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Science books by scientists often win the Pulitzer for non-fiction, but this year’s winner, Tom’s River, is a work of science journalism, and showcases just how much a great journalist can accomplish. The book details a long, complicated investigation into what appeared to be an unusual “...

Science books by scientists often win the Pulitzer for non-fiction, but this year’s winner, Tom’s River, is a work of science journalism, and showcases just how much a great journalist can accomplish. The book details a long, complicated investigation into what appeared to be an unusual “cluster” of childhood cancer in a New Jersey shore town with a history of chemical pollution.

There’s a nice excerpt here in Salon, which gives a sense of how unwieldy the subject was and the impossibility of a neat, clear-cut conclusion. The author, Dan Fagin, confronts the complexity of the situation, making it comprehensible by digging deep into the history of the region as well as the history of epidemiology and statistics.

According to his bio, Dan Fagin spent 14 years as an environment reporter for Newsday. He is now the director of...

   And the (climate) beat goes on. And on. And on. 

   After seven years of preparation the latest assessment team from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now done with the heavy lifting. It released over the weekend the third and last major section of this assessment...

   And the (climate) beat goes on. And on. And on. 

   After seven years of preparation the latest assessment team from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now done with the heavy lifting. It released over the weekend the third and last major section of this assessment - the fifth since 1990. Earlier this year it said that global warming is still a clear, serious, and worsening peril we have brought upon ourselves; just last month its second part said that climate change impacts on humanity are already measurable and that far more misery is on the way. The topic for IPCC Working Group III. which just met in Berlin, concerns mitigation, what it will take to slow and eventually stop humanity's persistent nudges upward on the planet's thermostat. The hope is to start reducing CO2 levels in the air before global calamity strikes. Nuclear power and geoengineering that please some conservative industrial sectors, on top of renewables...

NASA Graphic Explains Lunar Eclipse
Faye Flam
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Naked eye astronomical phenomena often make for great opportunities to write about science, and while lunar eclipses are rather common, the one coming tonight/early tomorrow morning is interesting because it’s the first of a “tetrad” of four total eclipses spaced six months apart.

Most news...

Naked eye astronomical phenomena often make for great opportunities to write about science, and while lunar eclipses are rather common, the one coming tonight/early tomorrow morning is interesting because it’s the first of a “tetrad” of four total eclipses spaced six months apart.

Most news stories noted that the moon will turn the color of blood, or sunsets, but some of us who have watched lunar eclipses have occasionally been disappointed that even total ones can look grey. Sky and Telescope can be counted on to explain this color variability. Here’s Alan McRobert:

Two factors affect an eclipse's color and brightness. The first is simply how deeply the Moon goes into the umbra — because the umbra's center is much darker than its outer edge. The second is the state of Earth's atmosphere all...

Doctors and medical groups who say the public can't understand the newly released Medicare data because it's "out of context" should look at the latest edition of On Science...

Doctors and medical groups who say the public can't understand the newly released Medicare data because it's "out of context" should look at the latest edition of On Science Blogs by Tabitha M. Powledge.

There they will find the context. Plenty of reporters and news organizations are doing a good job of providing the context that Americans need to understand the data.

Here's a case in point, recounted by Powledge:

A Business Day post by Denise Grady and Sheri Fink shows how the data can mislead. One example: a family medicine physician at the University of Michigan Health Services got $7.58 million in 2012 for more than 207,000 patients. Unbelievable, right?

Except, as it turns out, the doc directs a Medicare project...

El Niño is a universal solvent in popular discussion of weather. Before global warming came along, and if an El Niño was on the prowl, the latter was always blamed by weathercasters and the great unwashed (eg reporters) for almost any meteorological oddity that came along. In 1997 I wrote a half-...

El Niño is a universal solvent in popular discussion of weather. Before global warming came along, and if an El Niño was on the prowl, the latter was always blamed by weathercasters and the great unwashed (eg reporters) for almost any meteorological oddity that came along. In 1997 I wrote a half-satirical newspaper story on this telling readers "Shanked a golf shot? Blame El Niño." This year for awhile, looks like, we'll have two fall-guys to choose between and blame for all heat waves, floods, droughts, fish die-offs, strange marine animals in unexpected places, monsoons, atmospheric rivers, and cyclones across most of the world.

  This week at its official site the Nat'l Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Nat'l Weather Service and its Climate Prediction Center posted its latest diagnostic discussion on ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a reference to the whole cycle). It says, some 17 years after the last...

Governments around the world have spent $9 billion stockpiling a flu drug that's probably no better than aspirin and possibly harmful.

So writes Julia Belluz at Maclean's magazine...

Governments around the world have spent $9 billion stockpiling a flu drug that's probably no better than aspirin and possibly harmful.

So writes Julia Belluz at Maclean's magazine in Canada. The story was prompted by a study and a new release from the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit research group that produces broad reviews of the evidence for and against such things as drugs, medical procedures, and healthcare policies.

In a new review, Cochrane reports that "Tamiflu (the antiviral drug oseltamivir) shortens symptoms of influenza by half a day, but there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza." It reports that the...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's "3 Questions" for the Tracker.

This also gave me an occasion to bring up--yet again!--the story of the "immortal" jellyfish.

Enjoy.

-Paul Raeburn

   In a brief letter to Nature this week six researchers say that the time lag between scientific discoveries - particularly in the basic physical sciences - and Nobel Prizes to salute them is getting longer and longer. If this keeps up, they drily note, nobod will live long enough to receive a Nobel....

   In a brief letter to Nature this week six researchers say that the time lag between scientific discoveries - particularly in the basic physical sciences - and Nobel Prizes to salute them is getting longer and longer. If this keeps up, they drily note, nobod will live long enough to receive a Nobel. Maybe the no-posthumous-award rule must be lifted. There are many plausible reasons for the trend. Maybe it is that there are so many more scientists these days, and discovery is such a group process, that singling out the best of the bunch - and narrowing credit to just three people - has gotten harder. But to argue that it is just the opposite, that the pace of discovery has gotten too slow, seems counterintuitive. One might think that it is easier to choose the best (or least bad) from a shorter list.

   No science journalist is happier with the result than a certain amiable and imaginative fellow at New Jersey's Stevens Institute of Technology. He...

Doctors should not accept money to promote drug companies that fund their research.

Hard to argue with.

There's a legitimate argument for paying researchers to speak, and it doesn't mean they become pharma salespeople.

Also hard to argue with.

The first of these statements comes...

Doctors should not accept money to promote drug companies that fund their research.

Hard to argue with.

There's a legitimate argument for paying researchers to speak, and it doesn't mean they become pharma salespeople.

Also hard to argue with.

The first of these statements comes from Charles Ornstein of ProPublica, one of the authors of "Double Dip: Doctors Paid to Advise, Promote Drug Companies That Fund Their Research," co-published by ProPublica and The Boston Globe. The story argues that Yoav Golan, an infectious-disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, is wrong to accept "tens...

Medicare, the government-run health program for older Americans, paid one doctor $20.8 million in 2012.

Of the 825,000 doctors in Medicare's claims database, 344 took in at least $3 million each, for a total of $1.5 billion.

This data has been kept private since 1979--35 years ago--by a court...

Medicare, the government-run health program for older Americans, paid one doctor $20.8 million in 2012.

Of the 825,000 doctors in Medicare's claims database, 344 took in at least $3 million each, for a total of $1.5 billion.

This data has been kept private since 1979--35 years ago--by a court injunction sought by the American Medical Association that barred release of any details of these expenditures of public money. The injunction was vacated by a federal judge last year.

This data from the Medicare claims database was released today by the federal government, which called this a "historic release of data."

The word I'd use is not historic, but outrageous. The first two facts above come from an Associated Press  story by Ricardo Alonso-...

Dude! Two medical stories defy 'rules' in science journalism. One's gnarly to the max, other's a wipeout.
Charlie Petit
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   Here're some rules of the first metacarpal on what a diligent medical reporter ought to do when faced with reports of cure: Glaze one's eyes at a study with just one data point; say whoa! if outside experts are all leery; Think again if it involves amateur treatment under utterly uncontrolled...

   Here're some rules of the first metacarpal on what a diligent medical reporter ought to do when faced with reports of cure: Glaze one's eyes at a study with just one data point; say whoa! if outside experts are all leery; Think again if it involves amateur treatment under utterly uncontrolled circumstances; Ditto if it cannot even describe what it was about the treatment that did the trick - if anything did. Oh, another reason to pause: Even if the so-called treatment worked nobody else is ever likely to try it.

   Such alarm bells ought be taken seriously. That is unless there are extenuating circumstances. Covered with froth? Even better. In the right hands, with the right caveats, almost anything can past muster. What's the self-canceling rule? Rules are made to be broken.

  Here's one that breaks rules and soars.

  • Live Science - Bahar Gholipour:...

When we think about science and religion, we often see the two in conflict. Science says the world and its creatures arose over billions of years by way of natural processes; and some religions--not all--argue that the world was made in seven days by a being whom we should therefore revere.

You can see this...

When we think about science and religion, we often see the two in conflict. Science says the world and its creatures arose over billions of years by way of natural processes; and some religions--not all--argue that the world was made in seven days by a being whom we should therefore revere.

You can see this dichotomy in a piece by the social critic Barbara Ehrenreich in in the most recent Sunday Review in The New York Times. "My atheism is hard core...a stance I perpetuated by opting, initially, for a career in science," she begins. Science is not an expression of atheism, just as it is not an expression of religion. Even smart people like Ehrenreich can become confused about that.

One person who didn't become confused about science and spirituality--and who showed there is a place for them to coexist--was...

On Saturday, Elisabeth Rosenthal at The New York Times began a story with a description of a woman with diabetes who wears a small digital pump at her...

On Saturday, Elisabeth Rosenthal at The New York Times began a story with a description of a woman with diabetes who wears a small digital pump at her waist that delivers insulin to her bloodstream. The insulin keeps her alive; this isn't a high-priced option for a wealthy patient. It's necessary care.

“It looks like a beeper,” the woman told Rosenthal. “It’s made of plastic and runs on triple-A batteries, but it’s the most expensive thing I own, aside from my house.” A new model, Rosenthal reported, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And the pump and related supplies will cost the woman $5,000 this year, even with good health insurance. That includes insulin that once "cost a few dollars" and "now often sells for more than $200 a vial, meaning some...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that he will retire at the end of June.

Hilts, who took over the program in 2008, expanded its international reach and added training in video and audio storytelling. And under his leadership, the number of applicants for the year-long Knight Science Journalism fellowships  for science reporters grew from about 80 per year to about 150 per year.

"The Knight Program has been a tremendous asset to MIT, and a powerful resource for our understanding of the relationship between science and technology and the public," said Deborah Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean at the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "I am...

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs reviews the week's climate coverage (including some of our remarks here).

And she also notes an event that...

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs reviews the week's climate coverage (including some of our remarks here).

And she also notes an event that I somehow missed: Jane Goodall's 80th birthday. I met Goodall once, at a dinner in New York, and she is not only smart, charming, and engaging, but she has some kind of aura about her. I know, I know: talk of "auras" makes me sound like some kind of new-age...well, makes me sound new-age. Instead of "aura," let's say charisma. Whatever it is, it makes you want to speak softly when you're around her, and listen carefully to everything she says.

She was probably 70 when I met her. I thought she was cool.

Powledge also collects comments on the discovery of the bones of Richard III, which gives me a rare opportunity to quote some...