Science blogs

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    Old news of an oversupply of scientists

    Four leading lights of science wrote a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences editorial calling for an overhaul of U.S. biomedical research support, but there's little news in what they say, Tabitha M. Powledge writes: "The fact that the U.S. is creating an oversupply of scientists has been known for decades, at least to those who will listen. An NAS report from a committee (former Princeton University President Shirley) Tilghman chaired came out in 1998."

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    Navigating the Medicare data flood

    Tabitha M. Powledge reviews coverage of the big data release detailing Medicare payments to doctors and find some things to like behind the headlines: "Most writers focused, not surprisingly, on the most eye-popping payments. Heaven knows there were great riches to choose from. But many writers also dove a little deeper." Some big recipients had innocent explanations — including reimbursements for expensive drugs — but even those raised some questions, Powledge says.

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    Did anyone see the new climate report?

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report early this week "to a world apparently too exhausted, or distracted, to take much interest in the upcoming calamities," Tabitha M. Powledge writes in her weekly roundup of science blogs. Also: A sampling of tributes to Jane Goodall on her 80th birthday, and a review of the latest debate involving the bones, discovered in a Leicester parking lot, which may or may not be the remains of Richard III.

  • Doesn't anyone like what the fox says?

    Tabitha M. Powledge rounds up reviews of Nate Silver's new 538 site and finds little that's good. But she holds out hope for improvement: "Having been through a number of startup pub launches myself … I caution against issuing final judgements about 538 in the first wretched days, or weeks, or even months. I can tell you from experience that if it looks as if the folks at 538 are making it up as they go along, that's because they are. It's what you do at a startup."

  • Steffen Richter (Harvard University)

    Explaining the impossible (inflation)

    Tabitha M. Powledge quotes Faye Flam's headline on the challenge of reporting last week's big physics news: "How to write a lede about a phenomenon most readers have never heard of, the discovery of which backs an important theory most people know nothing about." She then reviews the work of those who tried, noting that most set skepticism aside: "Nearly all the blogging acknowledged perfunctorily that the data need confirming, but there seemed to be few true doubters."

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    Some bitter news about sugar

    Coca-Cola co-opts the National Press Foundation while the World Health Organization tries — again — to issue dietary guidelines with strict limits on sugar, Tabitha M. Powledge writes in her weekly science blogs roundup: "So you can see why the sugar people are in a panic, and why Coke has seized an opportunity to lobby journalists." Also, integrity at the Office of Research Integrity, gene therapy for HIV infection, and President Obama amid some potted plants.

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    Old DNA in viruses and Neanderthals

    Tabitha M. Powledge reviews news about a giant virus found in the 30,000 year-old Siberian permafrost, and asks when the next shoe drops: "I can't help wondering what else is going to turn up as the warming Earth releases creatures from the melting of ice frozen many thousands of years ago." Also, the science behind sequencing the Neanderthal genome and dealing with contaminants, and Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner's critique of the system for funding scientific research.

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    Covering the latest news on obesity

    Childhood obesity is declining, says the National Center for Health Statistics. But Tabitha M. Powledge thinks there's more to this story: "Greet these data with little glad cries, and hope madly that these kids, and those who come after, can continue to maintain healthful weight as they navigate through the crises of life. But absorb also the fact that it's at best a dent in the obesity statistics. As the paper points out, obesity hasn't declined in other age groups."

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    FDA wrestles with fecal transplant rules

    It's a delicate issue in more ways than one, Tabitha M. Powledge writes, citing a Nature commentary. How should regulators deal with the odd-sounding but apparently very effective practice of transplanting fecal material from healthy patients to sick ones? "The researchers propose that FDA look upon the feces used in transplants not as a new drug but rather as a tissue product. Or perhaps FDA should even devise a new classification, as the agency has done for blood."

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    A warm climate at the Winter Olympics?

    Daytime highs are in the 60s at the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, a fact noted by Tabitha M. Powledge in her science blogs roundup. She quotes Dana Hunter as saying Sochi's weather is like Seattle's, and ponders its future climate: "One of the reasons Russian President Vladimir Putin lobbied so hard to get the Olympics for Sochi was to turn the nearby Caucasus mountains into a trendy spot for a winter sports resort. Putin must be one of those global-warming deniers."