Archive for the ‘science’ Category

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Medical sense reclaiming ground in Australia

7 January 2015

I’ve seen a couple of articles recently that give me faith that medical science – and medical sense – are causing a reversal of some worrying trends.

Treatments that don’t work

In 2012 the previous Australian federal government asked the Australian chief medical officer for a review of “natural” therapies that were – and still are – covered by Medicare and many private insurance policies. Those treatments included naturopathy, aromatherapy, ear candling, crystal therapy, flower essences, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, reiki and rolfing.

This was welcomed by anyone who approves of taxpayer money being spent on treatments for which there is clinical evidence.

The Australian newspaper has posted a couple of articles in recent days (which I haven’t linked because they’re behind paywalls) about leaks that that review will be released soon, and it will not be good for those alternative therapies. Homeopathy got an early knocking already last year. Bravo, I say. This letter to the Australian agrees.

It’s a shame that practices like acupuncture, chiropractic, and Chinese medicine were explicitly omitted from the review, but it’s still a very good step.

Homeopathic Literature

Homeopathic Literature

Anti-vaccine movement declines

In other good news, the Guardian reports that “the income and membership of the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network (AVN) has significantly diminished in the past three years”. Both media and governments are treating the AVN appropriately (that is, they’re not pretending that theirs is an informed or balanced view), and people are responding.

Now for immunisation rates to climb back up.

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The state of science research in Australia is slipping even further

2 December 2014

I’ve harboured dreams of going back into a more scientific job in a few years. I miss doing science. But I’ve realised that to do so in Australia today would be foolish.

Knife cut paper with budget

Earlier this year I mentioned that CSIRO had had to make significant cuts following government reductions in their funding.

The bad news continues. Cuts of support staff mean that CSIRO scientists aren’t spending all their time on doing actual science. And one of our Nobel-tipped researchers has been let go.

CSIRO isn’t the only agency being affected, though; these groups are losing nearly $310m between them:

  • The Australian Research Council (ARC)
  • The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO)
  • Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)
  • Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)
  • Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program

While there was to be a new $110m+ medical research fund, the unwise doctor’s visit co-payment the Liberal government proposed to deliver it is likely to be abandoned.

An opposition party will always spin hyperbole, but the Australian Labor Party makes a reasonable case that cuts to university and preventative health programs means the overall cuts to science are much bigger, despite their attempt at funding medical research. Someone who has been involved in research grant administration in North America agrees strongly with this view.

The ABC’s Fact Check department estimates that it’s true that science research spending as a percentage of GDP in Australia is as low as it’s been since they started keeping records.

Australia’s science and math skills are slipping, we’re only average on scientific citations, and our collaboration between industry and research is terrible.

It just doesn’t feel like an environment that values science.

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Interactive Periodic Table

16 October 2014

Whether you’re a student learning about the elements or just a chemistry nerd, this interactive periodic table of elements is pretty neat.

period

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News of the Obvious: Homeopathy is Nonsense

9 April 2014

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From Lifehacker:

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released a new draft paper on the effectiveness of homeopathy following an in-depth analysis across 68 different health conditions. Unsurprisingly, the paper concludes that there is no reliable evidence that homoeopathy is effective for treating any ailment. Rather, it’s a potentially dangerous pseudoscience that can dupe patients into rejecting conventional and effective treatments.

The emphasis is mine.

It will take a lot more than this restatement of obvious science before the scores of homeopathic “treatments” disappear from Australian pharmacy shelves, or before the government stops listening to “alternative” medicine lobby groups.

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Primordial gravitational waves, and ants in the curl of space

18 March 2014
Image

Bicep2

You know a scientific discovery is big when it makes the regular news, and the apparent discovery of primordial gravitational waves has done that.

These results are believed to show what happened in the early universe, right after the Big Bang. If they survive peer review then they’ll be the final confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and the first direct evidence of universal inflation. These are big deals because they further strengthen some already very strong theories.

For an interesting illustration of what led to the BICEP2 project and how it was carried out, read this story on Scienceblogs’ Dynamics of Cats.

Being a very clever ant, you realise that you can figure out something about the lake [in which you’re floating]!
For example, you realise that while it is a very deep lake, it is not infinitely deep.
In fact you can, eg by measuring some of the swirls, and where the waves break, figure there are shallows in some parts of the lake.

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Watch Kate Upton Posing In Zero Gravity In A Bikini Because Science

19 February 2014

Thank you, Gizmodo.

Sports Illustrated had a wonderful idea: demonstrate how zero gravity works on muscular and fat body masses by putting Kate Upton in a bikini and taking her in a parabolic flight.

Kate Upton

Moving pictures, too. For the science, you understand.

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Why Do People Fear GMOs?

15 February 2014

There’s a lot of public angst in several parts of the world about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In one way this is surprising, because there is plenty of evidence that they’re entirely safe.

But in another way it’s not so surprising: most people don’t have the biomedical knowledge to know that other species’ DNA is making its way into plants all the time.

And, as this article from Cosmos points out, we have a psychological tendency to fear man-made risks more than natural ones. We also fear risks imposed on us more than ones we decide to subject ourselves to, which is why I think it would be fine to label GMO ingredients in a non-panicky way.

Research into human cognition and risk perception psychology has found that…the brain is only the organ with which we think we think. To be blunt: we are not as smart as we think we are…The brain is first and foremost in charge of keeping us alive and it uses everything it can to figure out whether something might pose a risk, including not only conscious reasoning but all the subconscious animal instincts we have evolved to make quick protective judgments about whether something feels scary. Many of those instincts have been identified, and several of them help explain why that angry young man in the coffee shop is so afraid of GMOs.

food

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