It’s pretty safe to say that 2016 sucked a big one. Adding insult to injury, the worst day of the year for me (and likely many of you) just happened to fall on my birthday–November 9th. But, before we slam the door on this year (and look forward to next? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), let’s reflect on some memorable science in the media in 2016. Continue reading Year-in-review
In his new book, Thing explainer:
complicated stuff in simple words, Randall Munroe uses the top ten hundred words in the language spoken most in the world and lots of pictures to explain how some things work. In a world with too many big words, this book is great. However, some of the top words, simple enough alone, are still changed for others and one of the big words that tell you what the book is (marked above) isn’t even in the top words! Despite several wrong word choices, Thing explainer hits the mark for interestingly explaining things.
I finally got around to reading Michael Crichton’s posthumous novel Micro, finished after Crichton’s death by another popular sci-fi author Richard Preston. Since I first tore through Jurassic Park in 7th grade (more 20 years ago…yikes!), I have been a huge fan of Crichton’s imaginative worlds of science fiction. Not to mention that I was so inspired by Preston’s The Hot Zone that I entered the fields of infectious diseases and immunology for my career. So imagine my disappointment to discover that Micro is little more than a science-themed knock-off of the wacky Rick Moranis comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Mary Roach, author of the weird sciency books Stiff, Gulp, and Bonk, should go on a comedy tour. Her research about human physiology is not simply regurgitated on the page. It is craftily masticated, suspensefully digested, and hilariously delivered for her readership to chew on. Outside of this blog, I write about evidence-based medicine. I do PubMed searches on things like “mycobacteria, prevalence, United States” and “typhoid fever, pathogenesis”. For her work, Mary Roach searches for things like “cadaveric, penis” and “kegeling, urine dribble”. Here are some fascinating curiosities of Mary Roach. Continue reading Chew on this: the curiosities of Mary Roach
Recently, a letter written in 1988 by beloved British children’s lit author Roald Dahl resurfaced. The letter was written on behalf of his deceased daughter Olivia, who caught measles and died in 1962 at the all-too young age of 7. Prior to the development of the measles vaccine, this was a horrifyingly common occurrence. In his letter, Dahl recounts the last day of Olivia’s life and pleads parents to vaccinate their children.
“In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk.”
-Roald Dahl’s 1988 letter
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that starts somewhat innocuously as a flu-like disease before exploding into an itchy rash that can spread all over the body. Measles is particularly dangerous when the virus infects the lungs and progresses to pneumonia or infects the brain and causes inflammation leading to seizures and brain damage. This brain infection is what ended poor Olivia Dahl’s life all those years ago. And although Roald Dahl recognized that the vaccine was not available in time to save his eldest daughter, he was conscious of the well-being of his other children and all the kids all over the world that are captivated by his fantasy worlds in books.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
-Roald Dahl’s 1988 letter
On June 23, 2014 at the age of 33, I had my first panic attack. It was, without a doubt, the most terrifying day of my life.
In his new book, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind, Scott Stossel examines the history of anxiety disorders. This account of anxiety and panic disorders in America is a welcomed departure from the mind vs body debates of similar literature. And Stossel uses his memoir to “come out” as a successful author, editor, father, and husband who just happens to suffer from social anxiety and a host of various phobias. I appreciate the courage that it took for Stossel to publish this book and praise his ability to discuss anxiety, not as a weakness, but as an illness much like diabetes or cancer.
Perhaps the very worst aspect of humanity is our illusion of independence. Humans have evolved into self-thinking, -centered, and -indulgent individuals that have, for the most part, lost site of the microcosm that we inhabit and that inhabit us.
“Our bodies may belong to us, but we ourselves belong to a greater
body composed of many bodies.”
-Queen Elizabeth I
Eula Biss takes this social stance in her fascinating new book On Immunity: An Innoculation, which should find itself on every mothers’ reading list. The birth of Biss’ son transformed her from a relatively fearless woman into a MOM–one who will do quite literally anything to protect her child. Like any mother, Biss second guesses many of the decisions she has made on behalf of her son, including vaccinations. Continue reading Tending to our community garden
The periodic table of elements is one of humankind’s iconic symbols. Despite the fact that you may only know the names and properties of several elements, you no doubt recognize the grid. Theodore Gray takes this famous table to a new artistic standard in his now world-renowned book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. A bright and glossy black tome with a single element on each open 2-page spread, this is a great beginners resource for the visual depiction in high resolution photographs (if possible) and written description of each element. Accompanying each page are things in the world that are made up of the element. From common metals used in jewelry like silver and gold to rare earth metals like Lanthanum whose oxidation lights up camping lanterns, each element includes stories of how these elements are interesting to many more than just chemists.
If you or your kids are more digitally stimulated, there is also an iPad app ($13.99) that includes each page of The Elements book in HD. Or visit www.periodictable.com for free interactive fun with the elements. On this website, you can also purchase posters, placemats, and cards to enhance your child’s chemistry IQ.
A great companion activity to The Elements, is this 1000 piece puzzle that I recently put together. As you and your child add pieces to the puzzle, searching for similar-looking elements and browsing each name, symbol, and atomic number, I suggest looking up each element in the book or iPad app. When adding a new element to the puzzle, make sure to discuss what the element is and what it makes up in the world. Shout out, “I found Europium!” when adding this flaky rock to the puzzle, “And Europium creates fluorescence in light bulbs!”
Who knew chemistry could be so much fun!
It has recently come to my attention that a lot of people out there are reading (or re-reading) Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone as a reference because of the current Ebola outbreak. I was shocked to hear this because I remember swiftly flipping the pages of this enthralling novel in high school. Yes, you read that correctly, novel. I thank my Twitter acquaintances (and science writer idols) Seth Mnookin (@sethmnookin), Maryn McKenna (@marynmck), Ed Yong (@edyong209), and Vincent Racaniello (@profvrr) for bringing a horrifying truth to my reality, The Hot Zone is classified, distributed, and sold as a nonfiction book!
Upon initiating the design of my Yale College Residential seminar class, Biomedical Science in the Media, I scoured the interwebs for good and bad science reporting. One of the notable sites I came across, which later served as an inspiration for this blog, was Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science website. In his blog, Dr. Goldacre discusses and discredits science that is inappropriately reported and often misconstrued in the news. Along the way he presents the facts, if they are known, and highly educated conjecture if they aren’t. Goldacre is also an active broadcaster, campaigner, medical doctor, and academic that still manages to find the time to update his blog and write books. His first book, Bad Science, has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide and just happened to be on my personal summer reading list.