Daryl Ilbury

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Science under attack – literally

In Eish!, Fools, Science on May 29, 2012 at 11:09 am

An example of ‘creationist thinking’ (which is itself an example of an oxymoron)

I am beginning to get more than a little tired of anti-science hypocrites.

Whether they be religious fundamentalists, eco-fanaticists, or anyone who blames science for our moral evolution, they all share one thing in common: they embrace science, except when it suits them.

Case in point: scientific discovery and the intense rigour of scientific scrutiny and development has helped eradicate smallpox, a virus that used to kill hundreds of thousands of people – mainly children – every year. This is a good thing. However, that same scientific discovery and intense rigour of scientific scrutiny and development has also helped create variations of wheat that are resistant to the pests that destroy crops and cause famine that kills hundreds of thousands of people every year…but this is apparently a bad thing.

Another case in point: radiocarbon dating has been trusted to accurately date manuscripts and articles from ancient history…and yet when it’s used by a team from Oxford University to expose the Turin Shroud as a work of forgery from the Middle Ages, it’s untrusted.

But it doesn’t stop there. Think of the thousands of people who pick up a cellphone, drive a car, go online or fly in a plane to spread their message that science is evil because it counters their belief, all the time blissfully (possibly intentionally) ignorant that science has made that spreading of their message possible.

They don’t think twice about the science behind a cellphone before picking it up to call a talk radio station to complain about scientists; they drive to church forgetting that science is behind every single component of a vehicle (yes, even the nut holding the steering wheel); they tap away anti-science vitriol on their computer and post it on the internet, forgetting that without science they’d still be writing on paper; and they climb on board a plane, trusting science to take them to a conference in another city or country, where they will condemn science behind the genetic modification of staple food.

But most of all…and here’s my favourite…they’ll take advantage of the latest developments in the science of medicine to heal their sick children, then tell those same children (once they’re better, obviously) that scientists are wrong when they say that the earth is older than 6 000 years old…and that is was God, not science, that helped cure them.

They are hypocrites, and dangerous in the fact that they peddle their ignorance wrapped up in blind belief, and justify it through illogical precepts; even though the science they rely on holds the evidence to disprove those same precepts.

They are, however, simply an unfortunate, and uneducated, distraction to the development of science. There’s a splinter group of the anti-science movement that is far more dangerous: anarchists who attack, injure and kill those leading the development of science.

There are few things more scary than people driven by the belief that killing innocent people isn’t a crime, or even worse, that it’s essential for the perpetuation of their own agendas.

Let’s stop, pause, take a breath, examine our world carefully, and respect the benefits of science before cursing it.

Everything gives you cancer, and cures it.

In Eish!, Science on May 21, 2012 at 9:05 am

…er, no, it doesn’t make you live longer

As a science journalist with a social science background I hold a sliver on envy for those colleagues who have degrees in pure science and who write pieces for other scientists to enjoy. It’s like walking into a party, pointing to a budgie in cage, saying loudly “this is an ex-parrot”, hooking up with all the people who laugh, and then spend all evening exchanging Monty Python anecdotes.

One of the biggest challenges for science journalists such as myself –  those who dabble at the interface of science and society – is that every time we write something, we have to win over an audience who may not necessarily be interested in science. We have to do so by writing wonderfully engaging copy and surreptitiously slipping in a little science. It’s like wrapping a pill in bacon so that the dog will eat it.

I have been writing science stories in my columns for the last couple of years in a way that the readers – and my editors – wouldn’t really notice. I feel both excited and dirty with my subterfuge. But every now and then I read something that threatens to blow my cover. And so it was with this past week when the media ran with various aberrations of a study finding that people who regularly drank coffee seemed to have a lower risk of death. “Coffee makes you live longer!” screamed the headlines.

The reality of course is that coffee doesn’t make you live longer. Nothing in the world makes you live longer. A healthy lifestyle will increase the possibility of you not suffering the ill-effects of living an unhealthy lifestyle; but that doesn’t mean that if you eat fresh fruit and vegetables and exercise daily you won’t have a heart attack or stroke.

Stories such as these spin serious scientific research out of control, frustrate scientists, and fuel the belief created in Daily Mail readers that everything gives you cancer, while it’s also a cure for cancer

It also makes make my job to enthuse and educate non-scientists that much more difficult.

If you want a relatively straight-forward explanation of the story in question, click here, but bear in mind that the study shows a measure of correlation, not causality. BIG difference.

How do you tell if a doctor is Jewish?

In Eish!, Science on May 15, 2012 at 11:57 am

How do you tell if a doctor is Jewish?

No, it’s not a joke, it’s a serious question, because it seems to be an issue.

There’s a great article in the New York Times about an exhibition called “Trail of the Magic Bullet: The Jewish Encounter With Modern Medicine, 1860-1960,” and it’s on view at Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan. I can’t get there because I’m busy swotting for a media law exam, but if I could I’d imagine I’d see evidence that has been kept from public view.

As someone who has been brought up within a Western culture with a subtle but unavoidable Christian undercurrent, I have had to search for alternative viewpoints on everything from science to economics. Very little was presented to me that didn’t make Western culture the centre point for advancements in just about everything.

This is not only biased, it is wholly inaccurate. The foundations of the language in which this is written and the mathematics that makes it possible originate not from London, but from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and China.

Similarly, the true history of medicine is only replete when it pays respect to the experimentation philosophies of the ancient Egyptians, the developing evidential methodologies of the medieval Islamic world, and the medicine of the ancient Jews.

However, Western culture would have us believe that modern medicine was founded primarily upon the brilliance of Western science. If there’s any element of truth to that, it’s because for centuries Jews who wanted to study medicine at Western institutions were either prevented from doing so or surreptitiously (often not even) discouraged.

The reason? Because Jews apparently killed Jesus all those years ago. Of course – and here’s the irony – science, the very foundation of medicine, has yet to prove that any Jesus ever existed.

Back to my question: how do you tell if a doctor is Jewish? He’s the one volunteering his services in a Western hospital on Christmas Day.