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Paul Raeburn's Tracker

A "breakthrough" with pigs and pomegranate? Drinking urine for longevity? Oreos as addictive as cocaine?

These are some of the public relations disasters cited by Gary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview.org  in his...

A "breakthrough" with pigs and pomegranate? Drinking urine for longevity? Oreos as addictive as cocaine?

These are some of the public relations disasters cited by Gary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview.org  in his fourth annual list of the worst health press releases he's seen this year.

"I don't think all public relations messages about health care are crap," he writes. "But most of what I see is. And I can't stand seeing public relations that may end up hurting the public."

Schwitzer cites a release finding "a direct link" between enriched pomegranate juice and heart health--based on a 10-day study of 24 pigs. The authors of the press release referring to urine evidently thought that was a good way to promote skincare products. "Urine may not be for everyone,...

I don't know how well known Badia Pozzeveri is, but when I tried to search for it, I found a page in the Italian Wikipedia, but none in the English version. (This is your chance to create the page on the English-language Wikipedia, if you go for that sort of thing.)

If your Italian isn't what it...

I don't know how well known Badia Pozzeveri is, but when I tried to search for it, I found a page in the Italian Wikipedia, but none in the English version. (This is your chance to create the page on the English-language Wikipedia, if you go for that sort of thing.)

If your Italian isn't what it should be and you want to know more about Badia Pozzeveri ("badia" means abbey), you should turn to a new, immersive multimedia story in Science magazine, which explains that the abbey is a very unusual archeological site, in which bodies were buried in the same place for 1,000 years, from the 11th century to the 19th.

It is here that archeologists--as part of a collaborative research project and field school involving Ohio State University and the University of Pisa--are trying to learn about life from medieval...

We have 10 times more microbes than human cells in our bodies. Or this, which is almost the same: Nine out of 10 cells in the body are microbes.

Who says?

Everybody.

And they say it everywhere, all the time. But where does the figure come from?

Tabitha M. Powledge tries to track it down...

We have 10 times more microbes than human cells in our bodies. Or this, which is almost the same: Nine out of 10 cells in the body are microbes.

Who says?

Everybody.

And they say it everywhere, all the time. But where does the figure come from?

Tabitha M. Powledge tries to track it down in last Friday's On Science Blogs, and I won't spoil the ending.

She also looks at the recent chatter concerning Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the 18th century scientist who was discredited for his insistence that acquired characteristics can be inherited. He seems to be facing possible vindication in the wake of a Nature study finding that the fears of mice might be inherited by their offspring. Powledge considers the evidence and issues her verdict.

What puzzles...

Dr. William London, a professor of public health at California State University, Los Angeles, writes in HealthNewsReview.org about...

Dr. William London, a professor of public health at California State University, Los Angeles, writes in HealthNewsReview.org about a story on KGET last July 12th on a local doctor "fighting a deadly cancer diagnosis through natural remedies and spiritual healing."

Under a Bakersfield, California dateline, KGET reported that the doctor, Boyce Dulan, practiced medicine for 33 years, most of that with the Kern County Public Health Department. "Now he's throwing his medical background out the door, focusing on natural healing to fight the battle of his life," the station reported. He "sought the help of a Christian medical therapist and...

The British Library has uploaded to Flickr one million public-domain images from 17th- through 19th-century books.

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing ...

The British Library has uploaded to Flickr one million public-domain images from 17th- through 19th-century books.

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing links to the supporting information on the images. This should prove to be an excellent source of images for science bloggers, adding just that special touch of haughty British intelligence to even the most mundane post.

Everything sounds better with a British accent. Almost.

[Thanks to Maryn McKenna for tweeting this news.]

-Paul Raeburn

What if autism is not due to deficits in the brain? What if it's the opposite--that "rather than being oblivious, autistic people take in too much and learn too fast"?

That's the question Maia Szalavitz explores in a...

What if autism is not due to deficits in the brain? What if it's the opposite--that "rather than being oblivious, autistic people take in too much and learn too fast"?

That's the question Maia Szalavitz explores in a thoughtful and sensitive story in MATTER, part of the news website Medium. I can't help but pull the same quote from the story that Virginia Hughes highlighted in a note on her Gray Matters email:

Imagine being born into a world of bewildering, inescapable sensory overload, like a visitor from a much darker, calmer, quieter planet. Your mother’s eyes: a strobe light. Your...

In a story suggesting that males' diets can harm the health of their offspring, Sheryl Ubelacker of The Canadian Press writes...

In a story suggesting that males' diets can harm the health of their offspring, Sheryl Ubelacker of The Canadian Press writes that while we've known a mothers' diet during pregnancy can affect the health of her baby,  "research now suggests that a father’s diet prior to conception may also play a critical role in a newborn’s health."

She goes on in that vein for five paragraphs, writing, in the fifth graf, that "Guys need to pay attention to what they’re doing in terms of lifestyle choices prior to having a baby, just like the woman does."

It is not until the sixth graf that she reports that the study was done in mice. She writes that the researchers, led by Sarah Kimmins of McGill University in Montreal, "found that a low-...

In 1992, an eleven-year-old girl in Illinois was raped and stabbed to death while babysitting. The suspect police brought in for questioning had been home on the night in question--he had made a call to his mother in Puerto Rico and was wearing an ankle bracelet while awaiting trial for theft. It would seem that he...

In 1992, an eleven-year-old girl in Illinois was raped and stabbed to death while babysitting. The suspect police brought in for questioning had been home on the night in question--he had made a call to his mother in Puerto Rico and was wearing an ankle bracelet while awaiting trial for theft. It would seem that he couldn't possibly have committed the crime. Nevertheless, after four days of questioning during which he slept no more than four hours, he confessed. By that time, he had torn off a patch of his skull and was shackled in a padded cell.

Thirteen years later, DNA evidence showed the semen found in the victim was not his. He won a new trial--and was convicted again. He appealed. Twenty years after the conviction, in 2012, he was released--even though the ankle bracelet and phone call should have proved he wasn't guilty. (Yes, he's suing.)

That's just one of several chilling episodes Douglas Starr recounts in...

In a post I wrote last week, I critiqued a cancer story in Esquire that I thought was sometimes misleading, sometimes wrong, and not very well written.

Today, the authors of the piece, Mark Warren...

In a post I wrote last week, I critiqued a cancer story in Esquire that I thought was sometimes misleading, sometimes wrong, and not very well written.

Today, the authors of the piece, Mark Warren (left, photo) and Tom Junod (right), responded. "Our story, which is entitled 'Patient Zero,' does not meet [Raeburn's] ideal of what science journalism should be; as such, he is free to criticize it," they wrote.

So far, so good. Then this: "What he is not free to do, however, is to turn his disapproval of our storytelling into an attempt to discredit us and our effort to obtain advanced medical care for a woman we care about deeply."

I scrambled back to my post to see where I'd discredited their effort to help a...

After an ominous three-week silence that turned out to have a lot to do with holidays and nothing to do with omens, Tabitha M. Powledge and On Science Blogs are back...

After an ominous three-week silence that turned out to have a lot to do with holidays and nothing to do with omens, Tabitha M. Powledge and On Science Blogs are back, pointing us to news of ancient human DNA--the oldest yet--and fertility drugs, which, you might say, are associated with the newest DNA.

She links to good reporting on the ancient DNA by Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, and John Hawks, "the oracle on this topic."

With regard to that new DNA, she finds coverage that suggests in vitro fertilization is not the primary culprit in multiple births. Jump over to OSB to see what is, by way of Nancy Shute at NPR's Shots blog.

-Paul Raeburn

 

[Update 3 pm: Several folks have emailed me comments from scientists and others suggesting that Hansen's paper is more advocacy than science. I've edited this post to reflect that.]

It's been...

[Update 3 pm: Several folks have emailed me comments from scientists and others suggesting that Hansen's paper is more advocacy than science. I've edited this post to reflect that.]

It's been a busy week in climate news, notes Keith Kloor at Discover. The National Academy of Sciences is out with a new report on abrupt climate impacts, some of which might be more abrupt than we'd hope. And the climate scientist James Hansen has published a new--and likewise frightening--paper in PL0S ONE. But the paper, says a finger-wagging Kloor, has not received the critical coverage it should have.

And I've received several emails with...

[Editor's note: Tara Haelle is a freelance science writer whose specialties include medicine, vaccines and public health. Her work has appeared in Scientific American and Slate. She blogs at Red Wine & Apple Sauce and is working on a book about science-...

[Editor's note: Tara Haelle is a freelance science writer whose specialties include medicine, vaccines and public health. Her work has appeared in Scientific American and Slate. She blogs at Red Wine & Apple Sauce and is working on a book about science-based parenting with Emily Willingham, who is mentioned below.]

The alarm bells started ringing on Tuesday, the day before a segment about the HPV vaccine was to appear on the Katie Couric Show.

The science writer Seth Mnookin, the author of The Panic Virus, blogged that Couric’s producers had contacted him about appearing on the show. Although he was not invited to...

[Editor's note: See more here with Esquire's response calling this post "grotesque," and my reply.]

If you're looking for "a whole new way of killing cancer," don't turn to...

[Editor's note: See more here with Esquire's response calling this post "grotesque," and my reply.]

If you're looking for "a whole new way of killing cancer," don't turn to the journals. You'll find it in Esquire.

There Tom Junod and Mark Warren write about a scientist who says the difference between others' research and his is "the difference between medieval alchemy and chemistry."  Trained as a mathematician, he picked up biology from textbooks. "Molecular biology, after pure math, struck him as ridiculously easy," Junod and Warren write.

Some of this puffery seems to come from the mouth of the scientist, Eric Schadt (photo)--chair of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine's...

MATTER, the longform science and technology news site that promises "deep, intelligent journalism about the future," is changing.

It is moving all of its content to Medium, which...

MATTER, the longform science and technology news site that promises "deep, intelligent journalism about the future," is changing.

It is moving all of its content to Medium, which bought MATTER earlier this year. It has dropped its paywall; everything it publishes will now be free. And instead of publishing one story a month, it plans to step up production. "Will more output mean lower quality? We promise you that it absolutely will not. One of our core goals for the next year is to make MATTER’s pieces—which are already competing with some of the best out there—better and better," MATTER's editors wrote on Nov. 21.

And on Thanksgiving day, MATTER's editors published a startling reflection on its...

In about two weeks, the inaugural World Innovation Summit for Health will convene in Doha, Qatar. Can't afford a flight to Doha? No worries--the trip and a hotel "can be provided free of charge to international reporters covering the event."

In these troubled times, not many U.S. editors are...

In about two weeks, the inaugural World Innovation Summit for Health will convene in Doha, Qatar. Can't afford a flight to Doha? No worries--the trip and a hotel "can be provided free of charge to international reporters covering the event."

In these troubled times, not many U.S. editors are willing to send reporters that far afield, especially when the event in question is neither a coup nor an earthquake--not even breaking science news. Yes, it might be a fascinating conference. The list of speakers--experts on health policy and innovation, business people, and scientists--is impressive. But is it impressive enough to spend, say, $2,000 to send a reporter? Few editors will think so.

But some reporters and their organizations will decide to take the junket. They will argue that accepting free travel and lodging is fine, because they are far too smart and clever to be corrupted. In May, I...

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