Podcast: DEET, Mesquite, and Mutant Mosquitoes

Why do some mosquitoes bite us? How do mosquitoes spread disease? What can we do to prevent getting "eaten alive?" Scientists Matt DeGennaro, Lindy McBride, and Emily Dennis from the Vosshall Lab of Neurogenetics and Behavior at Rockefeller discuss their latest research on Aedes aegypti -- the mosquito that carries Dengue and yellow fever. We talk about the importance of a specific gene called ORCO (Odorant Receptor Co-receptor), and it's role in human host seeking. This episode also includes a Behind the Buzz segment by Gabrielle Rabinowitz, who discusses gene patenting, and what it means for society. Further Reading: Mosquitoes Mutant Mosquito Solves Mysteries of Attraction and Repulsion orco mutant mosquitoes lose strong preference for humans and are not repelled by volatile DEET (paywall) A Mosquito That Won’t Ruin a Barbecue Behind the Buzz What The Ruling on Gene Patenting Means Gene Patenting — The Supreme Court Finally Speaks Intellectual Property and Genomics

5 Steps to Separate Science from Hype, No PhD Required

By Gabrielle Rabinowitz and Emily Jane Dennis   “Does flossing decrease my risk of heart disease?” No, but is it good for you? Yes. “Does aluminum cause Alzheimers?” Nope. “Should I start following the Paleo Diet?” Probably not & paleolithic people probably didn’t either. As scientists, we’re asked these sorts of questions all the time. Although we’re trained to evaluate scientific ideas, it definitely doesn’t take a PhD to judge the latest craze or newest finding. To do it yourself, follow these 5 steps:   1. Separate the sales pitch from the science Almost everyone is trying to sell something. In articles about science, the sales pitch is usually right in the headline. The science is harder to find. Start by looking for a quote from a scientist. Read the quote but ignore the spin the author put on it. Don’t forget that scientists can have biases too: be skeptical of scientists who don’t acknowledge the limitations of their research and fail to present alternate explanations. Also, check to see who’s funding the research- they might have an agenda too! In short, read articles carefully and figure out if the claims they make are based on the facts they present.   2.

A 3 Billion Dollar Mistake: Why the American government should think twice about a Brain Activity Map (BAM)

Update: The United States government has released more information about the specifics of their brain mapping project, now called the BRAIN Initiative. I break down the details and discuss the pros and cons here. White matter fibers in a human brain imaged by diffusion spectrum imaging. (Copyright Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA and Randy Buckner, PhD. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, MGH.)   By Gabrielle Rabinowitz, @GabrielleRab In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama praised American scientists for developing drugs, engineering new materials, and “mapping the human brain.” This scientific shout out was not just a pat on the back for American researchers. Rather, it was a veiled reference to a new multi-billion dollar research initiative planned by the Obama administration and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). So what is this plan? As the director of the NIH, Francis S. Collins tweeted: Obama mentions the #NIH Brain Activity Map in #SOTU — Francis S. Collins (@NIHDirector) February 13, 2013 The Brain Activity Map (BAM) is a project that will bring together federal agencies, neuroscientists, and private research foundations to create a functional map of every connection in the human brain - numbering in hundreds

Sensationalism in Science, Part II

By Gabrielle Rabinowitz, @GabrielleRab In Part I of this post I explained the harm that can result from over-hyped science reporting. But what if scientists’ own enthusiasm for their work is what sparks the hype? As Rob O’ Sullivan of Dar-winning pointed out in a comment on Part I, scientists in poorly funded fields sometimes rely on hype to raise funds. As science funding is increasingly threatened by federal cutbacks, scientists need to reach out to the public to explain why their research is exciting and important. As we reach out, we need to be careful that our sincere enthusiasm doesn’t feed the hype machine. Every scientist needs to consider the consequences of their words. Hype on Mars No one knows better about shrinking funds and the need to excite the public than NASA. I’ve already mentioned the “arsenic life” incident of 2010, where NASA scientists did nothing to stop the overexcited press from exaggerating their findings. Last November a much more cautious NASA research team unwittingly let their enthusiasm become the source of hype. The senior scientist from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, John Grotzinger, told NPR that he and his team had discovered something in a soil sample from Curiosity that was “gonna be one

Sensationalism in Science, Part I

By Gabrielle Rabinowitz Image credit: Zach Weiner (SMBC) “NASA Discovers Alien Life”  “Doctors Talk to Vegetative Patient Through Brain Scans”  “Sleep Apnea Tied to Increased Cancer Risk” The world according to popular science headlines is a pretty crazy place. Miraculous cures and surprising causes for all of our ailments can be found in a bite of chocolate. Everything we knew about something is wrong. And NASA has confirmed either the existence of aliens or a world-engulfing black hole. Of course, these are just sensational blurbs intended to grab your attention. Surely the real science can be found after the jump… And yet more often than not, the articles themselves are mere jumbles of over-hyped conclusions, out of context quotes, and clichés. But where do these headlines come from? Buried under all the hype, there is an actual scientific study. This source may not even be cited in the article, but it is out there. It presents evidence for a new discovery, or a new way of thinking about some, often small, aspect of our world. Eventually, the data presented in that study will be reanalyzed, critiqued, revised, and applied to advances in health or technology. But that process