June 1, 2013


Science communication fightback edition

  • “Archaeologists Officially Declare Collective Sigh over Paleo Diet” –FRANKFURT- In a rare display of professional consensus, an international consortium of anthropologists, archaeologists, and molecular biologists have formally released an exasperated sigh over the popularity of the so-called “Paleo Diet” during a two-day conference dedicated to the topic.
  •  Technocrats and Big Data:  It was especially interesting to see how this second guy reacted when the single somewhat thoughtful and informed Congressman, whose name I didn’t catch because he came in and left quickly and his name tag was miniscule, asked him about whether or not he taught his students to be skeptical. The guy was like, I teach my students to be ready to deal with big data just like their employers want. The congressman was like, no that’s not what I asked, I asked whether they can be skeptical of perceived signals versus noise, whether they can avoid making huge costly mistakes with big data. The guy was like, I teach my students to deal with big data.
  • Artist Creates Portraits from DNA. Scientists say “That’s Impossible”. But though our genetic privacy may not be safe, our faces probably are.  Dewey-Hagborg’s portraits may rarely resemble the people whose DNA she’s using to generate them. The whole thing — most disturbingly the fact that she’s been contacted by law enforcement officials — shows how ill-prepared we are for dealing not only with what biotech may do in the future, but for what biotech can do now. She needs to work at making her message clearer. 

Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »