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   A long piece - on a long-running war between a feisty Harvard-educated (undergrad), UC Berkeley PhD and now-tenured biology professor with an interest in endocrinology and a huge corporation with huge profits at stake - has gotten a tremendous reaction over the last day or two:

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   A long piece - on a long-running war between a feisty Harvard-educated (undergrad), UC Berkeley PhD and now-tenured biology professor with an interest in endocrinology and a huge corporation with huge profits at stake - has gotten a tremendous reaction over the last day or two:

   It is an engrossing yet puzzling piece. Its prime character, Tyrone Hayes, especially around here (The SF Bay Area), has been a science story for at least ten years. Many readers of the tracker likely have at least an inkling why. He has become a deep thorn in the side of Syngenta, a Swiss-based herbicide and pesticide manufacturer that is the descendant,  by...

The front page of The New York Times on Monday carried a story by Gina Kolata that told a compelling tale of a woman with a deadly genetic disease...

The front page of The New York Times on Monday carried a story by Gina Kolata that told a compelling tale of a woman with a deadly genetic disease who was able to have children knowing they did not carry the lethal gene. The children were conceived through in-vitro fertilization and tested for the gene before unaffected embryos were implanted.

This is not a new development. The idea of testing embryos for genetic diseases before implantation has been around for more than 20 years. Yet the Times put it on the front page.

The only explanation I can think of is that Kolata's evocative writing seduced her editors into thinking it was a new story. She followed a heartwarming lead anecdote with the Big Questions. The procedure, she...

Can she cure what ails science?
Faye Flam
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A recent piece from The New York Times “Grey Matter” column in the Sunday Review continues what seems to be a trend toward suggesting science doesn’t work or is somehow malfunctioning.

The...

A recent piece from The New York Times “Grey Matter” column in the Sunday Review continues what seems to be a trend toward suggesting science doesn’t work or is somehow malfunctioning.

The author of this latest piece is political scientist Michael Suk-Young Chwe, and the headline, Scientific Pride and Prejudice.

Here’s the lede:

Science is in crisis, just when we need it most.

It’s a good hook, but is it true?

To back up this alarming claim, we get this link to a Nature paper. The paper says that in cancer drug development, too many researchers are jumping ahead into clinical studies before the pre-...

  Here is a headline that is a big fat fib:

  Here is a headline that is a big fat fib:

  •  InsideClimate News - John H. Cushman Jr.: How to Deconstruct the Difficult Math of Keystone XL's Carbon Footprint ;    This is misleading because it implies it will lead to the answer. However, not to worry, that's ok. It is a story about the math itself, not the automatically fuzzy answer that one gets from that math. And the story may be as good as it is going to get in terms of explaining a pipeline's footprint - which is its point. 

  This yarn is for anybody deeply interested in the geochemical stakes and consequences of a decision pro or con at the White House on whether to finish a near-straight shot hose of heavy crude oil from the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta right into the vast complex of refineries along the Gulf Coast...

For more than 20 years, we have been hearing charges and counter-charges concerning alleged sexual abuse by Woody Allen of Dylan Farrow, a daughter he adopted with Mia Farrow. Dylan, now 28, is an artist and writer living in Florida under a different name.

The charges were never resolved. But now Allen has...

For more than 20 years, we have been hearing charges and counter-charges concerning alleged sexual abuse by Woody Allen of Dylan Farrow, a daughter he adopted with Mia Farrow. Dylan, now 28, is an artist and writer living in Florida under a different name.

The charges were never resolved. But now Allen has been effectively accused of child abuse again in the pages of The New York Times, in a harsh and deeply misguided column by Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner known for his support of human rights and children in such dangerous places as Chad and Darfur.

On Feb. 1, with no more legal evidence than what was available 20 years ago, Kristof wrote in his column, "When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionize an alleged molester?" The column was prompted...

Guest post by Maia Szalavitz: What Journalists Can Do to Fight Opioid Addiction
Paul Raeburn
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[Ed. note: Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com who regularly writes about drug addiction. She is also the co-author, with Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, of "Born for Love:  Why Empathy is Essential-- And Endangered" and the author of "Help At Any Cost:  How the Troubled-Teen Industry...

[Ed. note: Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com who regularly writes about drug addiction. She is also the co-author, with Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, of "Born for Love:  Why Empathy is Essential-- And Endangered" and the author of "Help At Any Cost:  How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids."]

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose death has hit nearly everyone affected by addiction hard, including this former heroin addict. But while I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how good much of the coverage has been, unfortunately, journalism still has a long way to go before it can truly serve the public interest by providing accurate, fair and useful coverage of addiction and drugs.

First, the good stuff.  The New Republic,...

   Here's a story I read about five days ago and cannot get out of my mind, even though it is on a physics result that is not merely null but highly incremental, and tentative. Furthermore, even if its implications bear fruit they will have no effect on matters of policy or daily habit. That is, the...

   Here's a story I read about five days ago and cannot get out of my mind, even though it is on a physics result that is not merely null but highly incremental, and tentative. Furthermore, even if its implications bear fruit they will have no effect on matters of policy or daily habit. That is, the news can have no practical impact other than to encourage support for or perhaps participation in the arcane arts and hence build upon their splendid intellectual achievements. But a lot of science writers get by in large measure on just such stories. They are interesting to a few for whom such news is very interesting indeed.

   The news peg is a report in Physical Review Letters...

How good must heroin feel? Good enough to abandon three children? Good enough to abandon friends, other family members, professional colleagues, and a brilliant career?

I should be angry at Philip Seymour Hoffman for doing what he's done to his children. But I'm not. I'm just sad. He was one of...

How good must heroin feel? Good enough to abandon three children? Good enough to abandon friends, other family members, professional colleagues, and a brilliant career?

I should be angry at Philip Seymour Hoffman for doing what he's done to his children. But I'm not. I'm just sad. He was one of my favorite actors, somebody I thought of as a personal favorite. It wasn't until he died that I discovered he was everybody's favorite.

Now I'm sorry that I never saw him onstage. I'm sorry that he won't make the movies he could have continued to make for years to come. Mostly I'm moved by the pain that Hoffman must have experienced--the craving, the attempts to fight it, failing again and again. I'm sad that he chose to experience heroin rather than to experience all the things he will now miss, including watching his children grow up, and performing.

What makes somebody do that? Are we all walking the same razor's edge, only...

  If you look at the website of Rolling Stone Magazine it looks almost as though it is about nothing but brash movies and music. But as regular readers know its political coverage is serious. Politics controls energy policy. Energy use effects climate. And every once...

  If you look at the website of Rolling Stone Magazine it looks almost as though it is about nothing but brash movies and music. But as regular readers know its political coverage is serious. Politics controls energy policy. Energy use effects climate. And every once in a while the magazine slaps one awake with a big, disturbing story on climate change. A year and a half ago, for example, Bill McKibben's story "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" shook up a lot of people, including me for sure. Not that it was entirely new. But its emphatic use of numbers to dramatize the power of the fossil fuel industry was depressingly effective at saying we're screwed.

   Now we have another in the same dark genre, another example how near term economics and overwhelming industrial-political muscle...

On Jan. 19, the journal Nature published two studies (here and here) showing that it's possible to make stem cells by putting adult cells in an...

On Jan. 19, the journal Nature published two studies (here and here) showing that it's possible to make stem cells by putting adult cells in an acidic environment. That's good news. But how good? Here are my top 10 words or phrases to describe the findings:

10. The Wall Street Journal: "unexpected."

9. Nature "surprisingly simple." The New York Times: "...

New report says these butterflies may soon stop migrating
Faye Flam
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Every autumn, millions of monarch butterflies have taken off from diverse points in the U.S. and Canada and flown thousands of miles to converge on a place they’ve never seen before - a forest west of Mexico City. With brains the size of pinheads and bodies easily buffeted by the wind, these insects carry out...

Every autumn, millions of monarch butterflies have taken off from diverse points in the U.S. and Canada and flown thousands of miles to converge on a place they’ve never seen before - a forest west of Mexico City. With brains the size of pinheads and bodies easily buffeted by the wind, these insects carry out the navigational feat with internal clocks and compasses scientists have just begun to understand.

A few years ago, scientists sounded the alarm that illegal logging in those Mexican forests threatened to destroy the migration pattern forever. And now, according to a new report by U.S. and Mexican environmental groups, the Mexicans have done their part to crack down on logging, but human activity in the U.S. is causing a precipitous decline in migrating butterflies.

The news stories that followed say the report cites multiple causes, including the loss of the milkweed on which the butterflies depend as it’s replaced with rows of corn. The milkweed no...

   Interesting news from Amherst College and from Finland, off a letter in Nature. Physicists there said they twiddled and twaddled with a Bose-Einstein condensate, you know, that ultracold subatomic nanoKelvin mist whose parts all fall into one shared quantum state thingie deal, and got a part of it to...

   Interesting news from Amherst College and from Finland, off a letter in Nature. Physicists there said they twiddled and twaddled with a Bose-Einstein condensate, you know, that ultracold subatomic nanoKelvin mist whose parts all fall into one shared quantum state thingie deal, and got a part of it to make out like a magnetic monopole.

  This could be big news. Roundup of what's in already follows. But first permit me a story, an extended aside on a giant scoop that went pfffft.

  Way back in the summer of '75 I had urgent reason to track down and telephone Chester Gould, the man behind the Dick Tracy comic strips. I recalled that a character of his, the brilliant industrialist billionaire Diet Smith (from today's comics, think Tony Stark aka Iron Man), had invented a magnetic space coupe. He declared that "the nation that controls magnetism controls the universe." I wanted to use that axiom for a story I was frantically...

In a galaxy not so far away, a white dwarf exploded
Faye Flam
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As it was widely reported last week, astronomer Steve Fossy of the University of London Observatory was teaching a class about the use of a CCD camera, pointing at a galaxy called M82 as part of a demonstration, when he was surprised to discover a stellar explosion known as a supernova. This is a...

As it was widely reported last week, astronomer Steve Fossy of the University of London Observatory was teaching a class about the use of a CCD camera, pointing at a galaxy called M82 as part of a demonstration, when he was surprised to discover a stellar explosion known as a supernova. This is a galaxy not too terribly far far away, which is good since it offers astronomers a reasonably close vantage point and gives amateurs the chance to see it too.    

Within hours, news outlets were reporting that astronomers were “stunned” or “gaga”.  

The more detailed stories explained that this is a type 1a supernova – a phenomenon that starts with an already burnt-out star known as a white dwarf. The details of how and why these objects occasionally explode remains under investigation. Type II supernovae come from the collapse and death of massive stars. For those of us old enough to remember it, supernova...

In 2011, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health claimed to find that Transcendental Meditation could reduce risk of death, heart attack, and stroke in African-Americans with heart disease, according to a press release. The study had a lovely pedigree: It was funded by the National Institutes of Health...

In 2011, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health claimed to find that Transcendental Meditation could reduce risk of death, heart attack, and stroke in African-Americans with heart disease, according to a press release. The study had a lovely pedigree: It was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and a version of it had been presented at the annual scientific sessions of the American Heart Association.

But there was one thing: The study came not from a traditional university, but from the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa.

Twelve minutes before the study was scheduled to be published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it was suddenly withdrawn. The explanation was that the authors had presented the journal with new data that would have to be reviewed before the study could...

Ancient DNA reveals his dark skin and blue eyes
Faye Flam
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Over the last couple of years, scientists have been making fascinating discoveries about human prehistory by squencing anceint DNA. For some time they could infer clues to our past by studying DNA from living humans, but now they’re fleshing out the details by sequencing DNA from bones of those who lived...

Over the last couple of years, scientists have been making fascinating discoveries about human prehistory by squencing anceint DNA. For some time they could infer clues to our past by studying DNA from living humans, but now they’re fleshing out the details by sequencing DNA from bones of those who lived thousands of years ago.

On Sunday, a paper in Nature detailed the results of sequencing a 7000-year-old skeleton of an ancient hunter-gatherer from Spain. Most of Europe was apparently populated by hunter –gatherers until farmers swept in some 8000 years ago, but the transition occurred later in Spain.  

Michael Balter has been doing a great job following DNA-based archaeology for Science, and his piece, How Farming Reshaped our Genomes,...

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