Closing my browser tabs: September 3, 2014

Happy Wednesday! I’ve been home for a few days, getting over jet lag and back into the routine of the semester. I’ll probably do a longer post about China when I have time to download all the photos from the camera. In the meantime here’s a shot of the Bund in Shanghai:



While in China, I accumulated a huge backlog of articles to read, and as I go through them I decided I’d share a few of them with you (I’m thinking of making it a regular feature here).


1. In a series of fascinating posts (beginning with this one), Orac has covered the “CDC MMR whistleblower” conspiracy story involving Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker:

“It began with a paper published in yet another journal I’ve never heard of, Translational Neurodegeneration, and accelerated last night with the release of a video that claims to name a former high ranking CDC official as a “whistleblower” for the finding that the CDC has been “covering up” (of course!) the “truth” that the MMR vaccine causes autism.”


2. Speaking of vaccines, diseases, and conspiracy theories, Liz Lewis brings an anthropological perspective to the question of why we focus more attention on “exotic” diseases (like Ebola) than others (like pertussis):

“There are perhaps few illnesses as exceptional as Ebola, whether in terms of public perception or actual mortality rate if infected, yet the current epidemic reveals much more about mainstream experiences in the U.S. than meets the eye.  In comparison with such domestically encountered illnesses as influenza and, increasingly, pertussis and measles – as deadly as they can be – Ebola is quintessentially Othered.  It condenses fears of contagion and plague with the persistently unchecked post-colonial racism that so often frames discussions of Africa.”


3. How should we refute an argument in an effective way? Maria Popova writes about philosopher Daniel Dennett’s approach:

“How to compose a successful critical commentary:

1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.”


4. Vines from space are cooler than ours. Phil Plait highlights one by astronaut Reid Wiseman

That’s video of a spaceship burning up as seen from above by astronauts on a space station orbiting the Earth.

If you love space, you can follow the NASA astronauts on Twitter for daily mind-blowing photos from the International Space Station. Reid Wiseman is my favorite–he’s just so damn enthusiastic about being up there.


5. I gave you my take on the genetic prehistory of the North American Arctic last weekend, but I also talked about it with National Geographic journalist Heather Pringle in her recent article “Ancient DNA sheds new Light on Arctic’s Earliest People”. I also shared my thoughts with David McNamee from Medical News Today on why scientific literacy is important. Both interviews were while I was in China, which made things interesting!


If you’d like more links, I usually post 1-2 science news articles that I think may be of interest to readers every day on the Violent Metaphors Facebook page, and even more frequently (along with MMA articles) on my personal twitter account.


What sites are lingering in your browser tabs? Post links to them in the comments, if you’d like!


 Note: My guide to reading and understanding a scientific article has been getting a lot of traffic in the last few days, probably because it’s the beginning of the semester. It turns out that quite a few university courses have adopted it for their students! To make things easier, I’ve written a short PDF version of the post, which I’m happy to share with anyone who requests it. I’ll eventually figure out how to host the document itself here for direct download, but in the meantime you can get a copy by emailing me at jenniferraff (at) utexas (dot) edu.

10 thoughts on “Closing my browser tabs: September 3, 2014

  1. David Crowe September 3, 2014 / 12:04 pm

    Jennifer, what is your opinion of Thompson’s statement, released through his lawyer’s office, especially this: “STATEMENT OF WILLIAM W. THOMPSON, Ph.D., REGARDING THE 2004 ARTICLE EXAMINING THE POSSIBILITY OF A RELATIONSHIP  BETWEEN  MMR VACCINE AND AUTISM
    My name is William Thompson.  I am a Senior Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where I have worked since 1998.
    I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information  in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased  risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed…”

    • Jennifer Raff September 3, 2014 / 4:14 pm

      I haven’t finished reading all the discussions of the issue yet, since the story broke while I was in China. So I’m not sure. What do you make of his statement in the next paragraph?

      “I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race.”

      And later about Brian Hooker: “I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.”

  2. JerryA September 3, 2014 / 8:42 pm

    May I suggest that you put a reference to your guide to reading scientific papers on your CV? While it is self-published, I think it is at least the equal of a textbook chapter or an article in an educational journal. The teachers assigning your writing seem to think so. (When I wrote a research project website for a class, my boss liked it so much he made it a part of our lab website, so I put that on my CV.)

    • Jennifer Raff September 4, 2014 / 12:24 pm

      It’s a good suggestion! I’ll have to think about how to label it.

  3. BDNf (@cynocephale) September 4, 2014 / 11:19 am

    “What sites are lingering in your browser tabs? Post links to them in the comments, if you’d like!”: be careful what you wish for, I’ve got several hundreds of them… 😉

    • Jennifer Raff September 4, 2014 / 12:22 pm

      Give us 3-5 of the most interesting!!! 🙂

    • Chris September 4, 2014 / 7:50 pm

      It looks like he wrote that years ago, though that does not diminish the essay. I was just struck by the list of blogs on the upper right hand side. All but a few are either gone or have gone dormant. The Neurodiversity blog is still accessible through the Wayback machine, but not the Autism Diva. I really miss her snark.

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