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Maybe it’s just me, but if a source told me that NASA used whale oil to lubricate parts of the Hubble, or if I read such a statement in a book, I’d want some sort of documentation - some hard evidence.

Right off the bat, the claim raises some questions: Does NASA employ a secret whaling ship, or...

Maybe it’s just me, but if a source told me that NASA used whale oil to lubricate parts of the Hubble, or if I read such a statement in a book, I’d want some sort of documentation - some hard evidence.

Right off the bat, the claim raises some questions: Does NASA employ a secret whaling ship, or does the stuff stay fresh long enough that they can use a supply left over from the days of Moby Dick?  

I first heard about this incredible rumor in the most recent issue of the Chemical Heritage Foundation Magazine. In an enlightening piece called Whales in Space, an intern, Jacob Roberts, examines and debunks the rumor. According to Roberts, the whale story raised some eyebrows in 2010 when it was repeated on The History Channel. The show, America: The Story of Us included the claim that, “Even today, whale...

Sherwin Nuland, the Yale surgeon whose most well known book suggested that "the good death" was something only a lucky few could achieve,...

Sherwin Nuland, the Yale surgeon whose most well known book suggested that "the good death" was something only a lucky few could achieve, died Monday at his home in Connecticut. He was 83.

Ivan Oransky, a doctor, journalist, and the global editorial director of MedPage Today, wrote on his Facebook page that Nuland  was "a role model for physician-journalists and others writing about medicine." The physician-writer Atul Gawande tweeted...

La vanguardia exagera diciendo que Massagué descubre el origen de la metastasis
Pere Estupinya
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(English intro to Spanish lang post) Spanish scientist and director of the Sloan-Kettering Institute Joan Massagué published in Cell a key mechanism used by cancer cells to establish metastatic brain tumors (eurekalert...

(English intro to Spanish lang post) Spanish scientist and director of the Sloan-Kettering Institute Joan Massagué published in Cell a key mechanism used by cancer cells to establish metastatic brain tumors (eurekalert). The research showed specific proteins involved in the overcome of tissues defenses against metastatic invasion, and the clinging of cancer cells to blood capillaries. It’s a significant achievement that could lead to new strategies to fight against metastasis. But it’s still in its early stages. Nevertheless, an important spanish newspaper published a front page story saying that “Massague discovered the origin of metastasis”. This exaggeration spread immediately to TV stations and other newspapers. Reporters who followed up the story had to reduce expectations and to point out that this basic research is still far from a clinical application...

John Fauber of MedPageToday and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that about 1,000 people have sued Medtronic over its bone-protein Infuse, used in spinal surgery.

Fauber has...

John Fauber of MedPageToday and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that about 1,000 people have sued Medtronic over its bone-protein Infuse, used in spinal surgery.

Fauber has gone after Medtronic like a bulldog, and the lawsuits suggest that his articles might be having an effect.

"The patient lawsuits, which were detailed in a recent securities filing by the company, are the latest development in a decade-long saga of a product that has been at the center of investigations, both scientific and legal, as well as a long list of conflict-riddled research done by physicians who received millions of dollars in royalties from Medtronic, while publishing highly favorable articles about Infuse," he...

Behemoth on line outlet LiveScience. Or, frozen bugs, original reporting, and original rewrite.
Charlie Petit
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   Perhaps it is becoming old fashioned but seems from here that a byline on a story ought to identify the person responsible for not just writing the exact assembly of words but reporting or verifying first-hand the pieces more important elements. The by in byline should mean reported by.

 ...

   Perhaps it is becoming old fashioned but seems from here that a byline on a story ought to identify the person responsible for not just writing the exact assembly of words but reporting or verifying first-hand the pieces more important elements. The by in byline should mean reported by.

    That's the point of this post. To back up and go through a chronological arc, last week in conversation with a few experienced colleagues the topic of how to inspire more and better science news coverage came up. One idea was to impress upon editors of small, local daily papers the rewards to readers from frequent doses of science-related news. Their segment of the old line media is among the few still doing well. I cracked that such editors already have that covered - they use Live Science. It's lots cheaper than hiring somebody.

   That was hardly meant as a slam against this news service. And anyway, I do not know how many small...

First, the art. The Wellcome Trust has gone live today with the first issue of its new weekly publication, Mosaic, "dedicated to exploring the science of life."

From the About page:

...

First, the art. The Wellcome Trust has gone live today with the first issue of its new weekly publication, Mosaic, "dedicated to exploring the science of life."

From the About page:

Each week, we publish a feature on an aspect of biology or medicine that affects our lives, our health or our society; we tell stories with real depth about the ideas, trends and people that drive contemporary life sciences.

All Mosaic’s articles can be reproduced or distributed free of charge – in fact, we encourage you to share or republish our content. All that we ask is that you attribute the work to Mosaic and link back to our website. In turn, we will seek out and republish the most interesting comments and conversations that our features provoke.

The Wellcome Trust, based in London, is an...

In a six-minute segment last week on CNN, the anchor Brooke Baldwin was so excited to talk about "designer babies" and playing God that she couldn't let go, even when her guests tried to...

In a six-minute segment last week on CNN, the anchor Brooke Baldwin was so excited to talk about "designer babies" and playing God that she couldn't let go, even when her guests tried to tell her to.

The story was prompted by an FDA meeting on the scientific issues concerning a new technique to prevent mitochondrial disease. This occurs when genetic mutations arise in the cellular energy factories called mitochondria. These are spread throughout the cytoplasm of a human egg--not in the nucleus. And their genomes are separate from the genes found in the nucleus, which are responsible for most of our genetic attributes and most genetic ailments. (Sperm are almost all nucleus and contain very little mitochondrial DNA.)

The idea considered by the FDA's panel was that in a woman carrying mitochondrial mutations, the nucleus of her egg might be...

The executive editor of the Sacramento Bee, Joyce Terhaar, said today she will review how the paper's website displays and identifies press releases, and that some changes might already be in the works.

Her comments came in response to...

The executive editor of the Sacramento Bee, Joyce Terhaar, said today she will review how the paper's website displays and identifies press releases, and that some changes might already be in the works.

Her comments came in response to a Feb. 24 post on the Tracker suggesting that press releases were not always clearly identified as such and that searches of the site brought up a mix of news stories and press releases.

In an email, Terhaar said that PR Newswire has been running its releases on the Sacramento Bee's website "for as long as I can remember, though in recent years we've worked to improve the header identifying the content more clearly so readers clearly understand they are reading press releases." She said she did not know that searches would produce a mix of news stories and press releases, "and I don...

"Content partnerships have been quite the vogue lately," writes Rick Edmonds at Poynter, as he takes note of a new one between...

"Content partnerships have been quite the vogue lately," writes Rick Edmonds at Poynter, as he takes note of a new one between The Atlantic and what is probably not the first news organization that comes to mind: The Deseret News.

Edmonds writes that this would appear to be a "a long-distance odd couple — the church-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City and the venerable Boston-bred monthly, now based in Washington." An odd couple indeed. He goes on to say that the partnership makes more sense if we acknowledge an "affinity--each is recognized as a leader in digital business model transformation. New approaches to content are part of the innovation formula."

That's a bit too much jargon for me, but I think I get the point...

Looks good, but where are the data?
Faye Flam
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If Poynter blogger Andrew Beaujon had been a science writer, he might have noticed something fishy about the graphs he posted in Why Journalists Drive Scientists Crazy, in Graphs. The...

If Poynter blogger Andrew Beaujon had been a science writer, he might have noticed something fishy about the graphs he posted in Why Journalists Drive Scientists Crazy, in Graphs. The graphs do not appear to be based on any data. There is not a data point to be found.

If data were involved in any way, there’s no mention of where this data came from or how it was obtained. A science writer would ask about the data, and the error bars, for that matter. Are these even really graphs, or just illustrations? Whatever they are, the purpose seems to be to express how one scientist, Sabine Hossenfelder, feels about science journalists. In a blog post, she expresses some frustration.  

And Beaujon seems to agree:

...

A study in the journal Bipolar Disorders two weeks ago found that the children of fathers 50 or older had three times the risk of having bipolar disorder compared to children of fathers 30-34 years old.

Bipolar disorder afflicts...

A study in the journal Bipolar Disorders two weeks ago found that the children of fathers 50 or older had three times the risk of having bipolar disorder compared to children of fathers 30-34 years old.

Bipolar disorder afflicts about 1 percent of the general population, so, in very rough terms, the risk of bipolar disorder in the children of these older fathers is about 3 percent.

That's about one in every school classroom with 30 kids. it sounds frightening.

But turn it around and put it this way: The children of those older fathers have a 97 percent chance of not having bipolar disorder. Suddenly the risk sounds quite different.

It's not easy to convey these risks properly to readers, and reporters often get it wrong.

In another study this week on older fathers, researchers found...

Just a week or two ago, in a Northern California Coast gallery, me and my babe while browsing along admired some polished artsy-fartsy carved wood pieces. They had not only beautiful grain but precisely-carved, curling tunnels bored in them big enough to slide a dime through. The clerk said oh, that's worm wood...

Just a week or two ago, in a Northern California Coast gallery, me and my babe while browsing along admired some polished artsy-fartsy carved wood pieces. They had not only beautiful grain but precisely-carved, curling tunnels bored in them big enough to slide a dime through. The clerk said oh, that's worm wood from sinker logs. Before she could go on I mumbled "Oh I know all about that." You know, logs sank from logging operations long ago in marine estuaries, shipworms (teredos) got into them, drilled holes, and eventually some specialty company got hold of them and milled them into this stuff. Turns out of course that was just the smug semi-informed science writer mouthing off (again). I didn't know squat. Nobody does.

    It turns out that some good recent science writing has gone into the topic, at least one from a fellow many tracker readers know, another from a scientist-blogger who also has a decent profile in the trade. Serendipity...

   Is it possible to have a gargantuan engineering and construction project covering large areas of the Earth that has no appreciable downside? Not to the economy, to human health, to wildlife, to worsening things in some way? In fact, that makes them much nicer? Yes, if one reads the press releases and...

   Is it possible to have a gargantuan engineering and construction project covering large areas of the Earth that has no appreciable downside? Not to the economy, to human health, to wildlife, to worsening things in some way? In fact, that makes them much nicer? Yes, if one reads the press releases and paper behind an intriguing paper in Nature Climate Change, one that is getting considerable but not yet immense reaction in media.

   The gist of conclusions published by Stanford civil engineering prof. Mark Z. Jacobson and two U. of Delaware colleagues is that if arrays of very large wind turbines - we are talking about tens to hundreds of thousands of the whirligigs in patches of ocean covering hundreds to thousands of square miles - were built off cities and other developed areas in the likely paths of eventual hurricanes, they would do all sorts of wonderful things. First, they'd disrupt fringe winds of incoming storms and set off a chain of...

Faye Flam
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Profiles of scientists and science policy makers are not easy – or at least it’s not easy to make them relevant, fair and yet engaging. But in a recent issue of Science, I found this opener hard to resist:

David Nutt is trying to develop a new recreational drug that he hopes...

Profiles of scientists and science policy makers are not easy – or at least it’s not easy to make them relevant, fair and yet engaging. But in a recent issue of Science, I found this opener hard to resist:

David Nutt is trying to develop a new recreational drug that he hopes will be taken up by millions of people around the world. No, the 62-year-old scientist isn’t “breaking bad.” In fact, he hopes to do good. His drug would be a substitute for alcohol, to create drinks that are just as intoxicating as beer or whiskey but less toxic. And it would come with an antidote to reverse its effects, allowing people to sober up instantly and drive home safely.

The story, headlined The Dangerous Professor, by Kai Kupferschmidt, stays fascinating to the end, detailing the quest of an Imperial College neuropsychopharmacologist to...

After the Tracker reported on Feb. 14 that The Washington Post was running press releases in its Health & Science section and the paper...

After the Tracker reported on Feb. 14 that The Washington Post was running press releases in its Health & Science section and the paper stopped doing it, the Columbia Journalism Review now argues that the Post's own reporting would likely be no better.

In a piece this morning in The Observatory, CJR's science section, Alexis Sobel Fitts writes that the press releases lack outside sources and "read, quite clearly, like press releases." But "it’s unclear that the in-house study coverage likely to replace it—the kind of quick articles which are often based entirely on the press release—are...

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