The Stupor Bowl

Deservedly or not, jocks have a reputation for being less cerebral than beaker jockeys and bookworms. But when it comes to American football, brain damage can be all in a day’s work. On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski highlights a recent article by Ben McGrath in the New Yorker, addressing “the effects of repeated brain trauma, which football players often experience during games and practice alike.” Even if a player walks off the field, repeated brain-rattlings can lead to dementia and other long-term health problems. But thanks to journalists like Ben, the NFL is starting to pay attention to the impact of concussions. And on Dean’s Corner, Jeffrey Toney takes a look at 417 hits to the head of an actual football player, modelled in 3-D by National Geographic.

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A Booster Shot of Science

i-61ed3ad69ecf7bcac49952a599f3d645-vaccbuzz.jpgVaccines have guarded health and life for centuries, relegating once devastating diseases to near total obscurity. But many people now take vaccines for granted, and some blame vaccines for autism and other disorders. On Respectful Insolence, Orac reports the downfall of 1998 research which first tied MMR vaccines to the occurrence of autism in children. As Orac writes, “hearing that the man whose bad science launched a thousand quackeries had finally been declared unethical and dishonest […] brought joy to my heart, the joy that comes with seeing justice done.” ERV jumps on other news, concerned that it could fuel anti-vaccine alarmism. Researchers inspecting animal vaccines discovered an infectious endogenous retrovirus originating from the cat cell lines used in vaccine production. This “distinct-from-but-related-to feline leukemia virus” raises concerns about vaccines passing ERVs from one species to another. Finally, Janet Stemwedel on Adventures in Ethics in Science vents some steam after reading student attitudes toward H1N1 vaccination in the school newspaper. Janet criticizes both the newspaper for juxtaposing “reliable information from experts with whatever a student wandering across the reporter’s path might happen to opine,” and the students themselves for holding forth their unscientific optimism.

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Getting it All Wrong

i-d8d7d18492405c1cbf15d3b563ec8349-wrongbuzz.jpgEven with the best intentions, it’s possible to get things wrong. And with lesser intentions, being wrong becomes easy. First, James Hrynyshyn on The Island of Doubt reports that the IPCC will retract its 2007 prediction that global warming could melt the Himalayan glaciers by 2035. Although the IPCC promises “the best peer-reviewed science available,” this faulty prediction whispered its way from article to article in a game of journalistic telephone. Tim Lambert on Deltoid is grateful that the IPCC will correct their error, and observes that the current gaffe is getting more media attention than the actual 2007 report. But while the IPCC may have made an honest mistake, other sources seem to mix things up deliberately. Scicurious offers an example on Neurotopia, citing a perfectly good study which showed that stronger and/or more attractive individuals are more likely to prevail in conflicts of interest. In spinning this science, TimesOnline “had to go and say some rather false things,” translating attractiveness to blondeness and invoking the questionable phrase “warrior princess.” Dave Bacon on The Quantum Pontiff catches New Scientist in a similar bit of sensationalism, as they recently entangled “local field potential measurements in a monkey’s brain” with hardcore quantum mechanics. With interest coming at the price of inaccuracy, should we as readers let bygones be bygones?

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ScienceOnline 2010

i-84cd865bedcf796c4094271cf1f55d9e-sciobuzz.jpgScienceOnline 2010 is underway, and for those not lucky enough to be in attendance, there are other ways to participate. On The ScienceOnline 2010 Blog, Coturnix tells us how to keep up with the latest discussion via social networking outlets, and on Discovering Biology In a Digital World, Sandra Porter offers an even more radical alternative. Coturnix writes “a record number of SciBlings will be in attendance” this year, and overall the conference will have over 250 participants. Along with online civility which we covered last week, another topic at the conference will be the future of science journalism. Ed Yong on Not Exactly Rocket Science writes that in a world of blurring lines, “science journalism will be increasingly defined by its values rather than by its practitioners.” And David Dobbs on Neuron Culture adds that the real issue is what “practices and values and principles we need to keep in mind as we walk into the fog.” Meanwhile there are many other sessions happening all weekend, so stay tuned as these awesome minds go head to head.

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