paper claiming Facebook’s looming demise was methodologically, well, pretty stupid — and published online with no peer-review to boot — but this didn’t stop it plundering the Internet and hitting mainstream media headlines. This Slate article spells out the journalistic implications, to devastating effect.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.