Archive for January 12, 2011

Enough Griping. Time For Some Active Skepticism

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I started this blog to talk about poor science reporting and try to put some good information out there. Usually though, it comes off as complaining.

This has been true a number of cases, and recently because of the Wi-Fi scares going on in Canada.

There have been a number of stories, mainly on the CBC, about parents from 2 communities in Canada who do no want Wi-Fi installed in their children’s schools for fear of adverse health effects.

It is quite clear from a large body of scientific evidence that Wi-Fi is completely safe, and these fears are unwarranted. However, the fears are given credence because of a few crackpot “scientists” and poor media coverage.

It isn’t much, but I wrote an email to the CBC asking them to provide more accurate information in their reporting. Here is the email in its entirety:

I am writing in regards to the CBC’s recent reports regarding Wi-Fi technology in schools.

In recent months, there have been several news items written on the CBC news site regarding the health effects of wireless internet technology. These have mainly consisted of stories from Ontario and Alberta in which a group of parents has approached its local school board and requested that Wi-Fi not be installed in their children’s schools.

While I agree that it is important to report on these issues, I strongly disagree with the lack of background information and tone of the articles themselves. They give the average reader very little sense of the current body of scientific evidence, which overwhelmingly indicates that wireless technology is safe for both adults and children.

The articles fail to show this large disconnect between the mainstream scientific community and the views of a very a small fringe group. Blanket statements such as “Health Canada and the World Health Organization have said Wi-Fi is not dangerous” are simply not adequate to provide readers with an accurate picture. This is of concern to me since it may cause undo panic to parents across the country that are only looking out for the well-being of their children, and may be frightened by the poor representation of the scientific consensus in these articles.

Microwave radiation, at the powers and frequencies used by wireless systems has been thoroughly researched and the evidence is clear that it is quite safe. I respectfully ask that in future news items you provide more information on the research done on Wi-Fi which shows it is safe in order to put the minds of parents at ease.

I decided to write directly to the CBC because I generally respect its reporting and it is my primary source for news. However this issue has troubled me as I’m sure it has troubled many other readers.

Thank you.

Will I get a response? Probably not. Will it make a difference. Ha, probably not. But it is DOING something rather than just complaining, so maybe the skeptic gods (?) will smile down on me and make a difference.


We’re Gonna Crush ’em! Then We’re Gonna Analyze The Data!

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Concussions are a major problem in all contact sports, and the NFL is turning to technology to help understand and prevent these injuries.

A pilot program is being set up in which accelerometers will be placed in the helmets of players to measure the force from these impacts, the Washington Post reports.

The program will also put accelerometers into mouthpieces and earpieces to get a larger data set to the force experienced in different parts of the head.

The biggest problem in understanding exactly what type of hit causes a concussion is the variability. Said Kevin Guskiewicz, a committee member and chairman of the department of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina,

We are currently not where we’d like to be in understanding what an 80-G impact means relative to a 40-G impact. . . . My point has been all along if we don’t start somewhere – like now – we’ll never know,

The data could not only help players learn to better protect themselves, but also lead to the development of better helmets.

There is a helmet which has been in development for about 8 years, called the Gladiator, which reduces force of impact by 20 – 25 percent. Beyond that, however, no new developments are on the horizon.

I love it when sports and physics intersect in a post.

Planck Sees the Universe as Never Before

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

The first results from the European Space Agency’s Planck survery have been released today, and what a pretty picture these results make.

The Planck space telescope was launched in 2009 and currently resides in a Lagrangian point between the Earth and the Sun, roughly 1.5 million km away.

(A Lagrangian point is a point in space where the gravity from two bodies cancel each other out).

Planck’s mission is to study the Cosmic Microwave Background, the “echoes” from the Big Bang that appear everywhere in the sky.Plank was designed to be successor to the recently retired WMAP satellite, which measured the CMB with more accuracy than any instrument before it.

Artist's Conception of the Planck Telescope. Photo: ESA

The image above the top of the page was released back in July 2010, but the first scientific results have just been made public. They include 25 papers submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The results include some pretty cool stuff.

Planck has found evidence for an otherwise invisible population of galaxies shrouded in dust billions of years in the past, which formed stars at rates some 10–1000 times higher than we see in our own Galaxy today. Measurements of this population had never been made at these wavelengths before. “This is a first step, we are just learning how to work with these data and extract the most information,” says Jean-Loup Puget, CNRS-Université Paris Sud, Orsay, France.

These studies allow us to gain a better picture of how the Universe formed in its very early stages, about 380 000 years after the Big Bang.When the CMB was first discovered, it was thought to be completely isotropic over the entire sky. This made no sense, however, since the Universe is made up of clumps of matter like stars and galaxies. There had to be some structure in the CMB, and that is why these tools like WMAP and Planck have been developed; to see that structure in the CMB.While these results are exciting, the best is yet to come,

Today’s results are the tip of the scientific iceberg. Planck is exceeding expectations thanks to the dedication of everyone involved in the project,” says David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.