Friday, December 5, 2008

Mmm Mmm Research

Recently a Nightline report highlighted research being done at Cambell's Soup Company. They have hired an anthropologist to study why we eat what we eat and when. Most of us don't think to much about why we chose pizza for dinner last night or why we have bought that one brand of cereal we loved as a child. Since the economic downturn people have been turning to classic comfort foods. This has been a real boon for companies like soup companies. It also offers a unique research opportunity for those interested in human behavior. Over the next few months and years we can expect some interesting insights into how people cope with adversity in their lives and also how they make themselves feel a little better (or not) under tough circumstances. If nothing else, we can learn more about ourselves when we all turn inward and take a peek in these difficult economic times. 

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Expelled Reviewed by Ebert

Roger Ebert gives Expelled a great, on point review. In the review he systematically takes the movie apart and really shows it for what it is. If you have a minute to check it out it makes a funny read.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Encouraging Scientific Thinking

As a society we have had a bit of a hiccup in the public perception of science in our every day life. Scientific principals and advances are everywhere if we only take a minute to look. In some ways we have all become the beneficiaries of years of hard work and discovery. What about the next generation of thinkers? Several studies have shown a drop in scientific literacy in the US. How can this be remedied? I believe the answer is in the packaging and delivery of science to the public. We should take a cue from those who have made psuedoscience so popular. They have learned that taking the time to make a person feel included and knowledgeable are great tools to market an idea. The key is accessibility. Often times scientific ideas are geared toward the people who already have the base knowledge and understanding to grasp the new information to be digested. This isn't something that can easily be overcome by the average lay person. A new approach is needed. We should all slow down and explain things just a little more. Science is exciting and often times excitement is contagious, so that should be taken advantage of. Once we have a person's attention we need to keep it, foster it, and encourage it. Sometimes it's as simple as showing a child the wonder of nature and the universe and then following up with why things are the way they are. Children are curious and want answers.  Adults aren't immune to that wonder either, so let's take advantage of that for the common good. The consequences of a less scientifically literate public could be dire. Not only is psuedoscience silly, at times it can even be dangerous. 

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Monday, December 1, 2008

You Want Me to Put What on My Feet?

It's that time of year again, when PBS asks us to support programming and pledge money. As a bonus they often send books, videos, or a wide variety of other "gifts." One of the gifts recently offered was a book titled "The People's Pharmacy Favorite Home Remedies". Joe and Terry Graedon, the authors, were telling us all about the home remedies they had received from the public. One such remedy was for a child's cough. Joe and Terry ask us that given the recent backlash and possible dangers of children's cough medicines, what is a parent to do? Their answer: Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet with thick socks to protect your sheets. My question: How and why would that work? I did a little research and found that this topic has been looked at by and David Emory's urban legends site. There is nothing beside anecdotal evidence to support the claim. No studies have shown it to be effective. In fact, there is no mechanism to explain how it could work besides the vapors that Vicks gives off anyway when used correctly. The makers of Vicks VapoRub advocate using the product only as recommended in the packaging. VapoRub contains camphor, and some health agencies have advised that products containing camphor not be used for children because some products may be toxic if ingested or excessively applied to the skin. There have even been cases of seizures associated with camphor. So, will I be putting Vicks on my children's or my own feet next time someone has a cough? No, thank you, I think I'll leave that squishy sounding endeavor to someone else.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Skeptic or Denier?

An episode of Oprah aired recently that made me pause. The episode was Global Warming 101 with Al Gore, which originally aired on 12/05/06. During the episode Oprah asked Gore why the "skeptics" were so skeptical and disbelieving of the severity of the issue.  She also interviewed a "skeptic" for the show. What bothered me was the fact that she  wasn't really referring to skeptics. She was really talking about climate change deniers. There are many complicated facets to climate change but I don't many skeptics who deny it is a man made phenomenon. A few skeptics may disagree with some of the finer points or predictions of climate change studies but most don't disagree with scientific consensus. By calling deniers skeptics, Oprah is perpetuating a stereotype of the skeptic as a person who is quick to dismiss, close-minded and contrary. A skeptic is a person who wants evidence for a claim and uses critical thinking skills when analyzing an issue. Let's call it like it is. A denier is a denier, not a skeptic.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

CBS: A Return to Intellegent Entertainment?

I want to take a moment to give a tip of the hat to CBS. Over the past few years they have introduced several new shows that are both smart and entertaining. This year offerings include The Mentalist and 11th Hour. The three CSI shows and Numbers have been on the air for a while now and have introduced us to main characters that use science, math and logic. Its high time that a major network has stopped dumbing down our entertainment and given us something to actually enjoy watching. While these shows may not always be accurate (most crime labs are lucky to get DNA results in weeks not hours) they are better than mind-numbing situational comedies and far-fetched soap styled dramas. Hopefully this trend of rational protagonists will continue and maybe even spread to the other networks. Now if something could be done about Ghost Whisperer....

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Friday, November 28, 2008

A New Saturn Mystery

Saturn, like Earth, has an aurora. Aurorae are caused by charged particles that upon nearing a planet are captured and funneled toward the poles by the planet's magnetic field. When the particles hit the atmosphere, they knock electrons from atoms. When they recombine and excite an atom it causes the air to emit emission lines that are visible. Recent Cassini images have captured an aurora across a broader region of Saturn than ever seen before. Scientists are unsure of why this may be. This interesting new event will lead astronomers and physicists to new discoveries about Saturn and its magnetosphere. For further reading and a beautiful infrared image click here.

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