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085: Scientists in the Newsroom – The AAAS Mass Media Fellowship feat. Rebekah Corlew

Pick up any newspaper and you’ll find an article summarizing the ‘latest research’ on the health benefits of chocolate, a new treatment for Alzheimers, or the long-term risks of screen time for your toddler.

As a scientist, you probably groan before you reach the end of the title: the claims are extreme, the statistics are dubious, and often, the information a reader should know is buried below the fold.

If you’d like to see science communication reach new levels of accuracy and relevance, it may be time to step away from your lab bench and pick up a pen.

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067: Science Magazine Takes a Teeny, Tiny Step Toward Open Access

If you read the following headline this week, you might have experienced a small thrill:

AAAS Forms Partnership to Expand Access to
High-Quality Scientific Publishing

AAAS, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is the organization that publishes the flagship journal Science Magazine and related titles.  You might believe from that headline that you could now access Science articles for free from anywhere in the world!

You’d be wrong.

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066: Should Scientists March on Washington?

Though techniques and terminology vary from one scientific discipline to another, all scientists are bound together by a set of core principles.

We call this the “scientific method,” and the approach is sacrosanct.

Observe the world around you, state a hypothesis to explain what you’ve seen, devise an experiment to prove yourself wrong, and report your findings so that the next inquisitive mind can build upon your work.

So what happens when an elected official seeks to erode the foundations of scientific inquiry?

Scientists take to the streets.

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Queen Christina and Descartes team up

056: Team Up for Speedier Science – #modernPhD Part 3

When we think of scientists, we often think of the lone researcher plodding away at the bench late into the night.  We imagine Alexander Fleming scrutinizing his penicillium molds or Einstein pondering the latest equation he’s written on the chalk board.

We go a step further when training new scientists: we ask them to complete an ‘independent research project.’  We tacitly perpetuate this notion of the solitary scientist, making her own success or failure.

The side effects of this lone-wolf approach to research are painfully manifest: projects that stall on a single experiment, money wasted teaching everyone the same techniques, and students who burn out due to frustration, lack of direction, or just plain loneliness.

In Part 3 of our goal to modernize the PhD process, we propose a radical 180º turn from the independent project.

Let’s turn science into a team sport.

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blood test

053: Why more testing from Theranos won’t prevent cancer

It’s a compelling promise: take a few drops of blood, and tell the patient what hidden diseases are lurking in his body.  If only we could have an early warning system for cancer, Alzheimer’s, or myriad other diseases, then we could treat them before they took hold.

This is the narrative of Theranos, a company that wants to make medical testing affordable and fast for everyone.  They’ve taken the notion so far that they actually publish a price list for hundreds of tests right on their website.theranos price list

Recently, the company made less favorable headlines when the Wall Street Journal revealed that many of the tests were performed on industry standard equipment, rather than the space-age technology Theranos markets.

The company’s troubles deepened when federal regulators announced plans to revoke the license of one of its lab facilities and to ban CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes from the industry for two years.

But technology and regulations aside, there’s a more fundamental question we should all be asking: is wider access to routine screening a good thing?

The math says no.

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