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This Week in Science 2018–02–14


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/02/14

Ad hominem arguments — attacking a person to disprove his or her claims — is considered a logical fallacy. But a new study published in PLOS One suggests that some ad hominem attacks can effectively erode people’s trust in scientific claims.

The research found that attacking the motives of scientists undermines the belief in a scientific claim just as much as attacking the science itself.

“Some people think ‘big pharma’ is responsible for a lot of pills that do nothing. Others think that major pharmaceutical companies produce a lot of safe and effective medicines. Some people distrust vaccines, while others place a great deal of trust in them. Some people accept human forced global warming, and others think it is a hoax,” said study author Ralph Barnes, an assistant professor of psychology at Montana State University.”


“It was 1997 and Dr. Steffanie Strathdee had just won a young investigators award for her research on Vancouver’s needle exchange program. The program was supposed to help reduce disease.

But Strathdee’s study found that HIV had instead become more prevalent in Vancouver since the introduction of the program. Her research team concluded their “results don’t argue against the overall effectiveness of needle exchange programs,” rather such programs can’t operate in a vacuum. Other resources, like accessible housing and addiction treatment, must also be accessible to keep HIV prevalence low.

But a lot of the media (specifically in the United States, according to Strathdee) got it all wrong. Stories about the uselessness of needle exchange programs flooded the papers. In 1999, the U.S. Congress even cited her study as a reason to keep a ban on needle exchanges in place.”


“Obviously travelling at warp speed isn’t a natural state of existence for most terrestrial organisms, but we never knew just how harmful the effects of maximum warp velocities could be on human beings — until now.

A new study published — yes, published — in an ‘American’ science journal (and accepted by three others) details how an experimental attempt to cross the transwarp barrier and achieve Warp 10 can have devastating and unforeseen consequences on human physiology. Wait… what?

Okay, if you’ve gotten the sense that something might be amiss with this purported science experiment, congratulations: you’re already doing better than the editors of the American Research Journal of Biosciences.”


“The Liberal government will release its federal budget on Feb. 27, with the major themes expected to be gender equality and science.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the date in Question Period on Tuesday, saying his government has made improvements to the lives of middle-class Canadians, “but there is more work to do.”

The budget is expected to include funding for pay-equity legislation for employees in the federal government and federally regulated sectors, as well as measures to encourage the participation of women in the workforce, in leadership roles and in science, a government source told The Globe and Mail.”


“Confusion reigned on 12 February, as US President Donald Trump released his budget request for the 2019 fiscal year.

Just four days earlier, the Congress had lifted mandatory caps on government spending, sending the Trump administration scrambling at the last minute to revise its budget proposal. The White House abandoned its original plan to seek a 27% funding cut for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a 29% decrease for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a 22% reduction for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, holding their funding steady. But the details of Trump’s vision for many agencies remain fuzzy, frustrating science advocates.

“The big headline is that at the eleventh hour, [the White House] backed away from their intention of dramatically scaling back on basic research,” says Matt Hourihan, director of the research and development budget and policy programme at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. But science agencies aren’t out of the woods yet, he warns. Even in a budget that seems to support basic science, “they’re still going after programmes, like environmental programmes, that they believe fall outside the purview of government”, Hourihan says.”


“An all-female freshwater fish species called the Amazon molly that inhabits rivers and creeks along the Texas-Mexico border is living proof that sexual reproduction may be vastly over-rated.

Scientists have said they deciphered the genome of the Amazon molly, one of the few vertebrate species to rely upon asexual reproduction, and discovered that it had none of the genetic flaws, such as an accumulation of harmful mutations or a lack of genetic diversity, they had expected.

They found that the Amazon molly, named after the fierce female warriors of ancient Greek mythology, boasts a hardy genetic makeup that makes it equally fit, or even more so, than fish using sexual reproduction in which both maternal and paternal genes are passed along to offspring.”


“In the “Star Trek” universe, the fantastic speed of warp 10 has remained annoyingly out of reach. However, a recent paper in an open-access journal describes an experiment that attempted to break that boundary.

The fact that the “experiment” described in the paper wasn’t conducted in a real-world laboratory, but in an episode of the sci-fi TV series “Star Trek: Voyager,” reveals just how easy it is to publish fake science in some so-called “predatory journals.”

The paper’s author, a biologist for 30 years and a fan of “Star Trek,” wrote up a research paper based on the “Voyager” episode. He submitted it to 10 open-access journals known or suspected of charging authors publication fees without providing the editorial services associated with legitimate journals, such as careful peer review and vetting of the paper’s claims. Four accepted it, though only one, the American Research Journal of Biosciences, published the paper.”


“Science is in Canberra this week, and yet we have no minister for science.

No science minister, on a background of Australia’s complex recent history of affiliating the science portfolio with a range of other ministries.

One interpretation is that successive federal governments struggle to see where science fits in our nations’s operations and future. Perhaps it remains unclear for politicians to see how best to link science with other activities, how to fund it, and how to successfully harness science for economic and other benefits.”


“There’s a planet just next door that could explain the origins of life in the universe. It was probably once covered in oceans (SN Online: 8/1/17). It may have been habitable for billions of years (SN Online: 8/26/16). Astronomers are desperate to land spacecraft there.

No, not Mars. That tantalizing planet is Venus. But despite all its appeal, Venus is one of the hardest places in the solar system to get to know. That’s partly because modern Venus is famously hellish, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead and choking clouds of sulfuric acid.

“If you wanted sinners to fry in their own juice, Venus would be the place to send them,” V. S. Avduevsky, deputy director of the Soviet Union’s spaceflight control center, said in 1976 after his country’s Venera 9 and 10 landers returned their dismal view of the planet’s landscape (SN: 6/19/76, p. 388).”


“Climate change denial has been led by industry disinformation, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “false information deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”

A crime against humanity is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”

A brief look at the origins of denialism

In 2010, a landmark book, Merchants of Doubt, showed how a small group of prominent scientists with connections to politics and industry led disinformation campaigns denying established scientific knowledge about smoking, acid rain, DDT, the ozone layer and global warming.”



In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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