Summer reading 2: Richard Preston’s “Panic in Level 4”

I had ended up with a ratty old piece of Army gear, a space suit that belonged to nobody A little voice started speaking in my head. What are you doing here? the voice said. You’re in an Ebola lab in a fucking defective space suit. I started to feel giddy. It was an intoxicating rush of fear, a sensation that all I needed to do was relax and let the fear take hold, and I could drift away on waves of panic, screaming for help.

Martha was looking into my eyes again.

The little voice went on: You’re headed for the Slammer.

Richard Preston opens his new publication, a collection of essays titled Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, killer viruses, and other journeys to the edge of science, with a quotation: “In order to know soup, it is not necessary to climb into a pot and be boiled.” Preston disagrees with the sentiment, expressed by English mathematician and physicist Oliver Heaviside. Preston discusses how he, as a journalist, has created a living by jumping into the soup–even though it’s sometimes scared the piss out of him, as described in the excerpt above (the “panic” described in the title). However, Preston fans should be cautioned that this all isn’t typical Preston fare. More after the jump…

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Summer reading 1: Lauri Lebo’s “Devil in Dover”

Many of you probably followed the 2005 “Kitzmiller vs. Dover” trial in Dover, Pennsylvania closely. From its early days, with daily updates at the Panda’s Thumb to the publication of the ruling–“Kitzmas”— in late December, the trial was filled with drama and moments right out of the movies. From the defendants’ remarkable lying on the stand to Behe’s admission that his definition of a scientific theory included astrology, it seemed that each day was better than the last for the pro-science side, culminating in the stinging tongue-lashing doled out by Judge Jones in his decision in favor of the plaintiffs.

However, what was reported was only a small slice of the larger story, and Lauri Lebo’s new book, The Devil in Dover, brings us the rest. A journalist for the York Daily Record, Lebo grew up in the Dover area and has an intimate understanding of the local history and culture–and the personalities involved on both sides of the case, making “Devil in Dover” far more than just another recounting of the trial. (More after the jump…)
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The “Skinny Shot” and Media Accountability

This is the third of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By Whitney Baker

While working out at the gym last night, I was perusing the latest SHAPE magazine to help pass the time. In it, I read a small article about researchers finding an association between Adenovirus-36 and human obesity. Since I am in the infectious disease field, I was already aware of this proposed link- an infectious cause (or contributor) for obesity. But for the millions of health-conscious readers hearing of this for the first time, what would they make of it? Would they have visions of medicines or vaccines that make them skinny? Would they think that diet and exercise no longer matter? Luckily mainstream media hasn’t started a commotion over this. But it did get me to wondering, that if there really is a link, what accountability is then transferred to the media? Reports of a looming “skinny shot” could have a detrimental affect by spawning false impressions of health and fitness, especially for those most vulnerable to obesity.

(More after the jump…)
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Ever wanted to host a science TV show?

WIRED Science host Ziya Tong reveals how she ended up where she is today, and the secrets behind her success. Check out her post to see how spamming, melting make-up, Jane Goodall, and Michael Jackson have played into her career trajectory.

(And if you’ve not watched WIRED Science yet, tonight Ziya will have a segment on the business of disease and direct-to-consumer drug advertising, using the example of Restless Leg Syndrome).

Bad science writing of the day: your gut bacteria make you crave chocolate

I’ve written a post or two (or a dozen) discussing science journalism–the good, the bad, and, mostly (because they’re the most fun), the ugly. There was this story about how blondes “evolved to win cavemen’s hearts.” Or this one that completely omitted the name of the pathogen they were writing about. Or this one, where a missing “of” completely changed the results being discussed.

I ran across another glaring example yesterday, dealing interestingly enough with one of my favorite topics: chocolate, and bringing in an “omics” prospective to it.
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Raise gas prices to slim down America?

…so claims this headline. Only the story screws it up.

The article highlights this dissertation research by Charles Courtemanche at Washington University in St. Louis. Courtemanche’s thesis is that the rise in gas prices causes more people to walk, ride bikes, or take public transportation (which they’d also have to walk to), as well as eat at home instead of going out; therefore higher gasoline prices can result in a thinner population. Sounds plausible. I won’t get into all the details of his research (the .pdf is available from the above link for anyone interested), but just by reading the abstract I can see a glaring error in the report, which makes the gas price hypothesis sound a lot bigger than it is. See if you can spot it:
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While I’m out…

Traveling yet again today (things finally calm down in September, I think). In the meantime, here are a few posts from elsewhere I’ve been meaning to highlight:

Some more background for those of you who may not be up to speed on HIV/AIDS: AJ Cann explains what we know (and don’t know) about how HIV causes AIDS.

Speaking of HIV, ERV has 4 years to come up with an HIV vaccine, and another bad story about science in the media.

David asks if biologists have physics envy. I think I just have other-fields-of-biology envy, and want to do it all.

PZ has a very nice posts explaining the folly of debating creationists, along with alternatives to debate that will still allow scientists to get their message out.

And finally, Revere has the latest news on the Tripoli Six.

Tuesday reads

A few other topics readers here may appreciate:

First and foremost, this week’s Grand Rounds can be found over at Over my med body!. Next week, however, it will be hosted right here at Aetiology for the second time, so send your posts along to me (aetiology AT gmail DOT com), preferably by Sunday evening.

Pediatric Grand Rounds also had a new edition over the weekend, which can be found over at Shinga’s Breath Spa for Kids.

National Geographic’s July cover story is on malaria–a really good read. (via Panda’s Thumb).

Matt Nisbet was late to the scientists and journalists conversation. He offers quite a few references that he’s used on the topic previously.

Orac has much more information on the Uncommon Descent silliness I mentioned yesterday.