Category: New York Times

Yes, it’s a list! Five Profoundest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2013

Okay, 2013 is as good as over, and you’re no doubt currently bombarded by countdowns and reviews describing cultural highlights from the last 12 months. Basically, it was all twerking, One Direction, Rob Ford, North West-Kardashian, Edward Snowden, horsemeat, and Syria. I get it. (Please make it stop…)

There has also been no shortage of science-related highlights lists for 2013. I refer you in particular to those from io9, Gizmodo, and Wired, as well as Ed Yong‘s anti-list of “hidden gems”. These are certainly all top notch.

But, as ever, my purpose is to blog about the way science is greeted by regular Joes/Josephines like you. The hoi polloi. The masses. The great unwashed, as it were. Yes, you, dear reader.

(By the way, did I ever tell you that you are my favourite reader? [FYI: Do please take a moment to locate your nearest ‘Share’ and ‘Like’ buttons (hint: they’re behind you)]).

So I’m not looking for bells and whistles and fancy data visualisations, I’m looking for profundity. I’m looking for the type of science that makes us re-think what it actually means to be us. The science that makes us go “Woah, horsey!” or even, at times, “Cowabunga!Continue reading “Yes, it’s a list! Five Profoundest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2013”

A study not worth its salt?

This week’s news that researchers had apparently debunked the link between dietary salt intake and heart disease was surprising to say the least, but for all that it was lapped up enthusiastically by the media. Some headline writers revelled in the newness of the findings: “Scientists shake up what we know about salt” announced CBS News; “New salt study stirs up controversy” said The Independent. Many outlets remained hesitant about dispensing with prior wisdoms: “Eating less salt may not help heart health” cautioned US News & World Report; “Is sodium actually good?” wondered Shape Magazine. However, as always, other news reports were quite happy to shift the paradigm straight away, providing verdicts that turned previous wisdom on its head. “Salt is GOOD for you” announced the Daily Mail. “Low-salt diet kills” warned the Canada Free Press. “Pass the potato chips” cheered The Globe and Mail. So what’s the story with this research then? Should we now start munching on salt rocks straight out of the shaker? Or should we take these new findings with a pinch of, well, you know…? Continue reading “A study not worth its salt?”

“Radiation is good for Japan”: Coulter’s case dissected

Have a listen to Ann Coulter talking to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News last week (the show aired on St Patrick’s Day, hence O’Reilly’s green tie). Coulter is a social conservative columnist and lawyer, well known in the US for her right-wing diatribes. Here she is talking about recent events in Japan, regarding which she takes the somewhat unusual position of claiming that, actually, a meltdown at Fukushima would not be that problematic at all. This is because, contrary to common opinion, exposure to the levels of radiation emitted during nuclear accidents is actually good for you. Literally, she is saying that people in Japan will benefit from radiation exposure. It says something about the rashness of her claims that even a conservative climate-change equivocator like Bill O’Reilly appears to be a little sceptical about them.

One interesting aspect of the clip is that Coulter explicitly attempts to back up her claims by citing relevant mainstream science. It is always difficult to counter research-based arguments without access to the primary sources, and clearly Bill O’Reilly is in little position to question her on the specifics. Given that Coulter’s claims have found a wide-ranging online audience in recent days, it is important that each of her research-based arguments be scrutinised for accuracy. After all, conspiracy theorists and climate-change deniers are always at their most incorrigible when they are able to cite reference after reference to published research studies. And anyway, given that Coulter’s studies sound pretty persuasive, might she actually be right? Continue reading ““Radiation is good for Japan”: Coulter’s case dissected”

%d bloggers like this: