Daniel Kahneman on criticism within science

If you visit a courtroom you will observe that lawyers apply two styles of criticism: to demolish a case they raise doubts about the strongest arguments that favour it; to discredit a witness, they focus on the weakest part of the testimony. The focus on weaknesses is also normal in political debates. I do not believe it is appropriate in scientific controversies, but I have come to accept as a fact of life that the norms of debate in the social sciences do not prohibit the political style of arguments, especially when large issues are at stake—and the prevalence of bias in human judgment is a larger issue.

—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (p.165)

Revealing the Menopause?

The egg that eventually became you once lay in your grandmother. This giddy fact(oid) happens because, in the womb, women develop all the eggs they will ever use. The supply gradually declines through the years to the point where no more eggs remain, no more children can be sired: menopause.

But why should fertility grind to a halt several decades before the body gives out? Why lose the ability to reproduce? If life is all about making babies and turning them into baby-making machines themselves (speaking biologically, not philosophically), why run out of eggs but carry on living?
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C. diff superbug: “most of us get it and it doesn’t matter”

Clostridium difficile, almost affectionately known as C. diff, is one of the famous ‘hospital superbugs’ along with brethren such as MRSA.

C. diff (Source: Wikipedia)

Previous wisdom held that the spindly, drumstick-shaped bacterium was transmitted around hospitals. This week for BioNews, I cover a study showing that hospitals are linked to fewer than one in five C. diff infections. Most, it may be, come from contact within wider communities, or possibly from animal or food sources.

Study co-author Professor Tim Peto gave a couple of choice quotes to BBC News:

“I think we’re eating [C. diff] all the time, probably from animals, and most of us get it and it doesn’t matter.”

“More and more deep cleaning ain’t going to do any good.”

Read more here.

Sunday Papers: No Prisoners

Darkside, like so much, begins with a scream.

A runaway train barrels down the tracks, bound for the bottom of a lake. In swoops Ethics Man. He pulls a lever, switches the train onto another track, saving a carriage full of people. The train runs over a boy standing on the other track, killing him. Did Ethics Man make the moral choice?
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Sunday Papers: Accounting for Taste

“There are five elements: earth, water, air, fire and garlic,” an old sign hanging in London’s famous Borough Market once said, quoting French chef Louis Diat. Perhaps ancient European hunter-gatherers would have agreed.

Archaeologists recently dug up evidence of spices in fossilised pots from up to 6,100 years ago. Traces of garlic mustard seeds lined the insides of pots at three sites in what are now Denmark and Germany.
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BioNews: Ageing process determined by mum’s DNA

This week in BioNews, I report on a study showing mousy evidence that genetic mutations inherited from mother may speed up ageing.

Mitochondria are powerhouses, batteries, factories. They provide energy to the cells in your body and without them, you die. One of the cool things about these little bean-shaped organelles is that you inherit them from your mother, not your father. Another cool but slightly scarier fact is that their DNA mutates faster than the DNA in the nucleus of a cell. This means your mitochondria can be prone to accumulating damage throughout life, which may in turn contribute to the ageing process.

The researchers in this study found that mice who inherited already-mutated mitochondrial DNA from their mothers aged prematurely compared to other mice. Have a read.