US Beats Turkey

April 30th, 2007

This story was just sent to me by TWIS minion John Nicholson. I’ve seen it before, but it continues to bring me no end of grief.

The US is almost last in its acceptance of the Theory of Evolution compared to the other nations polled in 2005. It does beat Turkey, and by a fairly wide margin, but come on… this is simply ridiculous. Our nation is definitely tailing other modernized nations by a significant margin.

I have a hard time accepting this information, even though it comes from a reliable source. The kicker is that over the past 20 years the US has become less certain of the Theory of Evolution. It just goes to show that a good PR campaign is all you need to sway the masses.

Finding this all rather depressing and gloomy. I’m off to search for more uplifting news.

Over and Mis-Stated

April 26th, 2007

This week has turned into the week of media fallacies. Or, if not fallacies then complete overstatements of scientific results. First, there were the bees, and now the berries.

A listener sent me a story from a British newspaper that reported on a scientific study supposedly showing that cellphones are killing bees. This headline has been everywhere, and since so many people were jumping on the bandwagon I felt I should investigate. I found the original paper, and unfortunately it is in German. So, I couldn’t read it, but I did take a look at a translated version and another earlier paper on the same topic from the same resaerch group. This article does a fairly good job of describing the situation.

It turns out that the headlines and stories being being reported by the majority of outlets are completely baseless. The researchers first didn’t use cell phones in the study. They used the base for a handheld household phone. And, they put it in a hive. Second, they didn’t look at bee death. they looked at whether or not the bees returned to their hives. They were interested in the effects of radiation on memory. Third, they didn’t even find a significant result. There was a trend, which indicates that further study might be useful. But, under no means did any aspect of the research out of this group warrant the media attention it has received.

Now, in the case of the berry fiasco, I’ll have to admit some culpability, as my radio show did report on the story. To be honest I hadn’t read the report and Justin took the lead on reporting it. So, I wasn’t paying enough attention, and we managed to tow the party line so to speak. Sorry, busy week.

The berry story was reported as alcohol increasing the antioxdants in berries (i.e. daquiris are good for you). However, even though the study, which looked at the abilities of several volatile compunds to affect decomposition and antioxidant levels, did find that ethanol increased antioxidant levels, ethanol wasn’t the best. A compound called methly jasmonate won out by far.

The study is nicely reviewed by Shirly Batts at Retrospectacle, which has turned into a nice little spectacle itself as a result. Very interesting to take a look at especially if you are interested in fair use copyright laws. Heh. From fruit to copyright in two easy steps. Sounds like a cookbook.

Anyway, the moral of the berry story and the bee stories this week is, “don’t trust the media.” Well, trust them a little, but always be willing and ready to do your own searching if something just doesn’t sit right, or if you think it interesting in some way. The headlines are meant to grab you, and the stories are meant to sell the paper, magazine, etc. The crazier they are, the better to get you to buy, right?

I think it comes down to the media wanting to tell a story. And, stories always have nice endings. But, science doesn’t work that way. Rarely, will a story be the end all be all on a subject. Even your textbooks become outdated over time. So, unfortunately, the disconnect between science and the media will remain until enough people blog and talk about the real stories that scientists are telling. The ones with the messy endings.

World Robot Domination

April 13th, 2007

A listener sent me the link to this video through Pink Tentacle. I love it. The editing is terrific and you really get the ominous nature ofthe robots. The music is japanese noise pop, so if you’re at work watch the speaker volume level.

Thanks, Bill!