Friday, December 30, 2011

GRAIL - Almost There

Earlier this year I participated in a NASA Tweetup during the launch of the twin GRAIL probes on their way to the moon.
I blogged about the event here, here, here and here...
Now, after more than three months in flight, the space crafts are getting to their destination. GRAIL-A will be reaching the moon's orbit tomorrow (December 31st) and GRAIL-B will get there on January 1st. What a way to ring in the New Year for the GRAIL team.
Read more about the mission at the NASA site.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 - Summary

2011 was a fun year...
First of all because Andrew Wakefield, the infamous MMR scare "doctor", got taken down after all those years of spreading misinformation, and pure lies. Unfortunately, the results of his dubious work will be felt across the globe for years to come, as we can see when childhood diseases come back in places they should have been gone forever.
2011 also marked the beginning of the presidential elections season in the US, and the "right side" (the Republicans) has a strong bunch of contenders going into the primaries. The problem is that they are not too handy with their brains, using them in ways that make it hard to believe we are members of the same species. James Carville summed it up the best earlier this year, when he said:
As I watch the Republican debates, I realize that we are on the brink of a crazy person running our nation. I sit in front of the television and shudder at the thought of one of these creationism-loving, global-warming-denying, immigration-bashing, Social-Security-cutting, clean-air-hating, mortality-fascinated, Wall-Street-protecting Republicans running my country.

As our national political stage appears to be open to almost anyone, smart, or not, the same seems to be happening locally, where I can see another "America-loving" candidate running for the local school board:
"I do have some concerns about the curriculum," he said. "I would like to do what I can as a School Board member ... to focus on maybe a little bit more of a traditional curriculum." He mentioned specifically social studies lessons, and suggested that International Baccalaureate is "anti-American" and might be replaced.
Ad executive announces bid for Pasco School Board 
Is International Baccalaureate anti-American?

While, it is too early to see what this new candidate brings to the table, I'm always very suspicious when the essence of any political campaign is focused around "patriotism" and flag waving. It usually turns out that there is not much more there to be found. In this case, we'll need to watch Mr. Stevenson's campaign very closely to make sure it's not about taking people's freedoms, instead of guarding them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wasting Your Tax Dollars In The Name of Science

Our governments on all levels have an incredible ability to waste our tax dollars, especially when ideology and plain stupidity get mixed up. This is exactly what happened with The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which was created out of someone "beliefs" and not a sound science. The center continues to waste our money on studies and alternative therapies that have no basis in reality and keep returning negative results.
It is nice to see that a respected journalist Trine Tsouderos, in a major news outlet such as Chicago Tribune, takes a hard and critical look at the Center:
Thanks to a $374,000 taxpayer-funded grant, we now know that inhaling lemon and lavender scents doesn't do a lot for our ability to heal a wound. With $666,000 in federal research money, scientists examined whether distant prayer could heal AIDS. It could not.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also helped pay scientists to study whether squirting brewed coffee into someone's intestines can help treat pancreatic cancer (a $406,000 grant) and whether massage makes people with advanced cancer feel better ($1.25 million). The coffee enemas did not help. The massage did.
Federal center pays good money for suspect medicine

This is our tax dollars at work, and while the amount might be insignificant in a large scheme of things, this money would be better used for a real research that could, one day, help someone live a little bit longer. David Gorski of Science-Based Medicine put it nicely:
"We have to be good stewards of public money for science," said Gorski, the cancer researcher. "I don't view NCCAM as being a good steward of our public money at the moment. Even if they are doing rigorous science, they are still looking at incredibly implausible things."