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Reading a San Francisco Chronicle story about how a mother cured her daughter's autism by removing MSG from her diet, I wanted to shout, "There is no science to back up the...

Reading a San Francisco Chronicle story about how a mother cured her daughter's autism by removing MSG from her diet, I wanted to shout, "There is no science to back up the mother's claims!"

But the article's author, Stacy Finz, had scooped me. "There is no science to back up many of her claims," Finz wrote. 

Knowing that, she wrote the story anyway--a story that will surely lead many other parents to try the same unproven diet. Why write it if there is no science to back this up, and when we know that many readers will slip past the caveats to seize the hope?

Finz actually answered that question:

While there is no science to back up many of her claims, Reid [Katherine Reid, the mother] said the most convincing evidence to her is the results she saw in her...

Experts struggling to explain a new study that finds little harm from saturated fat in the diet have found another clue: Errors were discovered in the new paper.

"A new version of the publication had to be posted...

Experts struggling to explain a new study that finds little harm from saturated fat in the diet have found another clue: Errors were discovered in the new paper.

"A new version of the publication had to be posted shortly after it appeared on the website of the Annals of Internal Medicine to correct several errors. And although the study's first author stands by the conclusions, a number of scientists are criticizing the paper and even calling on the authors to retract it," writes Kai Kupferschmidt at Science.

Harvard's Walter Willett, whose decades of research was flatly contradicted by the new study, told Kupferschmidt that the study's authors "have done a huge amount of damage. I think a retraction...

After three weeks of mystery regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, representatives of a British satellite company called Inmarsat have claimed that with a complex mathematical analysis, they’ve narrowed down the fight path and made a solid case that the plane went down in the Southern Ocean.

...

After three weeks of mystery regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, representatives of a British satellite company called Inmarsat have claimed that with a complex mathematical analysis, they’ve narrowed down the fight path and made a solid case that the plane went down in the Southern Ocean.

This news raises just the kinds of questions that cry out for good science reporting. Is the satellite company’s claim to be believed? How did they do it? Some stories explained in very simple terms that they applied the Doppler effect to “pings” transmitted between the plane and a geostationary satellite.

The New York Times and Wall Street...

From The Age, Mar 23, 2014
Charlie Petit
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  Don't stop me if you heard this. Because you have, and you'll hear it many more times. A big conference of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting and will soon issue a dire warning on the course and consequences of climate change should the world continue to take no strong steps...

  Don't stop me if you heard this. Because you have, and you'll hear it many more times. A big conference of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting and will soon issue a dire warning on the course and consequences of climate change should the world continue to take no strong steps against the ways we've caused it. 

  One cannot be surprised that a fair contingent of the international press has just given up on covering these events on scene. You know, ground hog day and all that. Just this month the AAAS weighed in with its own statement of grave concern. But a few disciplined souls are in Yokohama Japan - or following closely via streaming video and other 21st century means - for what is formally the IPCC's Working Group II of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). It started early today (Tuesday Mar. 25)  and is to wind up with a press conference on the 31st. Its charge is to reach consensus on what the impact on humanity...

Last week, Rajiv Chowdhury, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that an exhaustive review of studies on fats in the diet had found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease.

“My take on this would be that it’s not...

Last week, Rajiv Chowdhury, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that an exhaustive review of studies on fats in the diet had found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease.

“My take on this would be that it’s not saturated fat that we should worry about” in our diets, he told Anahad O'Connor at The New York Times.

Science writers who reported that finding were then left with the problem of how to account for decades of research and advice that seemed to say the opposite.

They struggled.

The conclusion seems to be that nobody is quite sure how to reconcile the old advice with the new finding. Here is the best that five reporters could come up with:

1. Let's start with O'Connor at the Times. She...

"Here's How NASA Thinks Society Will Collapse," read one headline on Mar. 18. Here was another, on Mar. 20: "NASA...

"Here's How NASA Thinks Society Will Collapse," read one headline on Mar. 18. Here was another, on Mar. 20: "NASA Study: Civilization Doomed to Collapse Soon."

And there were others, some of which made the distinction that this was not a NASA study, but rather a NASA-funded study, which hedges a bit but still suggests vague NASA approval: "NASA-funded report says society is trending toward big collapse" read the headline in the Houston Chronicle on Mar. 18. (And as we will see, even "NASA-funded" isn't quite right.)

But as the coverage continued, it began to morph into something quite different...

Buenas notas sobre innovación o retorno de cerebros, y horribles sobre gravedad repulsiva o astrología médica
Pere Estupinya
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(English intro to Spanish lang post) The first story we highlight today argues that entrepreneurship in Mexico is high but it has low impact, because it’s not connected enough with research and innovation. Some experts comment on what’s needed to change this tendency. We track also about...

(English intro to Spanish lang post) The first story we highlight today argues that entrepreneurship in Mexico is high but it has low impact, because it’s not connected enough with research and innovation. Some experts comment on what’s needed to change this tendency. We track also about Colombia’s ambitious plan to bring back colombian scientists who are making remarkable research abroad. A brazilian reporter published a good analysis of scientific fraud in Latin America, and we found a very nice story about the decline of Monarch butterfly. Unfortunately when searching for good stories one always finds very bad ones, like the profile of a young mexican physicist claiming that he has modified Einstein’s laws, or a detailed description of the basis of “medical astrology” to figure out which diseases you’ll suffer, based in your sign. Both stories are not published in tabloids, but in important newspapers of Chile an Mexico....

Drew Altman
Paul Raeburn
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[Ed. note: Drew Altman is the president and chief executive officer of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. He publishes a regular column on health issues at the foundation's website. This column...

[Ed. note: Drew Altman is the president and chief executive officer of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. He publishes a regular column on health issues at the foundation's website. This column appeared today. It is reprinted with the foundation's permission. -Paul Raeburn.]

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Obamacare: The Metrics In The News Are Mostly Wrong

A few weeks ago the Obama Administration reported that enrollment in the new insurance marketplaces topped four million through the end of February, then five million by mid- March, showing steady progress since the website woes of October. News organizations...

The successful and respected blog Retraction Watch--with 100,000 unique visitors and 450,000 page views per month, and growing--is now launching its own version of an online...

The successful and respected blog Retraction Watch--with 100,000 unique visitors and 450,000 page views per month, and growing--is now launching its own version of an online subscription.

But as Retraction Watch's founders, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, acknowledge, their subscription is more like a request that readers throw some cash into a tip jar.

"We're hoping some of you will consider making a financial contribution," Oransky writes. The idea is to use the extra funds for operating expenses, hiring other writers as contributors, conducting investigations, and building a proper retractions database.

But Retraction Watch will remain freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. "Open access to information about scientific corrections and retractions is...

    Good news is not always news, not as a news reporter defines it. This morning a story ran in the local press declaring that there is at least one win-win response to California's on-going rain shortage, now in its 15th month, and evermore heated argument over water system priorities among...

    Good news is not always news, not as a news reporter defines it. This morning a story ran in the local press declaring that there is at least one win-win response to California's on-going rain shortage, now in its 15th month, and evermore heated argument over water system priorities among proponents of wildlife, crops, and urban faucets. It reports a rare alignment in what's best for one of the state's most iconic finned friends and for farmers - specifically, those who grow the California food crop that consumes the most irrigation water.

    This piece is well worth reading even though, as explained further along, it has a few holes.

    The gist is...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook page.

It's easy to see how emotional that must have been.

But it shouldn't deter us from extending sincere congratulations to a writer whose consistent excellence and steady hand might put us in mind of Iron Man Cal Ripken of the Orioles. I worked right beside Malcolm for a dozen years, and I can tell you that you will not find a more dependable, capable, or collegial science writer anywhere in our business.

One of Malcolm's colleagues, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, sent the Tracker an email with an eloquent description of Malcolm's work that I thought was worth reprinting here, so that I can add that I happily and...

On Feb. 27, 1947, a Malay villager was drawing in his net in a rice field and inspecting his catch "whereupon a fish leaped out of the water into his mouth and disappeared down his throat."

So says a medical case report hoisted from the briny depths by Discover's...

On Feb. 27, 1947, a Malay villager was drawing in his net in a rice field and inspecting his catch "whereupon a fish leaped out of the water into his mouth and disappeared down his throat."

So says a medical case report hoisted from the briny depths by Discover's Seriously, Science? blog.

When the villager's friends and family were unable to retrieve the fish, they decided to bring him to the hospital. The patient "was throwing himself about on the stretcher," but doctors could make out the tail of a fish protruding over the base of his tongue.

They then executed a delicate and breathtaking maneuver: They grasped the tail "in sponge-holding forceps" and slowly began to pull.

Alas, in the precise language of the case report, "Traction only...

  Yesterday's post on the succinct and emphatic AAAS report, What We Know, on climate change...

  Yesterday's post on the succinct and emphatic AAAS report, What We Know, on climate change elicits this thought: Is the whole thing a rehash of things already concluded by most scientists and circulated in the public by media? The answer is yes. Not that the report is a waste - it addresses the reality that a lot of Americans either don't believe we are changing climate much if at all, or that yes it's a problem but we have more important things to do right now than to fix the climate. Sure, some of us worry about it all the time, but not most of us.

    But still. The AAAS report has lots of pop but not much new info. Perhaps it will however help the message to eventually get through. In the meantime, as the tracker's job is...

A treatment for severe depression that has received a lot of coverage over the past few years has suffered a setback, John Horgan reports in his Cross-...

A treatment for severe depression that has received a lot of coverage over the past few years has suffered a setback, John Horgan reports in his Cross-Check blog at Scientific American. A multi-center trial of deep-brain stimulation was halted, raising questions about a treatment that, in trials with a handful of patients, had shown remarkable results.

The treatment was pioneered by Helen Mayberg of Emory University. She was the one who had shown a few dramatic reversals of depression in patients by means of electrical stimulation of a particular part of the brain.

"I've always had doubts about Mayberg's claims," Horgan writes, on the grounds that her initial studies had only a few patients and that she has links to a medical-device company that makes the...

New Baby Pictures of the Universe from BICEP2
Faye Flam
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Dozens of stories ran yesterday capturing the excitement behind a discovery that promises to advance our understanding of the origin of the universe. Most stories communicated the buzz, but not all of them succeeded in explaining what the scientists found or why they were so excited by it. 

The news...

Dozens of stories ran yesterday capturing the excitement behind a discovery that promises to advance our understanding of the origin of the universe. Most stories communicated the buzz, but not all of them succeeded in explaining what the scientists found or why they were so excited by it. 

The news required readers to digest not one but several unfamiliar and difficult concepts. First was the observation – gravitational waves – which few readers will have heard of. Then there was the reason for the excitement – the fact that the gravitational waves are a prediction of a theory called inflation, which is, again, not part of the typical talk show fare.

Figuring out how to get the news across in a coherent, logical yet elegant way was like solving the Rubik’s cube. It can be done, but the answer is not obvious and may take some trial and error.  

In...

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