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Sense About Science

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 20:35 by John Sinteur in category: News


With a database of over 5,000 scientists, from Nobel prize winners to postdocs and PhD students, Sense About Science works in partnership with scientific bodies, research publishers, policy makers, the public and the media, to change public discussions about science and evidence. They make these scientists available for questions from civic organizations and the public looking for scientific advice from experts, campaign for the promotion of scientific principles in public policy, and publish neat guides to understanding science intended for laypeople.
These are pretty neat guides, basic enough to be accessible to most anyone but also in-depth enough that even knowledgable laypeople can expect to learn something new,

The Making Sense Of series:

Making sense of Statistics [PDF]
This guide is not a lesson in statistics. It provides the questions to ask and identifies the pitfalls to avoid to help us get behind news stories that use statistics.
But when confronted with stories such as “Diabetes drug raises death risk by 60pc”, “Gender pay gap still as high as 50%” and “Polls puts Tories up to 7% ahead”, how can we work out whether to believe them and what they really mean? Dismissing all statistics as just ‘lies’ does not help us get to grips with a story. By working through the points in the guide we can work out what the figures might be telling us.

Making Sense of Testing [PDF]
Why scans and health tests for well people aren’t always a good idea.
Adverts and media reports say that people with no symptoms, nor reason to suspect they have a disease can find out what they will get in the future, “reverse the disease processes before symptoms appear”, or even discover how they will die. People are promised instant results, valuable insights and ‘peace of mind’. What many people are getting is a lot of confusion and anxiety, ongoing trips to the doctor and, sometimes, unnecessary medical procedures. The guide presents a few insights and highlights common misconceptions about having health tests and scans.

Making Sense of Screening [PDF]
A guide to weighing up the benefits and harms of health screening programmes
Public expectations about screening don’t match what screening programmes can deliver. By addressing misconceptions about how screening works, its limitations and the calculation of benefits and harms, scientists and clinicians hope to bridge the gap between the active debates of the scientific community and the concerns raised by the public.

Making Sense of Radiation [PDF]
A guide to radiation and its health effects
Many people have become anxious about exposure to non-ionising forms of radiation, from mobiles, Wi-Fi and masts. Together with scientists, engineers and medical professionals we identified some of the tools and insights that they themselves rely on to help deliver a clearer picture of what radiation is, what it does and what it can’t do.

Making Sense of Chemical Stories [PDF]
A briefing document for the lifestyle sector on misconceptions about chemicals.
The guide flags up the more serious misconceptions that exist around chemicals and suggests straightforward ways to evaluate them. It is intended to open a conversation that promotes a stronger connection between lifestyle commentary and chemical realities.

Making Sense of GM [PDF]
What is the genetic modification of plants and why are scientists doing it?
The guide examines how GM has been debated in the past and presents commentary from scientists and agriculturalists. They respond to the public’s questions and misconceptions and put GM into the context of developing plant breeding.

Making Sense of Weather and Climate [PDF]
An introduction to forecasts and predictions of weather events and climate change
We worked with climate and weather scientists to review how weather and climate issues are discussed in media coverage and policy debates. This briefing addresses what they noticed were frequent misunderstandings to avoid losing sight of the science amidst the rows about policy, the exaggeration and Hollywood-style presentation.

Other Guides

I’ve Got Nothing to Lose by Trying It [PDF]
A guide to weighing up claims about cures and treatments

I Don’t Know What to Believe [PDF], US version [PDF]
Making sense of science stories
This leaflet is for people who follow debates about science and medicine in the news. It explains how scientists present and judge research and how you can ask questions of the scientific information presented to you.

Peer Review and the Acceptance of New Scientific Ideas [PDF]
Discussion paper from a Working Party on equipping the public with an understanding of peer review.

See also their pretty neat leaflets,

Sense About Systematic Reviews [PDF]
Sense About The Energy Gap [PDF]
Sense About Homeopathy [PDF]
Sense About Brain Gym [PDF]
Sense About Chiropractic [PDF]
Sense About Anti-EMF Products [PDF]
Sense About Lie Detectors [PDF]

If you need help or information on a difficult or contravertial area of science call Sense About Science on [UK] 020 7478 4380

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Michael Dickinson: How a fly flies

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 15:29 by John Sinteur in category: News


An insect’s ability to fly is perhaps one of the greatest feats of evolution. Michael Dickinson looks at how a common housefly takes flight with such delicate wings, thanks to a clever flapping motion and flight muscles that are both powerful and nimble. But the secret ingredient: the incredible fly brain. (Filmed at TEDxCaltech.)

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Where’s your Hobbit coat? I left it in Hawai

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 14:00 by John Sinteur in category: News

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A New Pope

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 13:51 by John Sinteur in category: Pastafarian News

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Two Popes, One Secretary

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 11:44 by John Sinteur in category: Pastafarian News


So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well, a normal arrangement?

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ACLU Blasts Supreme Court Rejection of Challenge to Warrantless Spying Without Proof of Surveillance

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 11:00 by John Sinteur in category: News


In what’s being described as a Kafkaesque decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a group of human rights organizations and journalists cannot challenge the government’s warrantless domestic surveillance program because they can’t prove they are targets of it.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

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British terror suspects quietly stripped of citizenship… then killed by drones

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 10:35 by John Sinteur in category: News


The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it allows ministers to “wash their hands” of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or “rendered” without any onus on the British Government to intervene.

At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years. Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision.

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  1. See, now, there ya go. No need to go around killing your own citizens like Obama has decided to do.

Why It’s Smart to Be Reckless on Wall Street

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 10:30 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


In 2000 a young PhD in mathematics approached me about a job before eventually landing at a European bank in research. In 2004 he started proprietary trading, where traders bet with the bank’s money. Pay was 15% of the profits. In 2005 he bought obscure and high-yielding corporate bonds, which generated profits of $40 million. He took home $6 million. In 2006 he made $80 million and took home $12 million. In 2007 the world turned and the group was disbanded as losses mounted. He was dismissed, and his trades eventually lost the firm close to $300 million.

What was his PhD thesis about? Game theory, or using math to find the optimal solution to complex systems.

Late last year he sent me an email. “Chris, why are you still working?”

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  1. This is a clear explanation of parasitism.


Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 10:26 by John Sinteur in category: News

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Why Nobody Can Copy Apple

Posted on February 28th, 2013 at 8:09 by John Sinteur in category: Apple, Google, Microsoft


In my experience, the behaviors and culture of an organization (large or small) that focuses on the Consumer as a customer is diametrically incompatible with the behaviors and culture of an organization that focuses on Business as a customer.

I feel strongly that this is a key reason Microsoft’s products are often good, but not excellent; the consumer ones and the business ones. This is why Google will never be able to beat Apple at Apple’s game: Google’s customer focus is split between the advertiser and consumer.  

The behaviors of organization, which are really driven by the attitudes, actions, priorities of the people, define what the organization produces. The behaviors required to delight the consumer are simply at odds with the behaviors required to delight businesses. You cannot do both simultaneously in a single organization and be excellent.

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  1. IF this is actually the case (and I’m somewhat skeptical about the explanatory power of these kinds of theories), but IF this is actually the case, then the competitor to watch is Amazon.

  2. I have been using Apple stuff for 2 years now. I failed to notice where “Apple focuses on the Consumer” as opposed to “Apple focusing on profit, and ignoring the consumer”.

    Microsoft fulfills more consumer (business or private) requests than Apple, the company that simply ignores consumer requests and proceeds the way it wants.