Knight Science Journalism Tracker – Daily report

November 15, 2010

Knight Science Journalism Tracker Home Suggest StoriesAbout UsStaffContact UsLog In Register to Comment LA Times: General Electric to buy 25,000 electric cars. November 12th, 2010

If General Electric won’t buy electric cars – after all it is mostly about electricity for this company – who will? Now we know it will buy some. The Los Angeles Times’s Jerry Hirsch reports it plans to buy 25,000 o f them by 2015.

Space is tight so how much perspective one can expect has to be limited. This does sound like a pretty good kick start for an industry. The story implies this one company will include a lot of Chevy Volts in its new fleet buy.

However, the story might usefully have said how small a number this is, symbolic value aside. Each year Americans buy roughly 10 million cars, which means around 50 million in the next five years. The total US car fleet is around 250 million cars. So yes, just as Tesla’s ability to sell more than 1,000 all-electric roadsters is notable, this is notable news. But in itself, meaningless.

Other stories on GE’s electrics:

Reuters – Tate Dwinnell: General Electric to Purchase 25K Electric Vehicle, 12K Chevy Volts;Bloomberg – Alan Ohnsman, Rachel Layne: Immelt Buying Volts Casts GE as Electric-Car Corporate Catalyst ;Wall St. Journal – Paul Glader, Michael Ramsey: GE to Buy 25,000 Electric Vehicles. Purchases, Through 2015, Will Convert Much of Company’s Fleet to Green Cars ;Forbes – Christina DesMarais : GE and Others Green Their Fleets ; Freelancer DesMarais digs up some figures, much smaller ones, of other corporate moves toward electric fleets.

- Charlie Petit

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Lots of ink: How a cat laps with only the tippy tip of its whippy quick tongue November 12th, 2010

Warm and fuzzy animal stories really do have an advantage in competition for news space. And when it’s a puddy tat drinking from a saucer of milk, with scientists standing around taking notes and high-res video and proclaiming it a surprise, bingo.

The news is that researchers at MIT, Va.Tech, and Princeton analyzed how cats drink and proclaimed it pretty darned interesting. They did it in the journal Science, so the media perked up. One wonders, given the overt propensity of Science to expect itself to generate news each week, whether a cute critter story that has a legit science angle has a leg up on, say, the induced magnetics of quasi-crystalline germanium, when editors make the final cut of what gets in and does not. Not that I’m suggesting an overt policy to skew the elections toward appealing pets.

It sounds to me like cats drink through soda straws, only without the straw part. They levitate columns of milk with the ends of their tongues – some kind of momentum thing – and close their mouths around it before it collapses. Dogs don’t do it that way – they do a more horizontal slurping, spooning sort of job. This reminds one of news stories not so long ago on how birds drink, tricking beads of water to slide uphill on the near-parallel edges of their quivering beaks. Definitely upper division fluid mechanics.

Lots of reporters and editors could not resist, even if a few do seem to think this science is INCREDIBLE, like quantum chromodynamics or something. Your CAT does SCIENCE!! No, it expresses evolution. The science is us figuring it out. In this case it took physicists, engineers, and mathematicians. That picture is funny precisely because cats don’t do any of that. Of course, some of these heads are over the top in self-mocking jest.

Seriously, for all the talk of science, none of these pieces explains exactly how the tip of a tongue induces a column of milk or water to follow it upon its withdrawal from the liquid’s surface.


Time Magazine – Claire McCormick: The Incredible Science Behind the Drinking Kitty ; Call Stockholm, book a room. This says they drink without getting their whiskers and chin wet. Really? I think our cat Emma gets’em wet.Washington Post – Marc Kaufman: How a cat drinks” Feline finesse and fluid dynamics ;Science News – Susan Milius: Cats drink using lap-and-gulp trick / Imbibing a delicate interplay between inertia and gravity ; She gets in a nice quote from a musing researcher: “It’s amazing how you look at something and think, somebody must have studied that before. But as happens with many things in everyday life, that is not the case.”Sydney Morning Herald – Nicky Phillips: Cats take a victory lap, licking dogs in the battle of the pets ; Cats know hydrodynamics, it says here. Dogs don’t.Boston Globe – Carolyn Y. Johnson: Pet project / Scientists discover the intricacies of feline drinking ; No kidding, Johnson gets A+ . She crafts a pretty nice narrative yarn on scientific curiosity, method, and temperament out of this.Wired Science – Lisa Grossman: High-Speed Video Reveals Cats’ Secret Tongue Skills ; This has easiest access to a said video. It IS rather intriguing.Not Exactly Rocket Science – Ed Yong: How the cat that got the cream then drank it ;NYTimes – Nicholas Wade: For Cats, a Big Gulp With a Touch of the Tongue ; The lede, somewhat mocking, is delightful.Register – Lewis Page: Pussy-slurping. You think you understand it, BUT YOU DON’T / Boffins in cataclysmic lingual robotics breakthrough ; This ain’t bad, for all the boffin baiting. It even includes the dimensionless Froude number. I still want to know what van der waals or other stictional event entrains the milk or water on to the withdrawing tongue tip. It’s not that I’m surprised it does so. I just don’t know the why and the jargon of it.MSNBC Cosmic Log – Alan Boyle: Scientists reveal secret of a cat’s lap ;ABC (Australia) Dani Cooper: Cat lapping defies gravity ;NPR – Geoff Brumfiel: The Uncanny Lapping Of Cats ;Toronto Star – Joseph Hall: The science behind how cats lap ; Ah ha, everybody else goes with a balance of inertia and gravity. This reporter adds a third factor, Unfortunately for word-oddity collectors it is not the Josephson quantum Hall effect, but adhesion. Now we’re talking. He spells it out in plain English.Mail Online: David Derbyshire: Cats don’t lap, they suck: New study reveals how our pets drink their milk without making a mess ;… lots more.

One Final Question: I didn’t look for it and maybe missed it. So many reporters put this news in context of kitties lapping up milk. Most of the pics do likewise. Does any reporter not mention milk as a natural for a cat? Is it not truly true that except for young kittens, milk is not very good for cats? All they need is water (what our cat LOVES is the broth one squeezes out of a tin of tuna packed in water).

Grist for the Mill: MIT press release ;

PIc – source BioBlog

- Charlie Petit

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The Scientist: A theatrical play, on Watson & Crick and Rosalind Franklin. November 12th, 2010

Stories of scientific squabbles, rivalries, suspicions, and the sharp elbows that can enliven the taking of credit for discovery get a good airing at The Scientist. There Mary Beth Aberlin describes a new play on the discovery of DNA, and on who got or didn’t get due credit for an X-ray photograph. Her setting for the article is not just the play. It is also a panel discussion after a recent performance, with plenty of links. Among discussants is the NY Times’ ;s Nick Wade, who appears to give as well as he gets. This is worth a read. Be prepared to put aside any casual assumption you may have as to who wronged whom and why. I did. I always figured, without giving it much thought really, that it’s just obvious the guys ripped off their lady colleague, just like in the pulsar discovery episode. Now, not so sure.

- Charlie Petit

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One Response to “The Scientist: A theatrical play, on Watson & Crick and Rosalind Franklin.” Don Monroe Says: November 12th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Robin Lloyd also wrote about this panel discussion for Scientific American last week.

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Trickle of ink: Rare earth trade dispute. What’s a rare earth anyway? November 12th, 2010

For weeks now we’ve been reading of China’s erratic policy, never quite stated, on managing its near commercial monopoly on rare earth elements. Hmmm. the words anthanide and lanthanide come to mind. That’s it for me. But words like that sends most editors without much background in chemistry (nearly all of them) muttering “where’s the science gal [or guy]” .It seems natural enough that with world trade balances in the balance, we’d get some hint in media what these things are.

But not so much. Business and political writers say they are essential in electronics and photonics manufacture. Okay. Means nothing. Yttrium does say “laser” to me, that’s about it. Or was. It takes but a moment to learn, via search engine magic, that their energy transitions make them great dopants for semiconductor and, particular, laser and other photonic media. They also allow production of better magnets, such as are in wind turbine generators, and boost efficiency of rechargeable batteries.

Few people feel a driving need to know more detail. Coverage instead, even by the science guys and gals of newsrooms and freelance stables, tends to be on the hunt for alternate sources of these materials that would erode China’s near-monopoly leverage. As they are not really rare so much as, from what I just saw, not prone to concentrate in rich ore bodies, one also would think somebody would write something about their geochemical behavior.

Some of the stories of recent days that ARE out there:

NYT – William J. Broad: Mining the Seafloor for Rare-Earth Minerals ; A little bit bait and switch here. The lede implies those manganese nodules that set off an abortive undersea mining rush in the 80s make such ventures suddenly attractive. But it turns out, as one reads along, the concentrations are exceedingly low. More standard metals, such as copper, remain the main and shaky reason to go after them.Bloomberg – Helen Yuan: Neodymium, Dysprosium Rare Earths May Grow Fastest on Hybrid Cars, Hi-Tech; Pure biz info, with lots on the products that use them in “magnet stuff” and such, but nothing on what they do.Asia Times – Jianjun Tu: Rare earth conflicts to continue; Even more detail on the markets for them, and on their sources, but little on how they do what they do that’s so important. Plus we learn that the shorthand for these commodities is, surprise, RE.Reuters – Julie Gordon: RPT-Dot-com deja vu muddies the rush for rare minerals ; Fine anecdotal, atmospheric lede. Still, a biz story, nothing technical.

- Charlie Petit

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(UPDATED*) Lots of Ink: James Webb Space Telescope’s price keeps climbing. NASA scrambling. Congress sharpens knives. November 11th, 2010

…. NASA workers with fullscale JWST model

About two weeks ago NatureNews’s Lee Billings got the ball rolling in reporting that the vaunted, cut-down in mirror but ballooning in cost, James Webb Space Telescope is coming along swimmingly, technically, but is a monster budget headache. Since then, the sense of urgency at NASA has gotten far more intense. A report to Congress is in play. NASA put on a quickie press conference. The unthinkable is being thunk: could this thing go through another downsizing, even get shelved or, forfend the thought, canceled? Billings’s lede holds up: “It has to work. For astronomers, there is no Plan B.” The hed on his story is right, too: The telescope that ate astronomy.

The big infrared eyeball on the distant past is so ingrained into the psyche of its eager would-be users, four years before the date penciled for launch, that University of Chicago cosmologist Michael Turner said that friends just call it J.W. (that was at this week’s New Horizons in Science Audience, the Yale University-hosted half of ScienceWriters2010).

Seems to me that even if it takes 100 percent of NASA’s astrophysics budget till it’s done, so be it. What’s that phrase everybody’s tired of now: too big to fail? That’s the Webb. But gawd. For science and astronomy practitioners and fans this is going to get really ugly before it’s over. The public and Congress are tired of federal agencies – DOD the worst offender – time after time getting the dough for big projects and then coming back later, and more than once per item, to say heh heh ummm – we seem to have misunderestimatified things….

Other stories:

AAAS ScienceInsider – Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Andrew Lawler: Exclusive: Report Finds NASA Telescope $1 Billion Over Budget ; This appears to be first account on the specific report that put detail behind the NatureNews first rumble. Bhattarcharjee today has at AAAS ScienceNow a follow: NASA Space Telescope Center of $1.5 Billion Fiasco.AP – Seth Borenstein: NASA’s new space telescope costs shoot the moon ; While Billings stated the cost as $5 billion and counting, Borenstein provides the current best guess, $6.5 billion. He reports that NASA is conceding it had the numbers to show this was happening a long time ago, but didn’t add them up until recently. Borenstein translates this pathetic plea as a declaration “We’re better rocket scientists than accountants.”Florida Today – Todd Halvorson: Cost of Hubble telescope’s successor soars / panel also predicts delay in James Webb Space Telescope’s launch ;NYTimes – Kenneth Chang: Telescope is Behind Schedule and Over Budget, Panel Says ; Just the latest uptick on the cost is an increase by a full third, it says here. And as it is, the project is absorbing 40 percent of NASA’s astrophysics budget. It says this is NASA’s hurricane Katrina. The word devastation comes up. Congress dismayed. This has uh oh all over it. After all, one realizes, Congress is looking to cut costs across the board and if J.W. goes down it won’t even look like the solons are picking on the space – Amy Klamper: NASA’s next space telescope to cost $1.5 billion … extra.USA Today – Dan Vergano: NASA: Webb space telescope over-budget ;BBC – Jonathan Amos: Costs of Nasa JWST to replace Hubble telescope balloon ; This isn’t in Amos’s story, but just occurs to me. Nobody regrets the Hubble. It cost more than advertised too. The specifics on that might provide political and technical perspective. Wikipedia says Hubble’s estimated cost at time of approval was $400 million (and I find earlier estimates of $200 million), while other sources say the cost at 1990 launch was really $1.5 billion. That’s a up to a seven-fold rise. And each servicing mission has probably cost close to $1 billion. In year-adjusted dollars, JWST is still in that same ballpark. But nobody would’ve approved that for Hubble in advance. Hardly anybody regrets it now. Not that the feds should get a complete slid e for lowballing such things when pitching Congress and OMB but…. just sayin’. What happened the last time you set a firm budget to buy a car and then the dealer shows you the one with the sat nav and Sirius radio, the leather and the back-up camera, the zippy engine and heated seats…..?Aviation Week – Frank Morring Jr., Michael Bruno: James Webb Telescope Slammed;Universe Today – Nancy Atkinson: Costs for James Webb Telescope Soar – Again ;… plenty more out there.


Science News – Ron Cowen: Cost overruns and delays add up to $6.5 billiion for NASA’s next-gen space telescope ; Cowen also saw something like this coming back in September.Baltimore Sun – Frank D. Roylance: James Webb Space Telescope project $1.5 billion over budget ;Chr. Science Monitor – Pete Spotts: NASA’s next big space telescope in financial trouble ;

Grist for the Mill: JWST Independent Comprehensive Review Panel Final Report.

- Charlie Petit

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One Response to “(UPDATED*) Lots of Ink: James Webb Space Telescope’s price keeps climbing. NASA scrambling. Congress sharpens knives.” Richard Kerr Says: November 11th, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Around here at Science, the feeling was that our sniffing around prompted the hurryup NASA press conference–1.5-hour notice of a 5 pm press conference. Nice NASA release–Bolden agreeing with the report, assuring all that heads were rolling, but not addressing any specifics.

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NatureNews: Oh great. Global warming may enhance pollution impact, too. November 11th, 2010

Here’s a story so full of maybes that its news impact may not be very high. What it does demonstrate is that all the interesting science meeting news – as if we need a reminder – is not to be had at the usual big meetings with the big press rooms (A.Chem.S, AAAS, AGU, ASCB, etc).

Richard A. Lovett took a flier on a meeting no other reporters attended, that of the North American branch of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Portland a few days ago. He filed for NatureNews a broad ranging story revealing a whole subspecialty of the field it represents: examination of the impact of warmer temperatures on the movement and biological effects of pollutants, toxins, and other such in the environment. None of them he lists sounds very good.

The prognostications, even if verified by events, are not the kind of planet-shakers that the warming itself via new and unusual weather patterns, and such things as ocean acidification, may wreak. But it’s a fresh angle rightly loaded with hedges – the story is one perhaps and perchance after another. Most interesting to me is one researcher’s exploration of what a warming nudge may do to LC50 doses. For fathead minnows, at least, it’s disturbing.

Good story, and done without travel budget. It happened to have been near his home, so Rick went. Plus, he got a classy outfit to run the story, one of three he ferreted out of the meeting.

- Charlie Petit

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New Scientist’s blogs and on line : The good, the funny silly, and the just plain silly November 11th, 2010

I glanced at the NSF’s science360 media roundup of news stories and press releases this morning, and got intrigued by the hed on its link to a recent issue of New Scientist, Whale Mass Strandings Linked To Hearing Loss. What I found was a decent, very short story by environm ent reporter Michael Marshall. I admire its clean use of hyperlinks, as well-organized as good footnotes but easier to chase down, to save the space of reiterating what some other source has said perfectly well. It says, essentially, nothing new, but with rich embedded detail (some cetacean strandings have a remarkably high share of near-deaf animals, but others don’t, and researchers are on the hunt for more info). More important is that this piece is part of a regular New Scientist news category it calls “Short Sharp Science,’ and if one scans down the list it seems to merit the title. It’s an exemplar of how to write briefs with wit and point.

The above is the GOOD.

A look around in this brief and hardly definitive examination of New Scientist’s goods came up with two others worth taking the time to note.

FUNNY SILLY, as in clever, offbeat, and innocently salacious:

Amanda Gefter: Particle physics ‘pornographer’ gets God excited ; Pity for the lord. Never been laid – and not much else even close since the big bang. It’s about a conceptual artist and philosopher, Jonathon Keats, who knows more about scientific terminology and curiosity than does the average science writer, I’d wager (for another piece on Keats, see a recent Q&A in the UK’s Telegraph). Plus, he knows something about the knack many people hav e for believing in scripture and science at the same time. Maybe it really is best merely to wink at such embrace of contradiction.


Helen Knight: Divers could breathe deep with liquid-filled lungs ; This piece starts out promising, but then pulls a bait and switch. Years ago I seem to remember experiments with rats or mice dunked in fluorocarbon fluid saturated with oxygen that managed to breathe and stay submerged for hours or days without apparent acute distress. Didn’t work in people (too hard to inhale and exhale fluid fast enough to not drown). This longish piece is a catch-up. Boy, don’t ever try this supposedly promising scheme for diving down hundreds or thousands of feet until these kinks are worked out. You’d have to insert tubes in uncomfortable places, strap into a pulsing contraption working your rib cage, and endure con stant fear of vomitus. It’s like a list of horrific possible side effects to a usually benign drug – blindness, giant rashes, destruction of sex drive, instant bloat, hair falling out, hair where you don’t want it, anxiety attacks, and really smelly feet – but in this case they’d almost all happen to everybody. It has a more plausible idea buried at the bottom, in a sidebar.

New Scientist always has had a smart, somewhat reckless, and smart-alecky irreverence in its sparky writing style. Still does. Even its misfires are exuberant.

- Charlie Petit

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2 Responses to “New Scientist’s blogs and on line : The good, the funny silly, and the just plain silly” Dan Petrovic Says: November 12th, 2010 at 8:11 am

My god, that sounds awful, the way you describe the liquid filled lung process… Regardless of all that silly stuff I like what New Scientist did with their readership interaction. For example their last word section (from its paper form) evolved into an online Q&A feature combined with very good use of social media… if you are a loyal reader – it’s great to have a chance to be involved in some way. Also the blog was in fact meant to be a looser place with more freedom when it comes to content.

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Mayberg’s response: Bass was wrong on the facts November 11th, 2010

Helen Mayberg, whose presentation at ScienceWriters2010 was criticized by science-writer Alison Bass, responded to the criticism in several emails to me, saying that Bass had her facts wrong. Mayberg has said I could use the emails to clarify the errors. (Disclosure: As I said in my previous post, I was the person who invited Mayberg to speak at the meeting.)

Mayberg’s research is on the use of deep-brain stimulation to treat depression. Bass said Mayberg never said how many patients were helped by the treatment. Mayberg says her slides showed the graphs with complete data on all of the published results, including the masthead of the journals on the slides with the grafs. I can see how Bass would not remember that (I didn’t either). But Mayberg is on firm ground here; Bass isn’t.

Bass also said Mayberg allowed us to think that she worked with a non-profit St. Jude hospital, not the for-profit St. Jude associated with Advanced Neuromodulation Systems. Mayberg says a review of her slides shows that Both ANS and St. Jude were disclosed in the slides. Bass apparently missed that. I’ll allow that it might have been hard to see from where Bass was sitting; but that’s not a reason to say Mayberg did not disclose it.

Bass said ANS has a “less than stellar reputation.” Mayberg notes that all the data she described in her talk was done independently of the company, funded by foundation grants. The reputation of the company–even if Bass is correct, which I can’t speak to–would seem irrelevant. Further, Mayberg says, she signed her patent rights to her co-inventor, and she has no direct interaction with the company. Bass is practicing guilt by association.

Bass also says ANS “goes by the name of” St. Jude Medical, a vague description that sounded odd to me. Google tells me that St. Jude acquired ANS in 2005.

As the political pundits seem suddenly fond of saying, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. The aim of this post is to address factual issues, not to pillory Bass–nor to justify my decision to invite Mayberg to the meeting.

I do however, have an opinion to share. Bass’s headline–”Keynote scientist at ScienceWriters conference dances around the truth”–was way off base. And unlike newspaper reporters, Bass can’t blame a copy editor for writing the hed.

I invite Bass to comment.

- Paul Raeburn

Posted in Health & Medicine Stories | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Mayberg’s response: Bass was wrong on the facts” Eugenie Reich Says: November 12th, 2010 at 10:02 am

Could you post/link to a copy of the slideshow?

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ScienceWriters2010: Sorting out conflicts of interest November 10th, 2010

UPDATE: See Mayberg’s response to Bass’s post.

Alison Bass posted an interesting item on her eponymous blog regarding Helen Mayberg’s Sunday morning talk at ScienceWriters2010. The talk was on the use of deep-brain stimulation to treat depression–a potentially breakthrough technology (and I don’t use that word lightly) that is in its earliest tests.

In her item–headlined “Keynote scientist at ScienceWriters conference dances around the truth”–Bass says Mayberg’s talk was too anecdotal, left out “a few salient details,” and failed to disclose conflicts of interest. I was the person who invited Mayberg to talk at the meeting, and I tried to explain that decision in a comment on Bass’s post. I won’t say any more about that.

What I do want to address, however, is the notion of conflict of interest, which applies, in similar ways, to both scientific research and to journalism. “Conflict of interest” is used by science journalists to cover all manner of sins, and I fear that it is losing its meaning. That’s a bad thing, because this is a very important notion that we all need to understand and keep in mind.

Bass acknowledges that Mayberg, in her talk at Yale last Sunday, disclosed that she was a consultant for St. Jude Medical, a company that makes, among other things, the probes that Mayberg uses for deep-brain stimulation. Bass thought Mayberg should have explained that she was not referring to a non-profit hospital with a similar name, but the more interesting question, to me, was that Bass thought Mayberg was wrong to be associated with St. Jude Medical which, Bass wrote, “has a less than stellar reputation.”

For that reason, she concluded that “if I were a chronically depressed patient being recruited for the company’s ongoing clinical trials, I might think twice about participating.”

The question I’m interested in is this: Does Mayberg’s inolvement with this device-maker raise questions about the integrity of her research? And does this relationship pose a conflict of interest?

As many Tracker readers know, large-scale clinical trials of procedures such as deep-brain stimulation can cost tens of millions of dollars, a sum out of the reach of most researchers, hospitals and universities. To do those studies, researchers routinely partner with drug and device makers. There is, indeed, a conflict of interest in these arrangements. Industry’s interest in making money conflicts with the researcher’s presumed interest in helping patients. Public funding of publicly minded researchers would subvert this conflict of interest, because all parties would, at least theoretically, have the patients foremost in mind. But even government cannot afford to replace the billions of dollars that drug and device makers spend on research.

Journalists face the same kind of conflict of interest when they write for sponsored publications. The journalist’s interest in serving readers can conflict with the publication’s interest in serving its institution. It doesn’t matter who the publisher is–a distinguished university, a drug company in trouble with the FDA, or a pawn broker–the conflict exists.

The issue with Mayberg is not whether St. Jude Medical is a good company or a bad company, as Bass suggests. There is an inherent conflict of interest there, regardless of the company’s reputation. But, I would argue, it’s an unavoidable one, given the available means of financing hugely expensive clinical research.

The issue with journalists is whether we serve our readers’ interests, or whether we occasionally serve somebody else’s, as most freelancers (including this one) have done, at least on occasion.

Conflict of interest is easy to understand. It’s devilishly hard to get rid of.

And if I were a chronically depressed patient being recruited for a company’s ongoing clinical trials, I think I’d grasp at anything.

- Paul Raeburn

Posted in Health & Medicine Stories | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “ScienceWriters2010: Sorting out conflicts of interest” Don Monroe Says: November 10th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I’d guess that Mayberg’s hope that a technique she devised might, might actually help hopelessly depressed people would be at least as powerful a distortion field as any financial conflict of interest that shehas. Both should be recognized by journalists.

As an audience member with no previous awareness of this technique, I thought that Mayberg did a pretty good job of tamping down expectations, saying quite explictly that it was unlikely to work as well as the anecdotes might suggest.

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LATimes, NYT, SciNews, etc: A giant galaxy (ours) is blowing ‘energy’ bubble November 10th, 2010

It is startling to learn that somehow in the not terribly distant past our Milky Way’s black hole heart belched symmetrical and giant bubbles of gamma-ray emitting energy in both directions from its plane. Your tracker says this having just written recently a story (here, fyi) on our Milky Way’s supermassive black hole and learning that as such things go, we see it today almost moribund, merely nibbling small streams of gas with occasional lumps, but no t emitting much radiation at all.

That image is not a picture, but is a data-inspired artist’s impression of what we’re talking about. Whatever it did, it was exuberant. The news is from astronomers using NASA’s orbiting, Fermi gamma ray telescope, and reported formally in The Astrophysical Journal.


LA Times – Thomas H. Maugh II: Huge gamma-ray bubbles found extending from Milky Way ; One can’t, one must say, have static bubbles of gamma rays. They move at the speed of light. So just for quibbling’s sake, the bubbles are of something that is emitting gamma rays (and X-rays too, nearer the bubbles’ roots). Maugh’s story is sound – pointing out that the mystery does not exclude something other than the big black hole as the source of this exudate (like, maybe, near-simultaneous birth of nyriad gigantic, radiation-spewing stars near the galactic core some time back.NYTimes – Dennis Overbye: Bubbles of Energy Are Found in Galaxy ; Overbye’s story uses the same language as in that hed: “bubbles of energy.” That does not compute for me. He does exclude dark matter as the source, but does not give much example of what else it could be aside from “a buzz of high energy particles.” How those, too, make gamma and x-rays similarly is not hinted at. I mean, some kind of matter is buzzing around, maybe curling in electric fields, maybe caroming off itself, but… boy I need more info, speculative as it may be.ScienceNews – Ron Cowen: Milky Way’s black hole may blow bubbles . Astronomers discover gamma ray-emitting blobs above and below the galaxy’s center ; This is more like it. It’s hot ionized gas, he said, each blob the size of a small galaxy. A mystery, but this is better than calling them bubbles of gamma rays, or of energy. Pretty good job saying a lot about something that mainly offers – Mike Wall: Bubbles at Milky Way’s heart may be black hole eruptions /Two gigantic bubbles of high-energy radiation are spilling from the galactic center ; This is at MSNBC, so one does not know whether wrote the hed. But one ought not use the same word, “bubbles,” in both hed and deck. More important, calling them bubbles of radiation badly misuses most readers, who cannot be expected to see through it and envision, however roughly, the physics. These are not bubbles of radiation, they are bubbles of something that glows. Our Moon is not a bubble of grayness, the sun a bubble of hot whiteness.Wired News – Dave MosherGalactic Core Spews Weird Radiation Bubbles ; ….USA Today – Dan Vergano: NASA unveils giant gamma ray bubbles cap galaxy ; Hmm. I think I am outnumbered on the question of whether a color is the thing itself ;Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Mark Johnson: Astronomers detect previously unseen structure in the Milky Way ; Thank you Mr. Johnson. Could be more dramatic, but that hed says it well. The article is a mere brief, however.Discovery News: Irene Klotz: Giant Bubbles Found in Space ;

Grist for the Mill: NASA Press Release ;

- Charlie Petit

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NYTimes: Dusting off the old Montreal Protocol, supposed template for Kyoto pact, as its stand-in. November 10th, 2010

While rushing around yesterday pulling together a quickie review of this week’s Science Times and its look forward for science, I failed to look furtherward in the Times itself and did not see John Broder’s eye-opening piece on the remodeling of an old international agreement to do part of what the non-existent climate pact, a victim of last year’s Copenhagen failures, is not doing.

When I looked at its hed I imagined it was another story on using a different pact, on endangered species, as a place holder in slowing down global warming via international agreement. We’ve seen a few stories on that recently. But no, it’s the Montreal Protocol, with language already in place obligating nations to reduce emissions that attack stratospheric ozone. Some also are greenhouse gases that, if drastically reduced, might buy a decade or more worth of solar forcing.

Just as well I missed it, though, as this gives time to see that a few other outlets have done it, and that a press release, see Grist below, helped to push the story into the public arena. Broder, as far as I can tell, got it out first.

The gases involved are all refrigerants. The Montreal agreement phased out ones called CFC’s, which were ferocious instigators of ozone destruction. It ushered in replacements that weren’t nearly so bad, which in turn have been replaced with others even milder. Now the target, the latest generation called HFCs, are even less destructive to ozone but not quite indifferent to it, it appears. Broder spells that out in general terms, but without a hint of magnitude. If it is a large difference, it might make it hard to argue, one thinks, in any neutral arena that for all their greenhouse potency, a smallish ozone peril is enough to take care of them through the Montreal Protocol rather than an explicit climate change agreement.

Other Stories:

NatureNews – Jeff Tolleson: Ozone treaty could be used for greenhouse gases ; A detailed report, with a good sense of the diplomatic prospects for this tactic.Foreign Policy – Daniel W. Drezner: The globalization of gridlock ; An explicit reaction to Broder’s story in the Times, with thoughts about whether this is a wise use of an agreement that, it says here, has been thus far relatively free of controversy and “ridiculously successful.”Toronto Globe and Mail – Norman Spector: For Canada, climate file is unfolding as it should ; Another piece inspired directly by Broder’s version, and that folds it into a broader perspective on the global diplomatic ripples of this months elections in the U.S.

Grist for the Mill: Environmental Investigation Agency Press Release ;

Pic Source ;

- Charlie Petit

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Ronda de noticias: fusión, cómo no exagerar en noticias de salud, farmacogenética, autocrítica en México, ratones de laboratorio, y aumento de pene en Chile November 10th, 2010

(English intro to Spanish lang. post) In El Pais, we read that the new director of the fusion reactor ITER is so optimistic about fusion energy, that says – half joking, I guess-: “I’m sure that an extraterrestrial intelligence is using this technology, and we could detect them by searching for a particular kind of neutrinos that are created during the process”. We’ve got a new extraterrestrial signal to search for intelligent life ; Also: a well-researched, accurate story in El Mundo about the possible risks of paracetamol during pregnancy. Elsewhere, an extensive report on pharmacogenomics in Público. El Universal (México) criticizes its country’s insufficient actions on adaptation to climate change. A Colombian reporter from El Tiempo visits Jackson Lab and writes a good story about mice for experimentation. And La Nación (Chile) reports that penile enhancement surgery is growing in Chile.

Un excelente ejemplo de cómo presentar una información sobre salud, que puede ser importante, pero no hay motivos para alarmar: El MundoMaria Valerio “Alertan de los posibles riesgos del paracetamol en el embarazo”. Además del “posible”, el titular viene acompañado por “los especialistas piden cautela”, y “Los ginecólogos españoles piden más estudios antes de cambiar la pauta”. El estudio en cuestión ha encontrado una asociación entre el paracetamol y una enfermedad testicular . Es bueno reportar sobre ello, pero transmitiendo la misma cautela que los especialistas sugieren. Ejemplo contrario, el tratamiento de la noticia “Los suplementos de vitamina E aumentan los accidentes cerebrovasculares”-Europa Press que ha estado dando vueltas estos días. En muchos casos, se ha sobredimensionado.

Enorme trabajo en Público de Ainhoa Iriberri “Un medicamento para cada persona” sobre la adecuación de fármacos al perfil genético de cada individuo, tanto en tipo de medicamento, riesgos y dosis. Muy buenos los ejemplos concretos –despieces sobre oncología, cardiopatías, y dosis en psiquiatría. Incipiente, pero la farmacogenómica ya es una realidad. Y será cada vez más frecuente. Es sin duda una de las áreas para las que debemos estar preparados.

Gracioso comentario en El País del actual director del proyecto de reactor ITER de fusión nuclear. Está tan convencido de que la fusión será la solución energética, que si existiera una civilización extraterrestre más desarrollada que nosotros sin duda la utilizarían, y la podríamos detectar por un tipo de neutrinos que se producen durante el proceso de fusión. Interesante la visión optimista que transmite en el texto/entrevista de Alicia Rivera: “La fusión ha dejado de ser un sueño”.

Poderoso el análisis de Thelma Gómez Durán “Cambio climático: retórica sin acción”, en El Universal (México). A poco de empezar la cumbre de Cancún, una dura crítica a las insuficientes medidas de adaptación que se están tomando en México. Muchas fuentes consultadas, y buena documentación. Agradecemos un comienzo donde se reconoce la incertidumbre sobre la relación directa del cambio climático con eventos puntuales como el incremento de lluvias en una región, pero eso no quita que en general los fenómenos atmosféricos se están intensificando. El texto transmite que eso ya se lleva diciendo desde hace mucho tiempo, pero el gobierno mexicano hace poco para prepararse. Calentemos motores ante Cancún, que deberemos ser muy quisquillosos con lo que nos intenten presen tar.

Buen reportaje en El Tiempo (Colombia) sobre JacksonLab, la mayor fábrica de ratones de laboratorio del mundo. No es una temática que suela aparecer en los medios. La visita de un reportero a este centro de Maine en el extremo nordeste de EEUU sirvió para sacar un original trabajo, lleno de datos y curiosidades.

Pero para trabajo detallado, el de Cecilia Yánez “A los chilenos sí les importa el tamaño” (La Nación – Chile), explicando que en su país los casos de alargamiento de pene están en aumento. Gráficos, entrevistas a urólogos, tipos de tratamientos, advertencia de fraudes, análisis de motivos… y frase morbosillas para un completo reportaje. En la ciencia, hay días para todo.

- Pere Estupinyà

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