Stem Cell Therapy Needs Global Regulation

February 27th, 2009

From my article on Skepticblog.org:

“Although the Russians claim to be using “neural stem cells”, they are not. They essentially take whole fetal brain, put in a Cuisinart, and inject it uncharacterized as a graft slurry,” wrote Dr. Snyder on The-Scientist.com.

Dr. Snyder and his colleagues have a paper in revision at the New England Journal of Medicine in which they analyzed the cells used in a similar case from the same group, and concluded that they were not likely to be neural stem cells.

Dr. Kiki’s Flame Tube

February 25th, 2009

I love my flame tube. Distributed by Tubemogul.

There is something primal about watching flames jump to the sound of music.

A Response to Cali’s Weekend Twitter Circus

February 16th, 2009

So, this past weekend Cali Lewis twittered the following statement:

It’s so sad that smart people don’t pay attention to the science that proves global warming is a hoax.”

It created a thunderstorm of responses (I’ll admit to my own raised eyebrows.) to which she ended up replying in a blog post. Her post is quite a bit more carefully worded than the initial tweet, and addresses the initial feelings that led her to (unintentionally?) spark an online debate.

“Last night Neal and I took a break from a movie to grab a snack. The radio was on (NPR - like always), and I heard another yet political pundit talking about how we’ve caused global warming and what we need to do about it.”

Fair enough, the science of climate change has been politicized. I’m weary of the zealots on either side of the socio-political debate on this issue. However, in the next sentence Cali goes on to explain her position a bit further, and this is where I begin to diverge from her opinion.

“This person’s emphatic belief in man-made global warming was so over-the-top different from what climate scientists are saying that I tweeted my frustration.”

I don’t know what the person on the radio was saying, not having heard it myself, but I’ll guess that they were simply parroting the IPCC report conclusions that current climate trends are due in large part to human activities in order to give scientific credence to whatever environmental plan they happened to be espousing. Again, an annoying use of the science because it doesn’t take into account the complexity that scientists are dealing with, but not altogether wrong. I don’t know that it is “over-the-top different” from the majority consensus.

Cali goes on to say:

 ”We’ve all heard about the 600 scientists who signed on to the UN’s global warming report. The media doesn’t readily share information about the thousands of scientist who disagree:”

This is manufactured controversy. There are always going to be individuals with varying opinions. I spend my time paying attention to as much of the science media as I can, and the reality is that the reporting on climate change is dominated by the few scientists who disagree with each other. The rest of the science world is doing what they do best… their jobs. And, the science supports the consensus.

The links Cali provides seem at the outset to provide evidence to her statement that there there is a big cover-up going on. However, a little digging reveals that the sources of the information aren’t necessarily trustworthy. The petition is served by an institution called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. The initial run of the petition was discredited as misleading (see the preceding link) for various reasons. The senate link is a minority report provided by Senator Inhofe’s press blog. Inhofe is known for making misleading statements about climate science. And, the interview dishes up a fair bit of misinformation, which I’m not going to focus on here.

My final disagreement with Cali’s opinion is where she recommends Dr. Roy Spencer as a single source for information on climate. She says:

“His research corresponds with the work of other climatologists.”

Yes, he has done some very good work, but he’s not the only person doing climate research. Interestingly, according to RealClimate.org:

“… what he gets through peer-review is far less threatening to the mainstream picture of anthropogenic global warming than you’d think from the spin he puts on it in press releases, presentations and the blogosphere.”

I just want to remind people that science is never based on the work or the opinions of one person. Science is not a petition. It is based on data-based consensus over time. So, while it might be useful to read Roy’s book as Cali suggests, it is also good to look for other books and articles by many other authors before forming an opinion.

Unfortunately, the issue has been so politicized that people do have opinions whether or not they know anything about climate science because of the emotions involved. I have a basic understanding of the science involved, but I leave the details to the experts, those working on the science. I try to temper my own opinion with the understanding that I don’t know everything on this topic.

In this, I agree with Cali:

“Here’s the problem and the reason I’m willing to be a little controversial and publicly talk about my skepticism: The politicians sound like apocalyptic preachers who doom us to all kinds of disaster if we don’t believe their message.”

The politics have gone overboard. It doesn’t matter which news stations you listen to, because of ratings and poll results, pundits and politicians have forgotten about moderation.

“Climate scientists sound like rational adults seeking the truth. Science is all about skepticism. I’m skeptic, and science says I have a real reason to be one.”

It is good to be skeptical, but not to the detriment of reason. Sometimes skeptics forget to poke holes in their own arguments. I don’t think science is about skepticism. It is about critical thinking, which is necessary for proper support of skepticism. Yes, be a skeptic, but look at as many sides of an issue as you can, and remember that there are probably others that you have not considered. An opinion is just that, an opinion, not a statement of fact. We all have them, but that doesn’t make us experts.

The issue of “global warming” is a complicated one, which is why it is so easy for people to muddy the waters of public opinion. I find it sad that people have become so polarized over wording and not the crucial issue of humanity. Will humanity survive a dramatic period of climate change? Probably, but at what cost? And, given what benefits?

I agree with Cali that blue skies and clear water are of utmost importance. Let’s try to get past the politics and name-calling. They will never get us anywhere.

And, I suggest that anyone who called Cali names apologize.

Are you at TED?

February 5th, 2009

The world’s most inspiring conference begins this week, and all over the blogosphere people are talking about it. Somehow it seems as if everyone is attending when in fact fewer than 1500 people have been accepted for attendance.

The TED conference has grown in popularity over recent years with the advancement of new media technologies. What was once seen by few, and passed along by word of mouth is now broadcast around the world with the help of new media.

Yet, even with the attempt to bring inspiration to more than the individuals in a lecture hall, I can’t help but see TED as elitist. First, the $6000 price tag makes it nearly impossible for the average person to attend. Even with scholarships, the reduced rate of $2000 is more than most can afford. This financial barrier insures that only the elite can take part. There seems to be an assumption that the most inspiring ideas come from those in the higher eschelons of society. Sure, those people can afford “better” educations, have good jobs, and lifestyles that allow them to innovate. But, there is amazing work being done by people who make no money. Couldn’t those financially less fortunate benefit from the amazing ideas at TED? Couldn’t they have something to offer?

I can only imagine what could happen if the people at the TED conference were to rub shoulders with the “riff-raff” instead of the “thinkers”. But, if that were the conference, it wouldn’t be TED. Would the speakers come? Would the people want to be there?

That said, the talks at TED are inspiring. People are doing amazing work of which everyone shold be aware. I will be watching from my office chair.

The Science Word 08_12_20

February 2nd, 2009
A quick review of some interesting research involving cell phones by Dr. Kiki Sanford. Distributed by Tubemogul.