Science & Society

A few recently published studies offered some insight into the issue of closing schools to reduce the effects of a flu epidemic.

The first problem, which hasn't been resolved, is determining the criteria for closing a school in the first place.  However, another study suggests that such closures could reduce swine flu transmission by 21%.  In this case the presumption is that reducing exposure would, of course, stall the spread of the disease.

One criticism of science that we often hear is...

Wait.

You know, criticism of science is still a phrase that seems odd to me. When I was growing up, we never thought to criticize science, in general. Of course, there’d be things that scientists got wrong, and we were critical of those as individual items. But that, we knew, is how science is — we’re always learning new things about what we thought we knew. It’s a strength of science.

Sure, Christmas is a religious holiday and science and religion share common people but not often common ground.   That doesn't mean we can't all join together and share some Christmas science ... and an awesome electric car (5 MPH!) I assembled for my youngest kids last night (picture to come later).    Like Rock'em Sock'em Robots, even adults think miniature cars are cool.   If you're the environmental type, I am basically teaching my kids to like a Prius - and it goes about as fast.  So thank me by reading some of the terrific science below:
This blog wishes you a very Merry Christmas, if...

You would not really expect me to wish Merry Christmas à tout le monde, right ? I hate nobody, but the fact you visit my site on December 24th does not make you eligible to have my sympathy, by itself. There are a few -very few- things that I attach as a condition for my best wishes.

So, Merry Christmas to you, and your loved ones,

  • if you live in the knowledge that you are a guest on this planet, and make an effort to keep it good for those who will one day take your place in it;
  • if you hate nobody, and reject violence and war as means of resolution of controversies;

On December 8, the state of Ohio broke with tradition and killed a condemned prisoner with a single-drug lethal injection – a barbiturate overdose – instead of the 3-drug combo pioneered by Oklahoma and Texas in the 1970s. The “traditional” 3-drug combo uses a barbiturate to sedate the person, with a curare-type drug to stop respiration along with potassium chloride to stop the heart. “3-drug” is controversial, in part, because if either of the other drugs takes effect before the barbiturate, the condemned prisoner will suffer severe pain and distress.

A recent study described in the article "Music Linked to Marijuana Use" illustrates just how badly science can run off the tracks.

One of the more telling aspects of the study indicated that the surveyed students heard about 40 marijuana references in music per day.  However, instead of concluding that marijuana may be a persistent social phenomenon with a relatively high degree of acceptance, the researchers concluded that it was the music that was the causal factor.
In order to benefit from their natural resources, states need fewer regulations, lower taxes, and stronger private property rights, according to a new study by a Florida State University economist. The study offers an empirical analysis weighing the economic growth rates of resource-dependent states against the Economic Freedom of North America index (which operates on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the freest) to determine the level of economic freedom required for states to benefit from natural resource development.

Research suggests that in regions lacking policies consistent with free markets, private-property rights and a stable and fair legal system, natural resource dependence can weaken economic growth — a phenomenon known as the "resource curse."
For most Americans, holiday season is food season. Much of it, like holiday cookies, chocolate santas, mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, is unarguably delicious. Some of it, like fruitcake, is merely something to endure. You can decide for yourself to which of the two categories these unusual foodie gifts suggested by Fox News belong. Either way, I think the Squid Ink Bread is by far the weirdest:

SQUID BREAD - Not shaped like a squid or made with a squid, but jet black bread

Obese women may be putting themselves at greater risk of breast cancer by not undergoing regular screening. According to new research by Dr. Nisa Maruthur and her team from The John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA, seriously obese women are significantly less likely to say they have undergone a recent mammography than normal weight women, especially if they are white. Maruthur's findings are published online this week in Springer's Journal of General Internal Medicine.


James “the Amazing” Randi is an icon of skepticism. The man has done more — over a span of several decades — to further the cause of critical thinking and to expose flimflammery of all sorts than arguably anyone else in the world, ever. That is why I was struck with incredulity and sadness yesterday when I read Randi’s latest take on global warming.