Tagged: Science writing

Scientific Misinformation

October 28th, 2010 in Uncategorized 3 comments

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Stuart Hameroff, MD, is an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona. In one of many articles and videos about consciousness on the Huffington Post, Hameroff describes how anesthesia can help explain consciousness.

If the brain produces consciousness (all aspects of the term), then it seems to follow that turning off the brain will also turn off consciousness. This is exactly how anesthetics work.

While most anesthetics are nonselective “dirty” drugs, they all produce loss of consciousness, amnesia, and immobility by either opening inhibitory ion channels or closing excitatory ion channels in neurons. The commonly used intravenous drug propofol, for example, acts by activating GABA receptors, the ubiquitous inhibitory channels in CNS interneurons. Brain off = consciousness off.

Hameroff does not subscribe to this. He argues that consciousness is an intrinsic part of the universe and that anesthetics simply disconnect it from the brain. He also thinks that by saying “quantum” a lot, he can scientifically prove the existence of the soul.

What’s scary is that Hameroff has “MD” and “Professor” next to his name. Will Joe the Plumber see through the misinformation?

Don’t take the HuffPost too seriously:

Consciousness and Anesthesia with Stuart Hameroff

Can Science Explain the Soul?

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Extra extra!!! Storm brewing in espresso shot!

August 4th, 2010 in Uncategorized 0 comments

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The media is always hungry for juicy stories about anything. Topics of interest range from Lindsey Lohan’s latest adventures to the implications of another political ethics violation. The science writers at the New York Times are no exception. Dennis Overbye confessed in an essay yesterday that some writers are so eager to report on sensational findings that they sometimes hype up their stories.

Shocking! Overbye gives an example of one such NYT article, which reported the amazing story that scientists found hints of the elusive and mysterious dark matter in a Minnesota mine. He said the article raised a hysteria, but it eventually left people disappointed when someone cared to report that the amount of dark matter found was not far above amounts found by chance. Dennis Overbye goes on to condemn the internet for spreading rumors, but he fails to note that the original hyped report on dark matter was written by him!

Perhaps our trusted science writers should do a bit more research before they publish their articles. But wait! they need the stories, and they need those stories to be catchy, damnit! Their job isn’t to educate readers on the current state of whatever scientific field; their job is to report the latest findings. They more controversial they are, the better. There’s a new article everyday about how exercise is good for you (or is it bad? I can’t remember anymore) or how prostate or breast exams for cancer have been wrong all these years (don’t worry – they’ll turn out to be right again next week). No wonder Americans are confused about their health.

Individual studies are great, but they have to be taken in context and have to stand the test of time. Most findings in basic science research are small; it’s the knowledge collected over many experiments and years that gives us a big picture of any one field. So the next time you read about “a new study,” take it with a critical grain of salt.

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