Monday, April 8, 2013

Vanoli Cannoli

After reading this article, I was left with one immediate question: “Where is the research?”  With out presenting at least a link to an abstract, Vanoli’s opinion, as well as this article, seem completely worthless.  After ten minutes of searching Google and Google Scholar for links to a paper by Vanoli, I can safely say there is no such paper. 
            But surprisingly, the effects of mercury can cause neurological damage.  Considering the varying exposure levels and methods of mercury exposure out there, it is not safe to completely invalidate Dr. Vanoli’s hypothesis.  Mercury in vaccines could, in fact, be contributing to some of the neurological disorders in children, but the relationship between homosexuality and neurological damage has not been remotely proven.  The point being that without some seriously good evidence from Dr. Vanoli, the fact remains that no one knows the cause of homosexuality.
            Which brings me to my biggest problem with this article: WHY DOES THIS ARTICLE EXIST?  I understand that the journalist who wrote this is looking for a nice fat bonus at the end of the pay period and is looking to get their name out there in the world of reporting, but this is simply garbage.  This article is reporting a quote from one scientist, with no scientific evidence of his theory, with no published papers about this.  For what reason beyond entertainment is this article made?  I think that the presence of these types of articles in the world highlights my point posted earlier in the blog about having scientific news reported by trained scientific journalists.  Seeing things like this in the media is quite upsetting.  This is not news, only another person with another opinion.  Glad we documented that.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fox News

            Unfortunately, I am approaching this prompt from a completely biased point of view.  The slogan of Fox News that claims it is “Fair and balanced” is a running joke amongst my fellow liberal friends and family members.  It is clear to me that Fox News has the habit of construing MOST information to favor Conservative ideologies.
            The studies that have determined that those who watch only Fox News know less than those who do not watch the news at all are a bit questionable however.  Those who watch Fox News may be exposed to biased opinions, but at least they are being exposed to news stories that are current.  By the same mechanism that we talked about in class earlier this semester, which is to include a strong statement at the end of an article that encourages independent research, those who watch Fox news stories would hopefully respond with some independent research. 
            It is because of this hopeful positive exposure to news in general that one would hope that exposure to media such as Fox News would not leave their viewers with completely useless information.   However, it is not really even worth arguing the fact that Fox News distributes deeply biased information that promotes the platform of the republican party.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ideal Journalist

In my personal opinion, Mooney is correct in his article in saying that the increasing ‘cheapness’ of the media in finding many reporters, most of which have received little to no training in specific areas of coverage (ex. Science journalism), has lead to a great demise in the accuracy of reporting.  On one hand, we have journalists that acknowledge their lacking scientific knowledge, and compensate by covering several scientific opinions on an issue despite the lack of evidence for some certain opinions.  These journalists introduce unfounded opinions to the general public, and can create huge misinterpretations of studies and of the facts discovered from those studies in doing so.  On the other hand, there are journalists that do not acknowledge their lack of scientific knowledge and can easily be fooled into publishing a story that may come from a disreputable source or have questionable data backing their claim.  These can be equally, if not more damaging to the general public because of the lack of the presentation of other options, which would at least allow the scientifically literate community to decipher which studies are accurate.

It is through the study of both of these extremes that one cannot tell a journalist to either publish many ideas on the same topic nor to publish one opinion on the topic.  It seems that a reactionary action is necessary to revive science journalism to where Mooney indicated it had been during the ‘space race’.   It is NECESSARY to have trained scientific journalists that can use their own training and expertise to identify newsworthy stories, assess their reliability and to convey the scientific information from these studies in an accurate way.  This would eliminate a large portion of the misinformation out there on any vast array of topics.  If journalists publishing articles were held to the same standards that scientists were in publishing scientific papers, the media would be a much more useful tool, as opposed to a circus that will spin a story to benefit the interests of the highest bidder or publish an article with the facts of the news completely rearranged due to a lack of understanding.

Monday, March 18, 2013

            The scientist drawings that my friends and I made consist of a large white lab coat as most of the picture, with some accessory items such as a head, arms and legs sticking out of the giant coat.  All of the drawings had glasses and most had beards and crazy hair. 
            The illustrations of the scientists reflect a long-standing, media-created view of the scientist.  Let’s consider Dr. Frankenstein for a moment:

Crazy hair? Check.
Goggles/glasses? Check.
White lab coat? Check.

This view of scientists is an interesting consideration when deliberating how it affects the public’s trust in scientists and their conclusions.  The example of Dr. Frankenstein is a perfect example for this.  Examining not just his appearance, but his life story, one can see that he is eccentric, willing to go beyond the realm of appropriate behavior for his experiments (collecting body parts and whatnot), and cannot control his own creations.  Many of these characteristics are shared amongst scientists in movies and other media outlets. 
            Despite the overuse of these characteristics in many scientists in movies, many scientists I have met are not this way at all.  Throughout my time doing research from my freshman summer in high school, to my current research at Ursinus College, I have encountered quite a few scientists along my way.  One thing that I can say about most of the people that I meet in scientific fields is that they are extremely logical.  In order to perform experiments and to discover new things, one must be able to troubleshoot.  This requires a fair amount of logical thinking (eg. “given this, this and that… what could be the root of a problem in this experiment”).  This characteristic in scientists has allowed me to see scientists in their true light: as interesting AND interested people with the ability to solve problems (in science and in life) in an efficient and agreeable way and finally to see beyond (excuse my French) the bullshit and to interpret information as it is.  Perhaps if the media were a bit kinder to scientists, the public would have an easier time trusting them and trusting their findings.  Maybe one day instead of thinking scientists and seeing Dr. Frankenstein in our minds eye, we will see someone more like this:

Monday, March 4, 2013


As Stephen Colbert vaguely defines it, truthiness is the interpretation of the information you feel to be true as fact.  This is a vague definition, as are most definitions that involve “feeling” any type of emotion.  However, I most relate truthiness to a intuitive “gut” feeling that I get when interpreting a story that you have just read.   These intuitions usually come from preliminary data that you have collected from friends, political propaganda, parents, etc.  Lets say we have just read an article about red wine.  This particular article is in the most recent Food and Wine magazine and states that red wine is in no way, shape or form good for your cardiovascular health.  I would immediately look at this article with suspicion mostly due to the exceedingly large amounts of articles stating that red wine IS good for you, but also because I like red wine!  The fact that I like it and that I somehow feel just a bit more relaxed and healthy after two glasses at night makes me feel that perhaps this article is not giving us the whole “truthiness”, and nothing but the “truthiness”.

With respect to science writing, there is a fine line between incorporating truthiness amongst fact, and straight out lying.  Often times, a composite between hard fact and its relation to truthiness is the best answer to how scientific writing can best incorporate truthiness. If we were to say, for instance, that red wine is healthy for you due to the high levels of tannins in the grape skins, and to somehow relate this to how red wine makes you feel warm, it would give the audience something to relate back to their preliminary data (supposedly from drinking enough wine to feel warm).  This is perhaps the most effective way to incorporate “truthiness” into science writing.  Although I can definitely say that I hate the word “truthiness” both because it sounds bad, and because a gut feeling is never to be obeyed blindly without preliminary data, or new findings.  However, it does have some merit in terms of making dry science writing more effective and relatable.