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Khalil’s Picks (15 March 2013)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Brain pictures aren’t very helpful after all, Big Pharma’s trying to give the impression that it’s becoming more transparent, scientists’ crazy thoughts, possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, Paris syndrome.

Just a snapshot of what’s highlighted in this week’s picks.

Melanie B. Tannenbaum on nature.com’s SpotOn blog. Glowing pictures of the brain are bad for your brain. (Me overhyping and oversimplifying a psych study.)

Don’t Worry, It’s Science: There’s A Brain Scan
When writing about anything pertaining to psychology or human nature, people love nothing more than a brain image lit up like a Christmas tree. These omnipresent images have been mockingly termed “brain porn”, defined by journalist Alissa Quart as a “willingness to accept seemingly neuroscientific explanations for nearly everything.” According to a team of British scientists led by Cliodhna O’Connor, many popular science articles will include “logically irrelevant neuroscience information” intended to “imbue an argument with authoritative, scientific credibility” (McCabe & Castel, 2008; O’Connor et al., 2012). You might see scientists or science writers displaying neuroimaging data as proof that their claims are objective or real.

Alice Hazelton for I, Science. Big Pharma would make a great Hollywood movie, seriously.

More transparency for Pharma?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a harsher stance on its approval guidelines for new drugs so, despite a huge proliferation of multi-drug resistant strains of bacteria, the number of approvals for new antibiotics has dropped. This harsh attitude towards approval is partly in response to the scandal surrounding Ketek (telithromycin), the antibiotic passed by the FDA in 2004 that was later linked to liver failure. The new rules now require applicant companies to show that patients are no more likely to die – of any cause – within 28 days of treatment with the new drug.

Shara Yurkiewicz on her Scientific American blog This May Hurt a Bit. Usual brilliant sensitive writing.

“Good patients” cover their emotional cracks
When we told the patient and his family that the mass in his lung was highly concerning for cancer, he didn’t say anything.  His daughter asked about his symptoms.  His son-in-law asked when and how he could get a definitive diagnosis.  His wife asked when he could go home.  Finally, he spoke.

Jane Robb on her blog Geo-HeritageScience asks what crazy ideas or thoughts come into your head which make remind you that you are indeed a freaking scientist.

You Know You Are A Scientist When…
Have you ever had that moment where you just KNOW you are a scientist because of a particular type of thought or thought process? For example: the other day I arrived at my local gym and as I was on my way downstairs to the changing rooms my bag’s metal ‘hangy-things’ that dangle off the zip came into fleeting contact with the metal bannister. The result was a highly musical tone (don’t ask me what note) that lingered for quite a while. I can’t be certain, but I am sure that any normal person would probably not have noticed this at all, but the first thing that went through my head after ‘That was a nice sound’ was ‘Hmm, and the precise density, shape, form and possibly rate and length of contact of the two metals were what defined that sound [...]

Kelly Oakes on her Scientific American blog Basic Space talks about, yes, space stuff but also water and by extension life elsewhere in the universe!

Alien planet’s atmosphere contains water and carbon monoxide
Astronomers have found water vapour and carbon monoxide, but no methane, in the atmosphere of an alien planet orbiting a star 129 light years away. The star, known as HR 8799, is at the centre of the first planetary system beyond our solar system to be imaged directly, in 2008. The star has at least four gas giants orbiting it. One of them, HR 8799c, is seven times the size of Jupiter that orbits at roughly the same distance Pluto does the sun in our own solar system. The light from the HR 8799c can be distinguished from its star, partly due to its distant orbit.

Benjamin Plackett for The Connectivist about the Paris syndrome. Yes, this exists.

The Great Paris Delusion
[...] Some tourists and expats do suffer a mental breakdown when they realize that Paris isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Psychotic episodes are reportedly so severe that repatriation of hysterical holiday-makers is the only cure. This apparently happens frequently enough that the phenomenon has its own name: Paris Syndrome. The media pounced on it and each outlet had their own (very similar) version of the story to sell.

And some more:

Khalil A. Cassimally About the Author: Khalil A. Cassimally is the Community Coordinator of The Conversation UK. He's also a science blogger. He hails from a tropical island and is a happy geek. Subscribe to his updates on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @notscientific.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Melanie Tannenbaum 7:07 pm 03/15/2013

    Thanks, Khalil! Appreciate the shoutout :)

    Link to this

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