Science & Society

According to a 2014 National Consumers League poll, 29% of American adults believe that childhood vaccinations can trigger autism. To many, these views are difficult to comprehend. After all, multiple controlled studies conducted on huge international samples have debunked any statistical association between vaccines and autism.

I interact with many mathematicians and physicists including, rarely, a presidential appointee (Michael Gilmore, Director Operational Test&Evaluation, PhD in physics). With few exceptions, ignorance of basic things is nearly universal and detrimental in these two fields, and it has everything to do with our training. We don’t realize how the major branches of math and physics are both individually and mutually connected and accessible, even at the bachelor’s degree level.At no point during my undergrad days in physics, through my non-thesis Masters in mathematics, or well past my PhD in physics did I know the following simple picture.

Women are not under-represented in science, they dominate in some fields and lag in others, part of the natural variation in humanity - but in academia at the highest levels, they are under-represented.

Immigration continues to be one of the key issues in the build-up to the general election. The latest figures show a net flow of 298,000 into the UK. This is higher than when David Cameron’s government took office, despite his pledge to cut the number to the tens of thousands.

But is this really bad news? Immigration is such an emotive issue that there is a tendency for the figures involved to be bandied about out of context.

A recent study found that people without three risk factors by age 45 were diagnosed with heart failure 11 to 13 years later, on average, than people who had those risk factors.

Heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs, can be pushed off by not developing obesity, hypertension and diabetes, the researchers found.  People who had only one or two of the risk factors, but not all three, developed heart failure an average of three to 11 years earlier than people with none of the risk factors. 

The typical biography of a scientist might look something like this:

At a young age, a boy or girl discovers a love for science. Their dream is to become perhaps a geologist, a chemist, or a marine biologist.

The world's challenges demand science solutions - and fast - but it doesn't need the old style of detached experts, write a team of scientists in, ironically, one of America's most prominent and detached corporate science publications; Science magazine, a reputable legacy publication with a politician leading them.

Segregated expertise, like segregated articles of taxpayer-funded science, is obsolete.
A new paper believes that a record drought in Syria from 2006-2010 and the 2011 Syrian uprising is not a coincidence. The rebellion was stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, they write.

The drought, the worst in modern record-keeping, destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. The conflict has since evolved into a complex multinational war that may have killed 200,000 people and displaced many more. 
Synthetic cannabinoids ("synthetic marijuana"), with names like Spice, K2, Scooby Doo and hundreds of others, are often sold as a safe, "legal" alternative to marijuana but that is just marketing by drug dealers. Synthetic marijuana was linked to 11,561 reports of poisonings in the United States between January 2009 and April 2012. 

It's no surprise that it has grown popular among teens, that is why legal businesses like cigarettes and alcohol cannot market to kids. In 2011, synthetic marijuana was used by 11.4% of high school seniors in the US, making it the most commonly used drug - after real marijuana. 

Academia could take some lessons from Silicon Valley about diversity. Credit: Wikimedia

Last week, MIT released a report that closely examines the state of diversity within the university.

The report considers MIT’s diversity not just in terms of students and faculty, but also looks at the Institute’s non-faculty research staff who represent approximately 28% of the institution as a whole.