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After the Tracker noted on Feb. 24 that the website of the Sacramento Bee was mingling ads with editorial copy, the Bee's editor, Joyce Terhaar, has announced that the paper will now be...

After the Tracker noted on Feb. 24 that the website of the Sacramento Bee was mingling ads with editorial copy, the Bee's editor, Joyce Terhaar, has announced that the paper will now be more careful about identifying press releases.

In an email to me, she wrote:

Hi Paul --
I think the tech work done on the PR Newswire issue should resolve any issue of reader confusion about what exactly the content is. The note to readers at the top of the feed now comes up on each individual story should someone come to it differently.
Regards,
Joyce Terhaar

The note she's referring to is an alert that a story is a press release, not copy produced by the Bee's reporters.

I had written that I thought readers could easily confuse editorial copy and advertising, because the distinctions on...

Last week, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics sent out a maddening press announcement, promising to reveal a  major cosmological discovery on March 17th and giving not a clue what it would be.

This morning, a new press release explains that scientists are announcing an important new insight...

Last week, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics sent out a maddening press announcement, promising to reveal a  major cosmological discovery on March 17th and giving not a clue what it would be.

This morning, a new press release explains that scientists are announcing an important new insight into the first moments of the universe’s expansion. With a detector at the South Pole, a group claims to have found  the signature of gravitational waves – a phenomenon that’s long been predicted and sought as evidence for the favored version of the big bang known as inflation.

The Guardian didn’t wait for this promised revelation, running a story last Friday: Gravitational Waves: have US Scientists Heard Echoes of the Big Bang?

The story, by Stuart Clark, captures the excitement in the cosmology community...

The Association of Health Care Journalists has released a long list of 2013 award winners, which include a series on why U.S. healthcare is so expensive, the hazards of assisted living, unsafe drugs, and Obamacare.

Among the roughly three dozen winning stories and series, ProPublica shows up...

The Association of Health Care Journalists has released a long list of 2013 award winners, which include a series on why U.S. healthcare is so expensive, the hazards of assisted living, unsafe drugs, and Obamacare.

Among the roughly three dozen winning stories and series, ProPublica shows up four times, as does the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

AHCJ links to the winners here. You will find a lot of inspiring reading.

-Paul Raeburn

Tabitha M. Powledge updates us on sugar at On Science Blogs, along with some interesting and...

Tabitha M. Powledge updates us on sugar at On Science Blogs, along with some interesting and possibly important research on HIV and a disturbing bit about the politicization of the government's Office of Research Integrity.

"Refined sugar is one of the worst things found in the Western diet," she writes, quoting Lindsay Kobayashi at the blog Public Health Perspectives. That's a sentiment that will surely bring joy to the sugar-free heart of Gary Taubes. Will action by the World Health organization help reduce sugar in processed foods? Place your bets.

Turn to Powledge for more on HIV and the ORI, but...

Has the "Spaceship of the Imagination" on FOX 's Cosmos been reduced to rubble on the tombstone of Giordano Bruno?

Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddysey, as anyone living in any of the universe's 11 dimensions must know ( or 5 or 6 or whatever), is a reboot of Carl...

Has the "Spaceship of the Imagination" on FOX 's Cosmos been reduced to rubble on the tombstone of Giordano Bruno?

Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddysey, as anyone living in any of the universe's 11 dimensions must know ( or 5 or 6 or whatever), is a reboot of Carl Sagan's legendary 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Its pedigree is impeccable: The executive producers are Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow, co-writer of the original series, and part of the writing time on this one; and Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the FOX show Family Guy. And the well known science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson takes over Sagan's role as host.

And yet, and yet...

At his blog Out There at Discover magazine, the veteran space writer (and former editor of...

Thomas Edward John Jr., born May 22, 1943, was a major-league pitcher whose 288 victories make him the seventh-winningest left-hander in major league history, says Wikipedia.

He's also known for what's called Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction. The surgery was created for...

Thomas Edward John Jr., born May 22, 1943, was a major-league pitcher whose 288 victories make him the seventh-winningest left-hander in major league history, says Wikipedia.

He's also known for what's called Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction. The surgery was created for him in the middle of the 1974 season when he damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. It was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on Sept. 25, 1974. Although it seemed John would never pitch again, he went on to win 164 games--more than half of his total wins.

On Tuesday, a release on Eurekalert reported that major league pitchers "win more games following Tommy John surgery." The release describes a report at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and published in the American Journal of Sports medicine in 2013.

If you quit there,...

The viral site Upworthy, which knows how to attract an audience (last year, Fast Company called it "the fastest growing media site of all time...

The viral site Upworthy, which knows how to attract an audience (last year, Fast Company called it "the fastest growing media site of all time"), has asked its tens of millions of followers what they would like it to focus on in 2014.

Here are the results:

1. Climate change and clean energy.

2. Income inequality and poverty.

3. Human rights.

I guess this shouldn't be surprising, given Upworthy's socially-conscious tilt. Still, it's interesting to see how different this agenda is from anything you might hear out of Washington, for example.

And Upworthy...

Periodistas explican muy bien la compleja asociación entre el gen IRX3, el FTO, y la obesidad
Pere Estupinya
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(English intro to Spanish lang post) Mutations in the FTO gene have the strongest association to obesity in humans, but the mechanism of action remains unknown. Now, researchers from Chicago and Spain publish in Nature that FTO interacts with a distant gene called IRX3, which seems to be the one...

(English intro to Spanish lang post) Mutations in the FTO gene have the strongest association to obesity in humans, but the mechanism of action remains unknown. Now, researchers from Chicago and Spain publish in Nature that FTO interacts with a distant gene called IRX3, which seems to be the one that directly controls differential weight gain. Mice with altered IRX3 function are 30% slimmer than conventional ones. This distanct gene regulation is quite a complex topic to write about, but some journalists in Spain made a great effort to explain it clearly and in detail. In fact it’s the most read story in today’s elpais.com

Buen ejemplo de información científica compleja que ha sido tratada en exquisito detalle, especialmente por Javier Sampedro “Sí, el gen de la gordura existe”...

Illulstration for National Geographic's Black Hole Story
Faye Flam
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Let it be known that last weekend, thanks to National Geographic, a conversation on the nature of black holes took place in the salon where I get my hair cut.

It’s a setting where astrology gets a lot more attention than astronomy, but one of the hair cutters had read the latest National Geo...

Let it be known that last weekend, thanks to National Geographic, a conversation on the nature of black holes took place in the salon where I get my hair cut.

It’s a setting where astrology gets a lot more attention than astronomy, but one of the hair cutters had read the latest National Geo cover story, Black Holes, and he'd been looking forward to my appointment so he could talk about it. He gave me a good summary of the story, demonstrating that he comprehended it. There was real science communication achieved.

The story, by Michael Finkel, was an overview in broad brushstrokes, with no hype, lots of history, lots of background and no quotes. It serves as a lesson to editors who think people don’t care about science unless there’s a breakthrough that happened five minutes ago, a “human interest” angle, or news you can use....

  In a thatched hut among muddy paths in the Indian state of Orissa one finds a fellow who, on just the surrounding 2.3 acres of land, grows 940 different strains, or landraces, of rice. He calls the place a "seed ark" and asserts that is the only such collection of the diverse rice strains that once...

  In a thatched hut among muddy paths in the Indian state of Orissa one finds a fellow who, on just the surrounding 2.3 acres of land, grows 940 different strains, or landraces, of rice. He calls the place a "seed ark" and asserts that is the only such collection of the diverse rice strains that once were farmed across eastern India.

  The Kolkatta (nee Calcutta) native lives pretty humbly at the place - no electricity except for two solar panels to charge his phone and computer. He also is much more than a local farmer with a bee in his bonnet about heirloom rice. This is a  trained ecologist - including a spell at UC-Berkeley - with strong links to an international movement to preserve crop diversity. It has a big job. the expansion of mechanized industrial agriculture by its nature pursues the economic advantage brought by mass production and uniformity of the work routine. Biodiversity among crops is the loser. 

   This I...

"For the first time, a test that detects 10 types of lipids, or fats, circulating in a person's blood has been shown to predict accurately whether he or she will develop the memory loss and mental decline of Alzheimer's disease over the next two to three years," Melissa Healy ...

"For the first time, a test that detects 10 types of lipids, or fats, circulating in a person's blood has been shown to predict accurately whether he or she will develop the memory loss and mental decline of Alzheimer's disease over the next two to three years," Melissa Healy writes at the Los Angeles Times.

The question, of course, is: How accurately?

And how soon will it be ready? Healy writes--we're still in the lede here--that "a screening test based on the findings could be available in as little as two years."

I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd take all comers: If you think this will be available in two years, slap your cash on the barrel, pal.

It's not until her seventh graf that Healy reports that the test could "sort the...

The CDC announced in late February that many Americans are still too fat. Not much eyeball-grabbing news there, but in a clever move by the CDC press office, someone turned the focus on one small blip in the data. In the 2 to 5 year old category, obesity rate appeared to fall from about 14% to about 8.5%, which...

The CDC announced in late February that many Americans are still too fat. Not much eyeball-grabbing news there, but in a clever move by the CDC press office, someone turned the focus on one small blip in the data. In the 2 to 5 year old category, obesity rate appeared to fall from about 14% to about 8.5%, which still doesn’t sound exciting until someone turned it into a relative drop and declared that obesity rates fell by 43%.

That gave CDC’s press office a tempting morsel of reporter bait to dangle.

Many news organizations bit on it, though most included the more modest absolute percentage change too. That was the case with the New York Times, story, Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade, USA Today’s...

Andrew Solomon, the author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, has done what I think is the first interview with the father of Adam Lanza since the December...

Andrew Solomon, the author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, has done what I think is the first interview with the father of Adam Lanza since the December, 2012 day when Adam killed his mother, 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and himself. The interview appears online at The New Yorker.

Solomon elicits some riveting admissions and observations from Peter Lanza, who ultimately tells Solomon he wishes Adam had never been born. "That didn’t come right away. That’s not a natural thing, when you’re thinking about your kid. But, God, there’s no question," he said.

Peter showed Solomon a picture of himself with Adam and his brother, Ryan, who was initially suspected to be the killer. "One thing that struck me about that picture is that it's clear...

On Tuesday, March 18th, the National Press Foundation is sponsoring a webinar entitled "Tips for High-Fidelity Science Reporting."

"Any journalist who wants...

On Tuesday, March 18th, the National Press Foundation is sponsoring a webinar entitled "Tips for High-Fidelity Science Reporting."

"Any journalist who wants to improve her or his work on scientific topics will benefit from this webinar. It will highlight common challenges in communicating science and offer specific tips to enhance the fidelity and richness of scientific reporting," says the announcement.

Do not sign up for this. Better yet, send the National Press Foundation an email and tell them to cancel it.

The webinar is not intended to boost science journalism. It's intended to boost the fortunes of The Coca-Cola Company, which needs little help from us.

I'll give the press foundation a score of 50% on transparency. The announcement for the webinar says, prominently, "This program...

Here are a few items from the past week or two that I'm not going to get to, but that I couldn't entirely let go:

  • Why do people who convulse over the bogus science at Kentucky's Creation Museum tolerate the pseudoscience marketing at Whole Foods? "From the probiotics aisle to the...

Here are a few items from the past week or two that I'm not going to get to, but that I couldn't entirely let go:

  • Why do people who convulse over the bogus science at Kentucky's Creation Museum tolerate the pseudoscience marketing at Whole Foods? "From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares," writes Michael Schulson in The Daily Beast. Jerry A. Coyne comments on Schulson's article at The New Republic...
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