My heart soared like a hawk this week after several readers sent in fascinating stories. Here are a few of them.
- Reader Sara C sent in a wonderful example of how easy it is to cheat with statistics. A Scottish city instituted a program to talk to “young people about sex in terms of relationships, not only mechanics.” They claimed that this caused a drop in the teenage pregnancy rates and presented graph to prove it. A brilliant instance of how choosing your end points selectively can flip a negative finding into a positive one. From the BBC: The bumps in a falling teenage pregnancy rate.
- Blogger and nuclear power expert Randy Brich sent in an interview he conducted with “Dr. Antone (Tony) Brooks, a grandfatherly figure who recently retired as the Technical Research Director of the US Department of Energyâ€™s Low Dose Radiation Research Program.”
As a boy, Brooks lived downwind from a nuke test site and was once dusted. He survived and became interested in the health effects of low dose radiation, leading him to a PhD in radiation biology.
Exposure to low doses of radiation have been demonstrated to lower the number of free radicals in the body, protect the cells against transformation (changes that produce cancer), kill pre-cancer cells through a process of programmed cell death (apoptosis), activate immune responses and to lengthen the time between radiation exposure and the induction of cancer. It has also been established that exposure to the same amount of radiation (dose) over a short period of time is much more effective in producing biological changes than exposure of the same amount of radiation over a longer period of time (dose-rate).
Brooks rightly emphasizes that “It is important to recognize the difference between scientific data and radiation protection policy.” Learning how to effectively communicate subtle differences in measurement and research will be crucial if Mr Obama keeps his promise about increasing the use of nuclear power. The public is scared to death of radiation but also knows nothing about it.
Pay attention to the graphic Birch linked (it’s from the government). It’s confusing in spots (“Epidemiology?”) but worth looking at.
- Stalwart reader Katie sent in more evidence England has lost its mind. Ebay refused a listing of a Dad’s Army board game. Why? It had swastikas on the box. Dad’s Army was a harmless and silly Brit TV show about a crew of creaking soldiers who guarded the home front during WW II (Yes, I have seen it: somebody gave me the first season as a birthday present.) Ebay banned the sale because they claimed the game was “memorabilia associated with the Nazi Party” which is verboten!
- Reader John Emery found an utterly enthralling, peer-reviewed, IRB-approved research paper that claims “Democrats and Republicans Can Be Differentiated from Their Faces.” Although this is obviously another example of modern-day phrenology (the other is fMRI studies), it is impossible to dispute the conclusion.
Which is “Republicans were perceived as more powerful than Democrats.” Another obvious finding: They were also rated as more mature (somehow the copy editors misplaced the words “manly” and “virile”). Democrats were rated as more likable and trusty. All of which can be summed up with the question: Who wouldn’t want a pal rather than a father?
The study is so goofy that I might use it as an example of how bad statistics is easily published.
- This one has been making the rounds. “Climate chief was told of false glacier claims before Copenhagen.” Raise your hands if you’re shocked that yet another UN official turned out to be a bit of a fibber? Scandal is so endemic to that organization that it must be the result of planning. Perhaps incoming officials must take some kind of Oath of Graft, or be able to positively demonstrate to have at least one relative that lives in New Jersey.
Update I have corrected the spelling of Mr Brich’s last name. I beg his pardon.