Saturday, December 20, 2014

Archive: January, 2012

POSTED: Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 4:26 PM
(Scott Youtsey/Miracle Studios)

Some parasites seem to cast a spell on their hosts. Even a seemlingly lowly protozoan can  do all sorts of mischief including making rats fall in love with their worst enemy - cats. Such adaptations are great for the parasites, but the story usually doesn't end well for the host. 

This story in The Scientist takes off on a topic I covered in a column last fall called Evolutionary Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The Scientist story goes into gory details on the mind-controlling effect of toxoplasma, an infection carried by mice, cats and their human companions.

Faye Flam @ 4:26 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, January 23, 2012, 5:10 PM

Two readers sent quick responses to the column today examining whether there's anything in cosmology to suggest design in the universe. One suggested I read Bertrand Russell, the other, the Holy Bible.

When I started reading your article in the Philadelphia Inquirer I realized where you were going with it by reading the first few paragraphs.  Words, like "gleeful, gloating, and chest-thumping" were not really necessary to describe the other point of view.  In my opinion, who cares what people say about God, especially in this day and age.  I do not need anyone to confirm my beliefs because these can be confirmed by the Bible, where in many instances were confirmed by more learned scholars.  If you were to read it, you would find that "in the last days scoffers will come" (2 Peter 3:3). 

I would like to believe that you would spend some time reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Faye Flam @ 5:10 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, January 23, 2012, 3:00 AM

Last week some creationists celebrated an apparent triumph: Legendary physicist Stephen Hawking used the word God, possibly not in vain.

The utterance allegedly occurred at an international "state of the universe" conference, to celebrate the 70th birthday of the world's most famous living scientist.

Creationists saw Hawking's comments as an admission that God was needed to create the universe. And they were particularly gleeful about a subsequent story in New Scientist Magazine, headlined "Why Scientists Can't Avoid a Creation Event." That piece called the substance of the conference "the worst presents ever," referring to the failure of several theories attempting to explain the origin of the cosmos.

Faye Flam @ 3:00 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Saturday, January 21, 2012, 3:53 PM

There was some confusion over the Guardian commentary piece “Nine Ways Scientists Demonstrate they Don’t Understand Journalism”, which I blogged about yesterday. The story listed nine complaints the author has heard from scientists, and then offers and explanation for why journalists do things in certain ways.

In the heated discussion that followed on blogs and comment threads, about half of readers thought scientists were complaining that the journalist didn’t gather information from multiple sources. Others took it as a complaint that journalist did quote other sources. So really, one can’t win in this game. On re-reading the piece, it was clear to me the complaint was actually that science writers quote hostile sources.   

"How could you quote that person who disagrees with me? He's wrong!

I hate the straw-manning engendered by the "he says, she says" mode of journalism. But the findings of science are often hotly contested and often wrong. In many cases, journalists uncover flaws in the research while calling independent sources to pull their story together. At Nature, a significant number of news stories are dropped after enquiries because they turn out to be weaker than the abstract or the press release suggested. For the stories that get through, the journalistic process may expose more problems or disagreements that were not caught when the paper was peer-reviewed. If the criticisms seem valid and are not easily rebutted, then journalists have a duty to represent them."

Faye Flam @ 3:53 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Saturday, January 21, 2012, 3:08 PM

Stories about public acceptance of evolution are in abundance this week. First, an NPR blogger pondered America’s trouble with evolution, and now this story from Livescience says it’s more about intuition than knowledge.   

Gut feelings may trump good old-fashioned facts, and even religious beliefs, when it comes to accepting the theory of evolution, new research suggests.

"The whole idea behind acceptance of evolution has been the assumption that if people understood it, if they really knew it, they would see the logic and accept it," study co-author David Haury, an associate professor of education at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

Faye Flam @ 3:08 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, January 20, 2012, 6:49 PM

It’s just one of those days, filled with negativity and the overwhelming sense that people are trying to crush my soul under their heels. So I was already in a blue mood when I realized that a piece in the Guardian has released a flood bile directed towards science journalists. The piece was written by Ananyo Bhattacharya, who is chief online editor for the journal Nature. In this cmomentary piece, he accused scientits of not understanding journalists. It was kind of interesting but I felt it exaggerated conflicts between the two professions.   

The one part I agree with dealt with headlines:

The purpose of a headline is not to tell the story. That's the purpose of the story. The purpose of the headline is to pique the interest of readers without lying.

Faye Flam @ 6:49 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, January 20, 2012, 10:59 AM

Here's a reader question that came in today.

"Why do so many have trouble with people who have trouble with evolution??"

Here's my answer: Because some of them are running for president. This cartoon above is from the New Yorker, but with a Rick Santorum quote substituting for the caption. It's part of a whole hilarious series you can read here. Higgs the cat would be able to straighten this guy out.

Faye Flam @ 10:59 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, January 19, 2012, 3:43 PM

NPR’s blog ran this post yesterday, in which a physicist scratches his head and wonders why so many Americans don’t “believe in” evolution, despite a mountain of evidence in support of it.

Not surprisingly, and rather unfortunately, religious belief interferes with people's understanding of what the theory of evolution says.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. It's in the fossil record, carefully dated using radioactivity, the release of particles from radioactive isotopic decay, which works like a very precise clock

Faye Flam @ 3:43 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at Reach Planet of the at

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