Countdown to YearlyKos

Busy week for me. I’m preparing a talk for a conference next month with the longest title ever: The International Conference on Diseases in Nature Communicable to Man. (Basically, a conference on zoonotic disease.) I’ll be speaking about my research on Streptococcus suis, and hopefully meeting many other colleagues during the conference.

More immediately, however, I’ll be busy at Yearly Kos in Chicago, at the McCormick convention center. This Thursday, I’ll be moderating the Science bloggers caucus, at 4:30 in room 106a. Friday, I’ll moderate the Science panel, featuring fellow science bloggers Chris Mooney and Ed Brayton, along with Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance. This will start at 2:30 on Friday in rooms 403a-b. As an added bonus, Chris will be signing his new book after the panel, and blogger Lindsay Beyerstein of Majikthise will be on hand snapping pictures. Be sure to stop in if you’re heading to YearlyKos…

Follow-up on “Math doesn’t suck” discussion

The Danica McKellar posts (review; interview) have sparked some discussion that I want to address here. It largely centers on the issue of McKellar’s approach: is it a good one? Or is it trying to replace one Bad Thing (girls’ dislike of math) with another Bad Thing (encouraging them to be, as one commenter put it, “consumerist tools of the patriarchy”?) More below…

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The discovery of highly virulent XDR-TB

XDR-TB has been in the news quite a bit lately, largely thanks to Andrew Speaker’s notoriety. Even though his TB was later re-classified as “just” multi-drug resistant (MDR-TB) instead of the initial extremely drug resistant (XDR) type, it did serve to raise awareness about the issues public health authorities face when dealing with something like tuberculosis–and where the gaps are in the control of its spread. (Indeed, a breaking story out of Taiwan shows how difficult it can be to enforce a travel ban).

However, while XDR-TB is rather new on the radar of the general public (and even many infectious disease folks), it was first recognized over 2 1/2 years ago in Africa. This month’s issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine has the story of its discovery; more after the jump.
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Well, this doesn’t happen every day…

Just a quick post from the “weird happenings in Iowa” file: Mysterious chunks of ice pelt Iowa town.

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Large chunks of ice, one of them reportedly about 50 pounds, fell from the sky in this northeast Iowa city, smashing through a woman’s roof and tearing through nearby trees.

Authorities were unsure of the ice’s origin but have theorized the chunks either fell from an airplane or naturally accumulated high in the atmosphere — both rare occurrences.

“It sounded like a bomb!” 78-year-old Jan Kenkel said. She said she was standing in her kitchen when an ice chunk crashed through her roof at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday. “I jumped about a foot!”

The CNN story has pictures of the hole left in her roof. Bizarre.

Elizabeth Cory, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said investigators would contact Kenkel to try to determine the source of the ice.

“It is very uncommon for something like this to come from an aircraft,” Cory said. “That is really unusual if it is pure white ice, especially at this time of year.”

The moisture involved in such a scenario could have come from the tops of strong thunderstorms. However, Dubuque had clear skies at the time the ice fell, said Andy Ervin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Davenport. “There was nothing unusual going on,” he said.

Microbiologist Rita Colwell to receive National Medal of Science

In terms of physical size, microbiologist Rita Colwell is a petitie woman. However, her distinguished research and service career has made her a giant in her field. Her research revolves around many aspects of water ecology, including the intersection of the environment and infectious disease (as I wrote about here following a talk she gave this past spring).

Much of her research has focused on Vibrio cholerae, including devising simple (and inexpensive) methods to remove the bacterium from contaminated water using cloth filtration. For these achievements and more, Dr. Colwell will be awarded the National Medal of Science tomorrow. More after the jump…

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Interview with math whiz, author, and actress Danica McKellar

Yesterday I reviewed Danica McKellar’s forthcoming book, Math Doesn’t Suck. When I contacted the book’s publicist about receiving a review copy, I also inquired about an interview with Danica, and she graciously agreed. Perhaps this will cover some topics brought up in the comments section of my book review as well, as she discusses her motivation for writing the book, and what she hopes girls get out of it (in addition to a number of other topics!) Enjoy, and thanks again to Danica for taking the time to address my questions.
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Danica McKellar’s “Math Doesn’t Suck”

It’s not a rosy picture for girls in math. As Barbie infamously framed it, girls should think that “math is hard.” While Mattel (rightly) received a lot of flack for that comment, the sad fact is that Barbie was reflecting the attitude many girls tend to take toward mathematics education: it’s difficult, it’s boring, and who needs it anyway? Surveys have shown that, while girls and boys in elementary school show similar attitudes toward mathematics, by junior high girls tend to have a negative attitude toward math, along with lower confidence in their ability to handle math problems. Of course, this also has a negative effect on getting women to enter (or stay in) science and technology concentrations in college, as all require at least some courses in mathematics. Therefore, women choose to opt out of these–in many cases, due to attitudes that began to develop during those Barbie years.

However, the news is not all bad. Studies also show that interventions can be made by teachers and by parents to retain girls’ interest in math. This can be done by encouraging and developing girls’ abilities, and helping them to overcome stereotypes of girls as “bad at math,” or that girls who are good at math are just “nerds” who will never get a date. Mathematician/author/actress Danica McKellar tackles the latter in her first book, Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. More after the jump…
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Tripoli Six–home and free

After 8 1/2 years of imprisonment, torture in jail, and a death sentence hanging over their heads, the Tripoli Six (collected links) are back home, and have been granted pardons from the Bulgarian president.

Revere, again, has the details; more at the BBC and New York Times. Many kudos go out to both Revere and Nature reporter Declan Butler for spreading this story out through the blogosphere, and sighs of relief out to the workers themselves and their families and loved ones.

Image from

Religion and Science symposium: Iowa, 2007

A looong time ago, I mentioned that I spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, at a symposium I helped to plan (but neglected to blog! Oops). Along with other scientists, theologians, philosophers, and generally interested persons, we worked for a bit over a year to put this symposium together. Why?

The principal aim of the conference is to clarify the causes of the conflict between science educators and those who wish to have Intelligent Design taught in public schools. We do not claim to be neutral on this issue. We are convinced that ID is not good science and should not be presented as such. Our position is consonant with that of the National Center for Science Education and the Iowa Academy of Science. We believe that the polarization of opinion on this issue has created misunderstanding and confusion and that a clarification of terminology and concepts is essential for productive dialogue and decision making.

How did it turn out? Find out more below…

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