The Lost City that isn’t.

Scrutiny.
Scrutiny.

 

“La Ciudad Blanca” (“the White City”) is a legendary “lost” city, deep in the rain forests of the Mosquitia region of eastern Honduras. Charles Lindbergh reportedly spotted it from the air in one of his excursions and explorer Theodore Morde supposedly found the “City of the Monkey God,” which some have speculated to be Ciudad Blanca, in the same approximate region in 1939. However, Morde died without passing on the location of his supposed find, so his story was not verified. Nevertheless, interest in the legend of Ciudad Blanca has remained high among the public and the popular media. Numerous subsequent expeditions have gone in search of this lost city, all to no avail.

But according to Douglas Preston (yes, THAT Douglas Preston) in an article for National Geographic published in March, the legend of Ciudad Blanca has been vindicated and the “lost city” is lost no more.

“An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture’s lost city, never before explored. The team was led to the remote, uninhabited region by long-standing rumors that it was the site of a storied ’White City,’ also referred to in legend as the ‘City of the Monkey God.’”

 

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I live only 2 hours from the Ebola hospital in Dallas. Here’s what I’m doing to protect my family.

We Americans sometimes seem to have only two settings when it comes to public health issues;  “unconcern” and “panic”. (I think the media deserve a great deal of blame for this, but that’s another blog post).  The last few weeks have seen the switch flipped to near panic about Ebola, after the recent infection of two Texas Health Presbyterian nurses who were treating infected patient Thomas Eric Duncan, and possible exposure of additional people after one of the nurses took a commercial flight.  The fact that forty three individuals who had direct contact with Mr. Duncan have now passed the 21 day incubation period for the disease without signs of infection, that Senegal has been declared free from Ebola (no new infections have occurred there for 42 days), that Nigeria is close to the same milestone, and that the two nurses who treated Mr. Duncan, Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, are doing much better, don’t seem to make much of a dent in the fearmongering I’ve seen in recent weeks.

And now with the report that a physician with Doctors Without Borders, who recently returned to his home in New York City from West Africa, has tested positive without Ebola, the “Ebola panic” is just going to get worse.

So given the fact that I live so close to the “Ebola hospital” (just two hours!) I thought I’d share with my readers what precautions I’m taking to protect my family’s health. Continue reading

Problematic science journalism: Native American ancestry and the Solutrean hypothesis

This is the second post in a series discussing the recent publication of a 12,500 year old genome from Montana. You can find the first post here.

In the weeks following the publication of the complete genome from a Clovis child, there’s been a lot of press coverage of this study and its possible implications. I want to discuss a bit of the media coverage on this subject, since it raises issues that I think science journalists need to consider more carefully.

First of all, to recap the major findings of the original study (discussed in more detail at the link above):
1. Anzick-1, the 12,500 year old Clovis child whose genome Rasmussen and colleagues sequenced, is very closely related to living and ancient Native Americans.
2. Anzick-1 is more closely related to Siberians than other Eurasian groups.
3. Anzick-1 is more closely related to Central and South American Native American groups than to some North American groups.
4. The results from Anzick-1’s genome fit with the scientific consensus about the peopling of the Americas. This consensus encompasses the results of decades of archaeological, genetic, and paleoclimate research.

Unfortunately, several press reports chose to find controversy in a decidedly non-controversial story by giving undue weight to problematic “alternative” explanations of Native American origins, including the Solutrean hypothesis, and other “European contributions” to Native American ancestry.

140214_NEWSCI_NativeAmeGenome.jpg.CROP.promovar-medium2
Clovis tools from the Anzick site. From Rasmussen et al. 2014.

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Katie Couric’s irresponsible and misleading “Conversation” on the HPV vaccine

This afternoon Ms. Couric’s show “Katie” featured the “HPV Vaccine Controversy” as part of its “Big Conversation”. The segment focused mainly on the vaccine Gardasil, which is administered to girls and boys around the age of 11, in an effort to immunize them against HPV before they become sexually active and likely to contract the virus.

Although Couric herself claims that she is personally “not anti-vaccine”, her show was extremely biased against the scientific consensus. She kept referring to the vaccine as “controversial” when there are no legitimate scientific studies showing it to be dangerous. I’m used to getting upset at journalists who give false equivalency between the scientific consensus on an issue on the one hand and a fringe belief on the other. But this was beyond the pale; Couric’s program didn’t even aspire to that “balance”.

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Why aren’t there more women in science?

You may wonder why there aren’t more women in science.

But when women in some countries have to fight tooth and nail for the right to a basic education

When male undergraduate students are more likely than equally qualified female counterparts to be offered mentoring and research opportunities…

When scientific articles with female lead authors are reviewed more poorly than those headed by male authors…

When there are no structures in place in many universities that allow women to start a family and continue on an academic path…

When universities are more likely to hire a man than a woman (despite equal qualifications) for a faculty position….

When an accomplished science writer who refuses to work for free is called an “urban whore”

When representations of scientists in the popular media are largely limited to men…with women usually relegated to supporting roles,and required to be physically attractive to be present at all

When even  our interpretations of data can be strongly gender biased…

…you may still be wondering. But I’m not. I’m living it. Continue reading