Tag Archives: science

Some books in the sciences pretty cheap

At the moment, all these are anywhere from free to two bucks. The Darwin books are always cheap, the others are probably temporarily cheap.

If you’ve not read The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, you should. It is always avaialable for next to nothing on the kindle, currently this version is 99 cents.

Concerning his autobiography–written when Darwin was 59 and originally published as the first part of “The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin” (1887)–Darwin explained: “A German editor [wrote] to me for an account of the development of my mind and character with some sketch of my autobiography. I have thought that the attempt would amuse me, and might possibly interest my children or their children. I have attempted to write the following account of myself as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.”

Darwin’s son Francis, who edited “Life and Letters,” stated: “My father’s autobiographical recollections were written for his children—and written without any thought that they would ever be published. To many this may seem an impossibility; but those who knew my father will understand how it was not only possible, but natural.”

The autobiography was reprinted in 1908 as a section of editor George Iles’ larger “Little Masterpieces of Autobiography: Men of Science.” This Kindle edition, equivalent to a physical book of approximately 24 pages, includes the complete text of that 1908 reprint.

(You can get The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection for free or a buck as well.)

Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? is currently cheap, $1.99 in Kindle form.

Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of years—a past that has mostly vanished—and considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.

This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us. Provocative, enlightening, and entertaining, The World Until Yesterday is an essential and fascinating read.

I’ve not read this but it looks really interesting and cheap at twice the price: Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916

Combining rich historical detail and a harrowing, pulse-pounding narrative, Close to Shore brilliantly re-creates the summer of 1916, when a rogue Great White shark attacked swimmers along the New Jersey shore, triggering mass hysteria and launching the most extensive shark hunt in history.

In July 1916 a lone Great White left its usual deep-ocean habitat and headed in the direction of the New Jersey shoreline. There, near the towns of Beach Haven and Spring Lake–and, incredibly, a farming community eleven miles inland–the most ferocious and unpredictable of predators began a deadly rampage: the first shark attacks on swimmers in U.S. history.

Capuzzo interweaves a vivid portrait of the era and meticulously drawn characters with chilling accounts of the shark’s five attacks and the frenzied hunt that ensued. From the unnerving inevitability of the first attack on the esteemed son of a prosperous Philadelphia physician to the spine-tingling moment when a farm boy swimming in Matawan Creek feels the sandpaper-like skin of the passing shark, Close to Shore is an undeniably gripping saga.

Heightening the drama are stories of the resulting panic in the citizenry, press and politicians, and of colorful personalities such as Herman Oelrichs, a flamboyant millionaire who made a bet that a shark was no match for a man (and set out to prove it); Museum of Natural History ichthyologist John Treadwell Nichols, faced with the challenge of stopping a mythic sea creature about which little was known; and, most memorable, the rogue Great White itself moving through a world that couldn’t conceive of either its destructive power or its moral right to destroy.

Scrupulously researched and superbly written, Close to Shore brings to life a breathtaking, pivotal moment in American history. Masterfully written and suffused with fascinating period detail and insights into the science and behavior of sharks, Close to Shore recounts a breathtaking, pivotal moment in American history with startling immediacy.

Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb by by William Lanouette looks interesting:

Well-known names such as Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Teller are usually those that surround the creation of the atom bomb. One name that is rarely mentioned is Leo Szilard, known in scientific circles as “father of the atom bomb.” The man who first developed the idea of harnessing energy from nuclear chain reactions, he is curiously buried with barely a trace in the history of this well-known and controversial topic.
Born in Hungary and educated in Berlin, he escaped Hitler’s Germany in 1933 and that first year developed his concept of nuclear chain reactions. In order to prevent Nazi scientists from stealing his ideas, he kept his theories secret, until he and Albert Einstein pressed the US government to research atomic reactions and designed the first nuclear reactor. Though he started his career out lobbying for civilian control of atomic energy, he concluded it with founding, in 1962, the first political action committee for arms control, the Council for a Livable World.

Besides his career in atomic energy, he also studied biology and sparked ideas that won others the Nobel Prize. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, where Szilard spent his final days, was developed from his concepts to blend science and social issues.

Seven Stories Of Science Gone Wrong

What, with all the attacks on science and scientist these days, we may not want to be focusing on those times when science goes off the rails and makes a huge mess of things. But, science at its best and scientists at their best, will never shy away from such things.

Dr. Paul Offit just wrote a book called Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong, which not about an evil black dog that escaped from a box, but rather, seven instances when the march of scientific progress headed off a cliff rather than in the desired direction. People died. Many people died. Other bad things happened.

__________
Note: I interviewed Paul Offit about his book on Atheist Talk Radio. This interview will be aired on Sunday, May 28th, and will be available as a podcast. It should be HERE.
__________

Readers will have different reactions to, and ways to relate to, each of the seven different stories, because they are far flung and cover a great deal of time, diverse social settings, and a wide range of scientific endeavors. Some readers will get mad because he talks about DDT and Rachel Carson, though I assure you his argument is mostly reasonable (I did disagree with some parts). All readers will be amazed at the poppy plant and all it can do and has done, and astonished at the immense apparent ignorance displayed by that plant’s exploiters, from back in the early 19th century to, well, yesterday. Those interested in race and racism, the use of poison gas to kill people, will find things you didn’t know in Offit’s carefully researched histories. Also, don’t forget to take your vitamins. Or, maybe, forget to take your vitamins.

The chapter “The Great Margarine Mistake” is a great example of the very commonly screwed up interface between food science, food production and marketing, and the shaping of food preference among regular people. You know, that thing where “They tell us not to drink coffee. Then they tell us to drink coffee. They don’t know nothin'”

My biggest disagreement with Paul is over malaria. He did not incorporate an often overlooked fact about the disease into his discussion, and had he done so, may have written a somewhat different chapter. Briefly, in zones where there are two wet seasons (or one long wet season and a very short dry season) there has never really been success in curtailing malaria. In zones where there is a very long dry season but it is wet enough for part of the year for the mosquito that carries malaria to exist at least most years, malaria is relatively easy to beat down using a wide range of techniques, no one of which is supreme. So, for example, today, the distribution of malaria in South Africa, where it is not actually that common (thousands of cases in a normal year among tens of millions of people) is determined mainly by how wet the eastern wet season is, integrated with the movement into that area of people, usually refugees, who are a) infected and b) not getting medical treatment. (See this.)

Malaria was wiped out in country after country prior to the use of DDT, then the DDT came in and helped a great deal, in those relatively dry countries. But the wet countries, not so much. Indeed, in a place like Zaire, there are absolutely no reliable statistics on how common Malaria is or ever was over most of the country, but when I lived there in the 1980s, it was as common as the common cold in New Jersey, and DDT was theoretically in use. (That is a second correlation with causation: the wetter the equatorial country, the less we actually know about disease. I recall leaving the deep rain forest to visit the “city” to get hold of a few courses of leprosy medicine for a handful of people who visited our clinic who had it, where I had dinner with a guy from the UN who was on his victory lap for having wiped out leprosy in Africa.)

In some ways, Offit’s final chapter is the most interesting, the eighth chapter (combined with the Epilog) in which he does two things. One is to identify the kind of reasoning mistake, or methodological mistake, each of his seven examples exemplifies. Such as failure to pay attention to the data, or failure to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. The other is to go quickly through what may end up being similar stories of science gone wrong just starting to brew today or in recent decades, such as the long term unintended effects of widespread use of antibiotics.

A question that Offit’s book raises, indirectly, is this: When a Pandora-like box opens and some sort of monster creeps out, why did the box open to begin with? Sometimes it is jostled open, like in the case of unintended negative outcomes from the use of antibiotics. Sometimes it is opened because someone can’t resist the treasures that may be inside. Sometimes it is opened because science is an open process and must always seek knowledge etc. etc. I wonder if the recent development of an engineered polio virus (three instances), or the Spanish Flu, is an example of such. Sometimes it is opened because of (Godwin Warning!) HITLER. Seriously.

I don’t know what knowing these reasons gets us, but one possibility is this: when we find ignorance as a root cause of calamity, perhaps an appreciation of knowledge is gained. That is certainly the lesson of Offit’s review of the products of opium, their invention, intensification, deployment, and use. Apparently addiction was simply not understood at all until fairly recently, and that lack of understanding caused science, medical technology, and medical practice to do the exactly wrong thing over and over again.

And of course, lobotomies. The invention of the latter method of doing this useless and horrible procedure is something that, if put in a movie as a plot element, would kill the movie because it is not possible to suspend disbelief to the degree necessary to stay seated in the theater.

Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong is a great read and a necessary addition to the bookshelf of any practicing skeptic or science enthusiast.

Paul Offit, who is a pediatrician and the inventor of a rotavirus vaccine (see this for an interesting podcast on a related topic), is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. He is also chief of Infectious Diseases and director of Vaccine Education at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Aside from Pandra’s Lab, he also wrote Do You Believe in Magic?: Vitamins, Supplements, and All Things Natural: A Look Behind the Curtain, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, and Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine.

Stand Up for Science Gathering in Boston

This is not the April 22 March for Science, but something more local and timed to occur with the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Boston.

From the press release:

Scientists Take to the Streets to “Stand up for Science”

Scientists and impacted communities respond to attacks by anti-science forces and climate deniers in government

BOSTON – On Sunday, February 19, scientists, science advocates, community members, and frontline communities will rally at Boston’s Copley Square to call for increased vigilance to defend science against the barrage of attacks mounted by the Trump administration and Congress. The rally coincides with thousands of scientists gathering in Boston for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, one of the first major convenings of scientists since anti-science forces and climate deniers gained unprecedented power in government.

The rally builds on the growing and historic movement of scientists fighting back against the Trump administration’s efforts to discredit science and climate research and dismantle key scientific institutions within the government. Since the election, hundreds of climate scientists rallied in San Francisco, thousands of scientists have signed open letters, rogue Twitter accounts have sprung up on behalf of governmental agencies, and some scientists may run for elected office. Sunday’s rally is the precursor to the March for Science taking place in DC and in cities around the world this April 22.

WHAT: Rally to Stand up for Science

WHO: AAAS members and community supporters (full speaker list to be announced):

<li> Jacquelyn Gill, Ph.D. Asst. Prof. of Paleoecology, Univ. of Maine, Candidate for US Congress (ME-2), 2018; Host, Warm Regards Podcast</li>

    <li>Kelly L. Fleming, Ph.D. AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow hosted at the US Dept. of Energy, 500 Women Scientists Leadership Board</li>

    <li>Geoffrey Supran, Ph.D. Science History Post Doctoral Fellow, Harvard University</li>

    <li>Astrid Caldas, Ph.D. Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists</li>

WHERE:

Copley Square
560 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116


WHEN:

Sunday, February 19, 2017
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm ET

WEAR YOUR LAB COAT IF YOU’VE GOT ONE!

A Science Film Festival in Saint Paul (Get a discount from me!)

Ever been to a CON? Like, ComiCON, or CONvergence? One of the best parts of a CON is the science, often involving panels with interesting science experts, or perhaps even a film or two.

Well, Twin Cities denizen Ryan Johnson founded and organized a new thing, which is set up as a film festival, to provide these fantastic CONnish features in a very attractive package. Admission is by the day, and thus less expensive than the average convention. Also, you can get a 15% discount if, when you go online to buy your tickets, you use the code “laden”

The Northstar Science Film Festival is a new film festival that celebrates the collision of science and entertainment. The first festival is scheduled for September 15-17, 2016, with events at Twin Cities Public Television, Bedlam Theatre, and Tin Whiskers Brewing in Saint Paul.

Scientists participating include Drs. David Tillman, Marla Spivak, James Kakalios, Chuck Niederriter, Clifford Johnson, and many others.

They have a great line up of films and speakers scheduled for this year’s festival. Here are (most of?) the speakers:

  • Paula Apsell, Executive Director of NOVA
  • Shawn Otto, author of The War on Science, screenwriter of House of Sand and Fog, and founder of Science Debate
  • James Kakalios, PhD, professor of physics at the University of Minnesota and author of The Physics of Superheroes and How Quantum Mechanics Made Life Worth Living
  • James Burke, host ofConnections and The Day The Universe Changed“>The Day the Universe Changed
  • Ann Merchant from the National Academy of Sciences
  • Information, full schedule and ticketing is all available at www.northstarscience.org. Again, readers of this blog can get a 15% discount on tickets by using the coupon code “laden”.

    I hope to see you there!

    Northstar’s advisory board includes the following:

    *Ann Merchant-Deputy Executive Director of National Academy of Sciences, Science and Entertainment Exchange
    *Shawn Otto-filmmaker and co-founder of ScienceDebate
    *Michael Halpern-Director at Union of Concerned Scientists
    *Richard Hudson-Director at Science Programming at Twin Cities Public Television
    *James Kakalios, PhD-physicist, professor at University of Minnesota, author of Physics of Superheroes
    *Lawrence Krauss, PhD-theoretical physicist, author (Physics of Star Trek), and director of Arizona State University’s Origins Project
    *Matthew Chapman-filmmaker, co-founder of ScienceDebate, and great, great grandson of Charles Darwin
    *Christine Walker-filmmaker and Executive Director of Provincetown Film Festival
    *Melissa Butts and Kim Rowe, Filmmakers with Melrae Pictures
    *Scott Bur, Professor of Chemistry, Gustavus Adolphus College
    *Ryan Johnson-attorney and science advocate
    *Tad Ware-advertising executive

    Shawn Otto’s New Book: The War On Science

    I’m going to publish my full review of The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It by Shawn Otto closer to the publication date, which is June 7th. (I believe you can use the above link to pre-order the book.) But I just wanted to let you know the book exists, and is amazing, you will want to read it. You will definitely, absolutely, not want to not read it. It is a must read.

    This isn’t just someone yammering about the lack of respect for science in America, or about the Republican Party’s antiscienceosity, etc. Shawn’s book is actually a history of science, in a sense, exploring the interrelationship between major evolutionary changes in how science works and how it has related to the parallel evolution of politics, and how politics works. It really is one of the more important books on this topic written.

    Shawn also wrote the novel Sins of Our Fathers. Here is an interview Mike Haubrich and I did with Shawn about that book. And, here is a more recent interview from Ikonokast, with Shawn, about science and anti-science.

    Here’s a way to get a special, signed, copy of the pre-print of Shawn Otto’s book, and donate to a good cause at the same time:

    Here’s a great way to support the environment and good environmental policy action while getting ahold of a collectible pre-publication version of my next book, THE WAR ON SCIENCE. I have just a couple collectible uncorrected advance reader copies left, and I’ve donated two of them to the DFL Environmental Caucus, who is auctioning them off on Ebay as a fundraiser. These have gone for over $200 each at other fundraisers. I will sign and personalize them for the winning bidders per your request and mail them to you. If you care about science-related environmental issues like climate change, clean water, clean energy, and a host of others, then policy action is where the rubber hits the road, and electoral politics like the kind the DFL Environmental Caucus engages in helps bring pressure to bear on lawmakers on the campaign trail, giving them reason to do the right thing when it comes to passing evidence-based policy. So bidding massively on this book should be a no-brainer. Help the world, help your kids and grandkids, help the DFL Environmental Caucus, and get a great book at the same time. What’s not to love? Dig deep! And PS: if you’re a lobbyists, ignore this. They don’t solicit donations from lobbyists during the regular legislative session.

    CLICK HERE

    STEM in 2015: Brianne Bilyeu, Maddy Love, Greg Laden and August Berkshire

    Homo naledi and the Chamber of Secrets ~ Psychology’s Inner Demons ~ Chilesaurus: The One That Went Vegan ~ Neurons Alter DNA All Day, Every Day

    Popular science fans may recognize some of these colorful titles from the most recent publication of Discover Magazine’s 100 Top Stories of 2015. We at Atheists Talk enjoy a good science-ing now and then, and this Sunday we’re going to talk about some of the stories shared by Discover. It’s going to be a science smorgasboard extravaganza! Join Brianne Bilyeu, August Berkshire and Maddy Love as they nerd out about the science of 2015.

    Listen to the Atheist Talk Radio podcast here:

    Atheist Talk Radio is a great weekly radio show that covers a wide range of topics, and often, science. However, it costs money to put the podcast on. Consider donating.

    How To Evaluate Science Stories

    I’m on my way to a taping of the Humanist Views with Host Scott Lohman. I do these now and then and have done so since I first moved to Minnesota back when it was still cold here. We’ll be talking about science knowledge, and why basic science knowledge is important. We’ll also be talking about how to go about evaluating science stories you encounter in the news, or more likely, on your Facebook feed or in other social media.

    Pursuant to this, I wrote a blog post that talks about how science stories go out to the general public. I also report on a request I sent out a few days ago to my own Facebook Friends for their thoughts on which Internet sites are good science sources, and which are not so good.

    So, here goes…

    How a scientific finding comes to you

    A first year graduate student comes up with a project. The idea is that change in A causes a change in B, and this could be important, although in truth the natural phenomenon being studied is a bit esoteric. After a year or so of experimentation, learning, literature search, and thinking about the problem, the graduate student comes to understand that a change in the level of disorder in the state of A is associated under certain conditions, some known and some unknown, with a threshold change in B, but it doesn’t always happen. The threshold itself is as yet unmeasured, but seems like a threshold. In the end, more questions have been raised than answered, but also, more is known about A and B and related things than before.

    Eventually, there is a paper, peer reviewed, and about to be published. The University Press Office is informed. The University writer who covers this area of science is on vacation, so a different person not so familiar with that area of science takes on the job of writing the press release. An interview with the graduate student doesn’t go too well, because scientists have dialects that are sometimes more difficult for a non-specialist to understand than are the diverse dialects of a widely spoken language (like English) by someone unaccustomed to them.

    During the conversation the writer presses the graduate student for more on the significance of the study. The graduate student claims the study results are significant. But the writer is thinking “cures cancer” or “a better mousetrap” significance, and the graduate student is thinking about statistical tests and p-values. But, during the conversation something is said about something that sounds significant to the writer. The paper is about statistical variation in ATP use in a muscle fiber, and muscle fibers are what’s messed up in many different diseases, as well as in aging. So now the writer contacts a couple of scientists unrelated to the exact research project and asks about its significance. During that conversation it is made clear that curing heart disease is important, even though this research really has little to do with it. But it could be related in the sense that the more we know about muscle and ATP in muscle fibers, the more we know in general, and that can’t be bad when it comes to heart disease, or a long list of other problems.

    So the writer writes up the story, and focuses on the value this new research will have in curing heart disease and multiple sclerosis. The real meaning of the original research, which is that we should be measuring the order and disorder of the state of a particular molecule in muscle fibre, instead of measuring, for instance, how much the muscle twitches in a test tube, is not even mentioned in the writeup because it is too difficult to understand and too esoteric.

    Under deadline, the writer asks the editor if the near final copy should be run by the graduate student to see if it is right. The editor says no, explaining that “we don’t let the people we interview see the copy because it would not be fair to the other people you interviewed,” or some such excuse. So the copy moves along in the process. The editor creates a title that makes the research look sexy. The writer, feeling the title might be misleading, asks that the title be toned down a bit, and the editor agrees. But the process of putting the press release onto the University web site has already begun, and the original, overstated, title is still in the HTML Metacode where it will show up as the title on a Facebook post about the research.

    Then, somebody spots the research and posts it on their Facebook feed. It gets shared and shared and shared and shared, with the original bogus title on top of every share. Almost nobody reads the text under the title; had they done, they would notice a conflict between the title and the text. Even fewer people click through and read the original text of the press release, so almost no one notices that there may be more, or really, less, to the story than the title suggests. Even fewer people, maybe one in 1,000, have a look at the original article, and if they do, they don’t understand much of it because the process of publishing peer reviewed papers also involved making science being reported less, rather than more, understandable. Also, it is only an abstract because the paper is behind a firewall.

    Everybody is now stupider than they were before this whole thing started.

    (See a cartoon version of this here, hat tip: Michael Tobis.)

    And, importantly, this is how science gets muddled even when there are sincere efforts to not muddle it, and in the absence of nefarious muddling by anti-science operatives.

    This is not how it goes with all scientific stories. Many scientists, often those once or twice burned, are more careful in dealing with press offices. Many press offices are actually pretty good, and have great writers, and the press releases they produce are better. Many stories get picked up by crack science writers and bloggers who bother to read the original paper, talk to experts, contact the author with questions, then do a good job of presenting the material. But often, something like the above, or a subset of the above, happens. Stupider, many become.

    How does the average person who is interested in science, or a particular topic important to them because of something in their life, avoid becoming stupider, and maybe, just possibly, become even smarter? Here are a few guidelines, most of which have to do with encountering this information on the Internet.

    1) Do not assume that a title reflects the research. It often does not.

    2) Do not assume that a third party writeup is not messed up. It often is.

    3) The internet is made of tubes. Some of these tubes are little more than conduits of original press releases, scraped from myriad sources and turned into what look like news stories. These are good places to find out about newly published research. They are entirely unreliable to find out what that research is about. They are like search engines that lie.

    4) Find interpretive outlets you can trust. There are many science writers and science bloggers (overlapping entities) who regularly do a good job of describing current or recent research.

    5) Time is your friend. Often, even among the better interpretive sites, mistakes are made and research is accidentally mis-represented. But usually, eventually, corrections are made. An absolutely fresh report of new research may be misleading, while just a week or so later, the reporting gets straightened out.

    6) In some fields, there are people who are involved in the research (specifically or generally) who also write about it in a blog. The best example I can think of has to do with climate change. RealClimate blog is written by climate scientists. Very often, the blog posts they produce are written by the actual authors of the new papers. They write these blog posts specifically to inform the general interested (and at least somewhat field-aware) public of their findings. Sometimes they write blog posts specifically designed to address misunderstandings that have emerged, as described above, or as is often the case in climate science, because nefarious science deniers have muddled up the message on purpose. Similarly, there are science based medicine sites that write about health and medicine related news, though in my experience these bloggers are experts in their fields but not generally the authors of the work they are writing about, as is often the case with RealClimate.

    PLEASE NOTICE THE TWO SPECIALIZED SEARCH ENGINES IN THE SIDEBAR TO THE RIGHT, ONE FOR GOOD SCIENCE SITES IN GENERAL (SKEPTICAL SEARCH ENGINE) ONE FOR CLIMATE SCIENCE SPECIFICALLY!!!

    7) In some fields, there are relatively reliable web sites that cover everything encyclopedia style. Again, with Climate, SkepticalScience.com covers every aspect of climate change, as well as denial of climate change science. If something isn’t there, it is because it is so new it hasn’t been covered yet, but will be. You can even contact the authors of this site and ask for more, or for clarification. Other sites are more like topical sites. This is trickier. There are bogus health and diet sites and there are good health and diet sites. Nature News is crap according to everyone I know (I don’t track that site). WebMD tends to be reasonably good, The Mayo Clinic’s site is very reliable. The CDC does a good job of covering disease. These sites will be less current, and very cautious. They won’t say stuff if they are afraid you will misuse the information, but they go out of their way to address common goofs people make in their thinking about the issues they cover.

    8) This should be number 1, but in fact, applies to very few people for various reasons, so I put it down here. If you want to be able to evaluate new scientific research in a given area, learn all about that area and become an amateur expert on it. That is not easy. People will tell you it is easy, and claim they have done this. It is not and they did not – if they thought it was easy they missed something. But if your sources are good, you are honest with yourself, have a bit of training or experience with thinking about things in a scientific way (and haven’t simply told yourself you can do this) then you can make this happen.

    9) Pursuant to number 8, use sources like Google Scholar to find actual peer reviewed research of interest to you and read it. Many peer reviewed papers will not be easily available to you because they are behind firewalls, but many are OpenAccess. Others, probably all others, can be obtained at a good library, though that can be a lot of trouble. For something really important, where your need for a paper goes beyond your own interest – maybe you are a teacher teaching about the topic – go ahead and contact the paper’s “corresponding author” and ask for a copy. If the paper is an older one, go first to the authors’ web sites and see if there is a downloadable copy there, often this is the case. Try Googling the entire title of the paper, in quotes, followed by the words “download” and “PDF.” Every once in a while this works, just like magic.

    There are some great science communicators some of whom are also scientists.

    A couple of quick tips on how to tell a good communicator:

    • They communicate in the field they work in, or at least, communicate a lot in. So they know stuff.
    • When they talk they make sense (by itself not a good clue, but helpful).
    • They manage to use some big words or concepts but make them fully understood.
    • They are often interviewed on comedy central, the only really good news network.

    Caution: self styled skeptics are often bad sources because they really do think they understand the science, but may not.

    • As a rule if a non-specialist or highly experienced writer tells you that a certain area of science is simple to understand, check your wallet.
    • If a skeptic tells you that “many peer reviewed studies” have proven/disproven something, check your wallet. Then check for the studies.
    • If an argument is the counter to the argument that the science is controlled by big business, chances are both the original argument and the counter argument are worthless.
    • Notice how self styled skeptics often follow a party line that is as much derived from authority as any other argument they may reject because it is derived from authority.

    So what are some good science sources, and what are the bad ones?

    A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends to suggest what they thought were good, vs. bad, sources on science. Below I’ve placed their recommendations, without links. That is partly because I don’t want to have links to bad sources on this site. If you enter the term supplied here you can find the referenced resources easily.

    If you disagree with anything on this list, or want to add to it, just drop a comment below.

    I have not included sites like Physorg and other science news aggregator sites. See above for my opinion on those sites. Interestingly, these sites were listed by Facebook friends as either bad or good. In truth, they are probably either bad or good depending on what you do with them.

    Not everything here is exactly a science site but you can see where those listings are still relevant.

    Science Sources People Say Are Good

    The Global Warming Fact of the Day Facebook Page
    RealClimate
    SkepticalScience.com
    Science Based Medicine
    Bad Astronomy
    PolitiFact
    Christian Science Monitor
    Wikipedia (Especially as a really smart search engine)
    Talk Origin
    SCOTUSBlog
    Federation of American Scientists
    Cultural Cognition Project
    Questia
    Mayo Clinic
    Carl Zimmer
    XKCD

    Science Sources People Say Are Bad

    Whats Up With That
    Briebart
    InfoWars
    Natural News
    The Truth Wins
    Thunderbolts.info
    Answers in Genesis
    Discovery Institute
    Real Science
    Dr. Oz
    Mercola
    Collective Evolution
    Food Babe
    Spirit Science
    International Medical Council on Vaccination

    Who thinks what about climate change and science?

    Two items of interest.

    1) A new poll looks at conservative and liberal views of science. The findings are not especially unexpected, but the details are interesting. The image above is from this infographic, and the details are given here.

    Yes, the detail are quite interesting.

    2) If you care, there is some information on what the 2016 GOP candidates stand on climate change.

    This is put together by CBS and is here.

    What is scientific consensus?

    A group of scientists attending a major conference get together in a bar. They talk, but they agree on nothing because they are critical academics. The server comes along to take the beer order and says, “I noticed you all are constantly arguing. What are you arguing about?”

    “Sensitivity,” one of them says. “It is the number of degrees C the Earth’s surface will warm with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Is it 2, 3, 4? … We cant settle on a number”

    The server considers their plight for a moment. Suddenly, she rips several sheets out of her order book and hands one to each of the scientists. She notices they all already have pens and mechanical pencils in their shirt pockets.

    “Each of you write down a number for sensitivity. Don’t share. I’ll look at them all and if they are all the same number I’ll bring you your beer for free for the rest of the evening.”

    The scientists comply. She looks at their numbers. They are all the same. Despite the quibbling they all had the same sense for what the number for climate “sensitivity” likely is. They get free beer for the evening.

    Scientific consensus is what most scientists will nitpick about but ultimately agree on if free beer is at stake.


    My first homework assignment for Making Sense of Climate Denial.

    The Expansion of Antarctic Sea Ice and Self Correcting Science

    One of the things climate change science deniers say, to throw you off, is that Antarctic sea ice is expanding. They even claim that the amount of expansion of Antarctic sea ice offsets the dramatic retreat of Arctic sea ice (see this for the latest on the Arctic). I’ve even seen it argued, in that famous peer-reviewed publication Twitter, that there is an inter-polar teleconnection that guarnatees that when the ice on one end of the earth expands the ice on the other end of the earth contracts, and visa versa, so everything is fine.

    That Antarctic Sea ice is expanding has become standard knowledge. (See “Why is Antarctic Sea Ice Growing” for more.) It is a simple fact of nature that needs to be explained and addressed. The expansion of Antarctic Sea ice is one of the very few apparent reversals in climate change related trends across the world. And, there have been many explanations for it.

    Or is it?

    It turns out that we don’t know if Antarctic sea ice is expanding. A new study just released looked at Antarctic sea ice to examine the idea, which has been batted around for a while now, that there is something wrong with the data. The study, by Eisenman, Meier, and Norris, published in The Cryosphere, found this:

    Recent estimates indicate that the Antarctic sea ice cover is expanding at a statistically significant rate with a magnitude one-third as large as the rapid rate of sea ice retreat in the Arctic. However, during the mid-2000s, with several fewer years in the observational record, the trend in Antarctic sea ice extent was reported to be considerably smaller and statistically indistinguishable from zero. Here, we show that much of the increase in the reported trend occurred due to the previously undocumented effect of a change in the way the satellite sea ice observations are processed for the widely used Bootstrap algorithm data set, rather than a physical increase in the rate of ice advance. Specifically, we find that a change in the intercalibration across a 1991 sensor transition when the data set was reprocessed in 2007 caused a substantial change in the long-term trend. Although our analysis does not definitively identify whether this change introduced an error or removed one, the resulting difference in the trends suggests that a substantial error exists in either the current data set or the version that was used prior to the mid-2000s, and numerous studies that have relied on these observations should be reexamined to determine the sensitivity of their results to this change in the data set. Furthermore, a number of recent studies have investigated physical mechanisms for the observed expansion of the Antarctic sea ice cover. The results of this analysis raise the possibility that much of this expansion may be a spurious artifact of an error in the processing of the satellite observations.

    It looks like, for sure, you can’t say that Antarctic sea ice is expanding or contracting in its annual cycle. It also looks like the evidence suggests it is probably not expanding at all.

    So, science, in its self correcting way, has thrown a wet blanket … a warm and wet blanket perhaps … on the idea that the Antarctic sea ice expansion disproves everything else we know about global warming. The Antarctic sea ice is not Galileo!