News and Views

Future grandmaster?

Chess, the eminently cerebral game, is even thought provoking in ways unrelated to the movement of pieces on the board. One, for instance, pertains to the issue of proficiency, eventually leading to the question: What makes a chess player good, or great, or even a grandmaster?

Taking that a step further: Can you become a talented or great player simply by practicing relentlessly? Or must one already possess superior, innate intelligence in order to succeed?

These were just some of the questions posed by a group of researchers from Michigan State University, who, according to their recent study, sought to "quantitatively synthesize the available evidence for the relationship between cognitive ability and chess skill." Their quest, essentially, was to evaluate every...

It was bad enough when Jenny McCarthy used her celebrity status and loud voice to back the anti-vaccine movement, shouting to anyone who would listen the fallacy that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

Now, it seems that promoting one non-scientific claim that harms children is just not enough for this former Playboy playmate. And, this time, what she's up to is just as bad -- or maybe even worse. 

McCarthy is now exploiting vulnerable parents by promoting a treatment for ASD called hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO2). This technique provides 100% oxygen (air is 21% oxygen) in a chamber that can provide up to three times more pressure than one would experience on Earth -- resulting in an increase of oxygen in the blood.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a...

By now, Theranos is well known and the company’s name provokes a strong reaction from anyone who knows its troubled and highly publicized story. The company has been scrambling to answer for its practices since the publication of an investigative story last fall in The Wall Street Journal, which acted as the impetus for a web of questions that have since been raised. At the center of these are issues ranging from the questionable capacity of its technology to the death of its former chief scientist.

That said, my interest lies in another important topic that’s largely been overlooked. As a scientist, I have been increasingly interested in the role and responsibility of its Scientific and Medical Advisory Board (SMAB) that was put into place in April. Specifically, a few things...

Ben & Jerry's headquarters, in Waterbury, VT

It's amazing what lengths a company will go to in order to sell you something.

With that thought squarely in mind, hats off to Ben & Jerry's for coming up with a doozy of a rationale for prompting its customers to (1) get involved in the political process, and (2) get on the grocery store checkout line.

Based on a recent product awareness campaign, it seems the Vermont-based ice cream producer wants us all to believe that global warming, while catastrophic enough in its own right, could also deprive its customers of some of their favorite dessert flavors. Action must be taken immediately, the company implores us, or the chocolate, and the nuts, and the coffee that's needed as ingredients for 26 separate creations could, in time, vanish from the Earth. 

And when...

The Kingdom of Speech – a book report

I must admit that I still love books, not e-books, but the physical object and that lets me wander through bookstores making serendipitous discoveries. To my great joy, I found this new release, The Kingdom of Speech, as I was about to leave my local bookstore. Here is my report.

The Kingdom of Speech

Author: Tom Wolfe – and while it is the same Tom Wolfe author of Bonfire of the Vanities or A Man in Full, this is written by the author who has returned to his journalistic roots, the author of The Right Stuff or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I loved that Tom Wolfe and I am happy he has returned.


Alfred Wallace – “a thirty-five-year-old, tall, lanky, long-bearded barely grade-school-...

We left off about to explore recommendations “that either improve the supply of new antimicrobial medicines or reduce the demand for existing ones, prolonging their life.”

“AMR is inevitable. As people keep finding ways to kill the microbes that infect us, those microbes, through evolutionary processes, will mutate to counteract them. …we can reduce the build-up of resistance by reducing unnecessary use of antimicrobials and in particular antibiotics. This is important because the supply of new antimicrobials is not necessarily inexhaustible, whilst their development is increasingly expensive.”

Addressing the issues of the demand side are a bit easier to understand and the recommendations more direct. There are three sources of antimicrobial...

Ultra Runer Karl Meltzer (both photos courtesy: Red Bull Content Pool)

Karl Meltzer's newest feat, setting the land speed record traversing the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, was unquestionably remarkable and therefore newsworthy. Yet among its media coverage, two of the most prominent reports played up the angle that one particular aspect of his achievement — the ultra runner's food consumption during his historic dash — was quirky, out of the ordinary, and in some ways bizarre.

However, for the most part, that was just not the case.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution and...

The EPA posted a report online this week stating that glyphosate does NOT cause cancer. This is not the first time they have said this, and it will not be the last. 

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the United States, originally developed by Monsanto and sold under the name "Roundup." Not only has Roundup been used for the last 42 years, but glyphosate has been incorporated into hundreds of additional products for the last 16 years. 

Over the years, the EPA has vacillated on their classification of glyphosate's cancer-causing ability. According to them, it seems that glyphosate has become less carcinogenic over time. It was first labeled as a "possible human carcinogen" in the mid-80s. In 1986, glyphosate was downgraded to "not enough data to tell if it's a...

Claims that the “the science isn’t settled” with regard to climate change are symptomatic of a large body of ignorance about how science works. So what is the scientific method, and why do so many people, sometimes including those trained in science, get it so wrong?

The first thing to understand is that there is no one method in science, no one way of doing things. This is intimately connected with how we reason in general.

Science and reasoning

Humans have two primary modes of reasoning: deduction and induction. When we reason deductively, we tease out the implications of information already available to us...

Remember Amir Attaran? 

Of course you don't.

That said, perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on the Canadian professor's dire, pre-Olympic predictions about worldwide Zika virus transmission, and compare them to what actually occurred in the aftermath of the Summer Games in Brazil.

Which, so far, is nothing. Zero. Not a single case.

But more importantly, it might also be wise to consider that while Dr. Attaran was completely wrong in his assessment -- which, in some circles, could possibly paint him as an academic hysteric -- there are reasons to believe that his clarion call turned out to be notably, if inadvertently, beneficial to global health.

Consider the possibility that his warning could have actually contributed to greater Zika awareness...