OSS Blog

Nutella: good or bad?

Recent posts from our Blog - Wed, 01/18/2017 - 14:31
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Turning White Wine into Red

Recent posts from our Blog - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 11:49
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Anesthesia

Recent posts from our Blog - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 15:44
In 1853 the Queen’s personal physician, Dr. John Snow dripped an ounce of chloroform on a handkerchief which was then held next to the royal mouth as Prince Leopold was delivered.  Her Majesty was very happy with the experience and endorsed the use of chloroform.  Many women followed suit, sometimes even naming their newborn children “Anesthesia.”
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You Asked: What are “oxo-biodegradable plastic” shopping bags?

Recent posts from our Blog - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 14:52

Polyethylene shopping bags are a big convenience but they also present a big problem. While they can be recycled, many just get carelessly discarded and end up in the environment not only as an eyesore but as a danger to wildlife. Estimates are that only about 3% of plastics that can be recycled actually are. Polyethylene does not degrade easily in the environment and the bags can end up as pollutants for decades. Some clever chemistry can, however, help the situation.

If certain salts of iron, manganese, nickel or cobalt are incorporated into the polyethylene, polypropylene or polystyrenene molecular chains during manufacture, they will catalyze the breakdown of the polymers. But the breakdown requires the presence of oxygen because the mechanism of the degradation involves “oxidation,” which means forming bonds between some of the carbon atoms in the polymer and oxygen atoms supplied by oxygen in the atmosphere. Exposure to ultraviolet light speeds up the reaction

Once the chain has been “oxidized,” the bonds between the oxygen bearing carbons and their neighbours are significantly weakened and begin to break apart. The resulting short chains are then biodegraded by microbes basically to carbon dioxide and water. Depending on the extent of UV and oxygen exposure, and ambient temperature, oxo-biodegradable plastics visually disappear in as little as two months, although the process can take up to a year and a half. These bags will not degrade in a landfill and therefore will not generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. They cannot be composted, but they can be recycled just like other polyethylene bags. The big advantage is a reduction in all those bags that end up fluttering from trees or floating in the ocean. Of course, until the plastic breaks down, it can still pose a risk to wildlife but there is no doubt that the oxo-biodegradable plastic is preferable to the conventional variety in terms of impact on the environment.

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Linus Pauling: One of Dr. Joe’s Heroes

Recent posts from our Blog - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 11:06
Click the image below to watch the video!  
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Extracting the Goods

Recent posts from our Blog - Fri, 12/16/2016 - 11:25
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How Chocolate Won the War

Recent posts from our Blog - Fri, 12/16/2016 - 10:54
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Magical Nonsense

Recent posts from our Blog - Wed, 12/14/2016 - 23:51
Dr. Joe Schwarcz: Cancer-cure ‘magicians’ prey on the desperate
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The “Real” Rubber Duckie

Recent posts from our Blog - Mon, 12/12/2016 - 11:28
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The Right Chemistry: The thermite reaction can be used in tools or weapons

Recent posts from our Blog - Mon, 12/12/2016 - 11:22
The place was Edinburgh, Scotland. The occasion, the Edinburgh Science Festival. There were a number of captivating presentations, but my biggest thrill came from looking out the hotel window. A light rail track was being constructed just outside and the workers were busy welding. My eyes popped when I saw what they were doing. I was looking at a live thermite reaction! I had talked about this reaction in class on numerous occasions and marvelled on it in videos, but had always deemed it too dangerous to perform. A chemical reaction that produces heat is said to be “exothermic.” The most common example would be the combustion of a fuel. Light a candle and you can feel the heat that is produced. The hottest part of a flame, where the colour is a light blue, can reach a temperature of about 1400 degrees Celsius. But that is a low temperature compared to the 2500 degrees produced by the “thermite” reaction between aluminum and iron oxide. Essentially, this reaction involves the transfer of oxygen from the iron oxide to aluminum to yield aluminum oxide and metallic iron. At this high temperature, the iron is in its molten form and sets fire to any combustible material in its path, making the thermite reaction ideal for use not only in welding, but also in incendiary bombs and grenades. Back in 1893, German chemist Hans Goldschmidt was looking for a way to produce pure metals from their ores. The classic method for extracting iron relies on heating iron oxide ore with carbon. The carbon is converted to carbon dioxide as it strips oxygen from the iron, leaving behind metallic iron. Some unreacted carbon, however, tends to contaminate the iron. Goldschmidt was looking for a way to produce iron without the use of carbon and hit upon the reaction of iron oxide with aluminum. He was impressed by the remarkable amount of heat produced and suggested that the reaction he had discovered could be used for welding. In 1899, the thermite reaction was put to a commercial use for the first time, welding tram tracks in the city of Essen. It didn’t take long for the military to realize the potential of this extreme exothermic reaction in warfare. In 1915, the Germans terrorized England by using Zeppelins to drop incendiary bombs based on the thermite reaction. By the Second World War, the battle was on not only between Allied and German armed forces, but also between their scientists and engineers who sought to produce more effective incendiary devices. The Germans came up with the “Elektron” bomb, named after Elektron, an alloy composed of 86 per cent magnesium, 13 per cent aluminum and 1 per cent copper that was used for the casing of the bomb. This alloy burns with a very hot flame, but requires a high temperature for ignition. The thermite reaction was up to the task. When an Elektron bomb hit the ground, a small percussion charge of gunpowder ignited a priming mixture of finely powdered magnesium and barium peroxide. This reaction produced the heat needed to ignite the thermite mix of aluminum and iron oxide, which in turn ignited the highly combustible casing. The Allies developed similar types of bombs resulting in the most destructive air raid in history, which was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but the firebomb raid on Tokyo in March 1945. An Allied bombing of Dresden the same year with incendiary bombs virtually destroyed the whole city. During the Second World War, the Allies dropped some 30 million 4-pound thermite bombs on Germany and another 10 million on Japan. Thermite hand grenades were also used during the war to disable artillery pieces without the need for an explosive charge, very useful when silence was necessary to an operation. This involved inserting a thermite grenade into the breech of a weapon and then quickly closing it. The great heat produced by the thermite reaction welded the breech shut and made loading the weapon impossible. Alternatively, a thermite grenade was discharged inside the barrel of an artillery piece making it useless. During the Vietnam war, thermite grenades found a different use. From the start of hostilities, putting a crimp into the enemy’s food supply was part of the U.S. military strategy. Since rice was a staple for the Viet Cong, destroying rice paddies was a primary goal. At first, attempts were made to blow up rice stocks and destroy paddies with hand grenades and mortars, but this proved to be maddeningly difficult. The next idea was to burn the rice paddies with thermite grenades. All this did was scatter the rice grains, which could then still be harvested. Another approach was needed. Enter “Agent Blue,” an arsenic-based herbicide, unrelated chemically to the more infamous Agent Orange. Agent Blue affects plants by causing them to dry out, and as rice is highly dependent on water, spraying Agent Blue on rice paddies can destroy an entire field and leave it unsuitable for further planting. The U.S. used some 20 million gallons of Agent Blue during the Vietnam war, destroying thousands of acres of agricultural fields and defoliating wooded areas that the Viet Cong used to ambush American troops. Recently, the thermite reaction made the news in a different context. Conspiracy theorists purport that it was thermite explosives planted inside the World Trade Center that brought down the twin towers in a CIA coordinated plot. They also maintain that the moon landing was faked and that the U.S. government is hiding the bodies of aliens. Some also claim that the rise of Donald Trump was engineered by a Democratic conspiracy and that on the verge of being elected he will announce “fooled you.” Wouldn’t that be something? It would trump the thermite reaction for heat generated. Dr. Joe Schwarcz
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The Grapefruit Effect

Recent posts from our Blog - Mon, 12/12/2016 - 10:52
If you’re on medications you might just want to skip the grapefruit with breakfast. Compounds in grapefruit inhibit enzymes (namely SYP3A4) in the small intestine that work to metabolize drugs. Without action of this enzyme, more of a drug is absorbed into the blood stream instead of being broken down, which can lead to an overdose. Other compounds found in grapefruit can inhibit drug transporters, which would normally help to absorb drugs into the bloodstream, leading to reduced doses of medications. These compounds are also found in Seville oranges (the oranges usually used for marmalade) and tangelos, so be sure to ask your doctor about the safety of your next citrus snack!
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You Asked: Why do they spray wax on apples?

Recent posts from our Blog - Sat, 12/03/2016 - 01:35

Pick an apple off a tree, buff it a little and it will shine! That’s because the fruit is coated with a layer of natural wax that protects it from drying out and helps to prevent fungi from getting a foothold. The wax is a mixture of up to fifty different compounds, most of which fall into the chemical category known as esters. There are also alcohols like heptacosanol and malol as well as hydrocarbons such as triacontane, C30H62. This compound can also be isolated from petroleum and is sometimes applied to fruit to supplement its natural wax. In that case chemophobes kick and scream about a petroleum derivative being applied to their fruit but there is no difference between triacontane produced by an apple isolated from petroleum.

Natural wax also contains compounds in the triterpenoid family. Ursolic acid has a variety of biochemical effects that have been demonstrated in laboratory experiments. For example, it can inhibit the proliferation of various cancer cells and also has weak aromatase inhibitor activity. Aromatase is an enzyme that leads to the synthesis of estradiol, the body’s main estrogen that is implicated in some cancers. This of course does not mean that the amount of ursolic acid in the peel of an apple can have a beneficial effect on human health, but it is at least another plus for eating apples.

After apples are picked they are washed before they appear in the supermarket to remove dirt and chemical residues. This process also removes the wax. Since the waxy layer prevents moisture in the apple from escaping, its loss shortens the storage time for the fruit. Producers therefore spray the fruit with a thin layer of wax to prevent such moisture loss as well as to make the apple look more appealing. The applied layer is very thin, only about 3 mg of wax coat an apple.

Several different types of wax are used, mostly Carnauba wax that comes from the leaves of the Brazilian palm, Candelia wax from a dessert plant, as well as food grade shellac from the Indian lac bug. There are also some synthetic esters made by combining sucrose with fatty acids. Polyethylene, the same plastic used to make disposable shopping bags can also be applied in a very thin layer. Interestingly, this can be termed as being vegan because it is made from ethylene which in turn is made from ethanol that is produced by the fermentation of corn. A trace of an emulsifier morpholine oleate is added to allow the wax to be spread in a thin layer. Some concerns have been raised that the wax seals in pesticide residues that cannot be removed by washing but studies have shown that the prior washing removes most traces of pesticide residues. As far as the wax itself goes, it presents no health issue since it is not absorbed and passes right through the digestive system. Wax coatings can also be used on organic produce with the proviso that they must come from a natural source like beeswax or Carnauba wax or wood resin. While there is no worry about eating the wax on fruits, they should be well washed mostly to remove bacteria that may have stuck to the surface.

A video has been circulating in which boiling water is poured over an apple resulting in the formation of white splotches as a voice drones on warning people not to eat waxed apples because of the pesticide residues. The message is that the boiling water reveals the pesticide residues. That is not the case. The heat cracks the wax coating allowing air to enter between the wax and the skin of the apple resulting in white patches due to the way the air pockets reflect light.

It is not just apples that are waxed. Citrus fruits, rutabagas, cucumbers, many tomatoes, melons and peppers also are treated with wax. Even jellybeans are coated with beeswax to prevent them from drying out and to increase their appeal.

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What do your social media posts say about you?

Recent posts from our Blog - Tue, 11/22/2016 - 11:24

We are certainly well aware that whatever we post on social media has an affect on the way people perceive us. But imagine if the type, frequency and even grammar of our posts could affect the services we receive? Imagine if every key strike impacted the type of insurance you receive? Well this actually happened. Last week. Well, fine, it almost happened but the fact that we were almost there is crazy enough. Admiral Insurance, a company based out of the UK, announced the launch of “firstcarquote”, a service offered to people who were buying or driving their first car. And how would the rates be calculated? By looking at these people’s Facebook profiles, that’s how. A profile with a post consisting of lists and/or short sentences served to indicate that the particular individual was conscientious and therefore assumed to be a safer driver. Needless to say, this plan never launched due to an outcry from Facebook users. (Most probably, Facebook users whose posts largely consisted of many an exclamation point, thereby making these individuals appear “overconfident”, according to “firstcarquote” standards).

I now can’t help but wonder…

  1. How
  2. Would
  3. I
  4. Score?
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Naturally Trained, Medical Pains

Recent posts from our Blog - Tue, 11/15/2016 - 00:34

The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors has recently produced several television ads featuring Naturopathic doctors sporting white lab coats and stethoscopes highlighting their apparent medical training. “True or false? Naturopathic doctors are medically trained. Of course we are. I’m a naturopathic doctor,” responds Dr. Jennifer Forgeron, as her name, along with the dubious title “ND” appear next to her on screen. Other commercials attempt to dispel the notion that Naturopathic Doctors aren’t regulated, as small text in the corner of the screen subtly notes that ND’s are currently only regulated in five provinces. The screen then fades to the slogan “Medically Trained. Naturally Focused. ™” Just like their medical training, the validity of these television spots should be seriously questioned.

While the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), one of the two accredited Naturopathic schools in Canada provides some refreshing clarity on the pre-requisite basic sciences courses, as well as medical science-based courses in the ND curriculum as far as the names of the courses go, there is a depressing drop off in information subsequently. For example, the CCNM course description for Embryology lists the following only, “Basic principles and mechanisms of human development from conception to shortly after birth are discussed. The normal development of each of the body's systems is reviewed, and examples of how abnormal development may occur are given.” No suggested texts are offered, or qualifications of the professors are included. Compounding the concern, it is immediately striking to see that courses such as “Homeopathic Medicine I” and “Massage/Hydrotherapy” are taught alongside these more legitimate courses.

Perhaps as confusing as the slogan CAND has adopted, is the near-ubiquitous association Naturopaths have with the stethoscope. If there was one instrument that isn’t more intimately tied to a doctor, I am not aware of it. A survey of the CCNM course list shows courses such as “Physical and Clinical Diagnosis Practicum I” which offers “competence in taking a patient history and performing a physical examination efficiently and accurately…the skills necessary to conduct a thorough systems-based physical examination, interpret physical findings, elicit a complete medical history, and document the information appropriately.” This would imply training in the use of a stethoscope under the supervision of a Naturopath preceptor, which raises the concern on whether students are being taught to use the device correctly, and more importantly, what conditions are being taught to diagnose. It is difficult to make a sweeping statement about a Naturopath’s proficiency with a stethoscope, but one thing is certain – they are not cardiologists.

The ultimate demonstration of proficiency however, is successfully passing an accreditation exam. One would suspect that in order to boast about being “medically trained,” an aspiring ND should have to complete the same medical licensing exams as a Medical Doctor. This is not the case – not by a long shot. The Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX), while similar in structure to the American USMLE and Canadian LMCC exams are fundamentally different exams. The NPLEX is consistently shorter than the LMCC and USMLE in terms of questions asked and time allotted to write, notwithstanding that it has the additional burden to testing Naturopathic in addition to the Medical content. I wonder how Naturopaths would fare writing the USMLE…

Most concerning about these videos is the underlying message that a Naturopath is sufficient on their own to treat a health issue. The saddening events surrounding the death of Ezekiel Stephan from meningitis after being misdiagnosed and treated with echinacea instead of antibiotics by a Naturopathic doctor is a reminder of the harm those claiming to have a medical training can do. Meningitis is a diagnosis that fundamentally cannot be missed, and one that is taught to medical students early on and repeatedly throughout their training.

Allopathic, or medically-trained doctors are certainly not immaculate when put under the spotlight either. It would be foolish to not suggest that some MD’s have abused their training in similar ways to ND’s, or failed to treat serious medical issues to a reasonable standard. The separation lies with the fact that medicine is a science that subjects itself to the dominion of evidence over all else. What can be proved to not be effective is discarded from the arsenal of medical science, a concept quite the contrary to naturopathy, which makes a nest from the discarded scraps of evidence-based medicine, and then calls it “alternative.”

No doubt, these videos by the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors have been produced reflexively to the increasing public and media attention they have received after cases like Ezekiel Stephan. They insidiously mask that beneath the stethoscope-wielding, white-coated pseudophysician lies an organization in turmoil, struggling to increase their legitimacy and breadth of care, paying little attention to the training they provide and even less to the impact they will have.

One has to wonder then, when a Naturopathic doctor asserts to you that they are medically trained, will they point to a poster in their office, written in small hardly visible text, listing the terms and conditions?

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Lyrics that convey scientific truths

Recent posts from our Blog - Fri, 11/04/2016 - 04:02

Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews, was a big hit for Disney studios in 1964. The film was a musicalized version of the children’s books about a magical English nanny written between 1934 and 1988 by P.L. Travers. The movie featured a number of songs written by Robert and Richard Sherman including the catchy tune sung by Andrews with the line, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

The idea for the lyrics came from a real life situation. Robert Sherman was working on ideas for a song but was drawing a blank until one day he came home and learned from his wife that his children had received a polio vaccine. Thinking that the vaccine had been a shot in the arm, he asked one of his children whether it had hurt. Not at all, the child replied. There had been no jab. A drop of liquid was placed on a sugar cube that had to be swallowed. At that moment the title for the song was born!

The oral vaccine that the Sherman children received had been developed by Albert Sabin and was introduced commercially in 1961. It used a weakened form of the polio virus that triggered the production of antibodies against the active virus. The oral version to a large extent replaced the original injectable vaccine introduced in 1955 by Jonas Salk based on an inactivated form of the virus. Thanks to these vaccines, polio has been largely eliminated from the world.

Of course, every sort of medical intervention is associated with some risk. In very rare cases, the vaccine can cause polio symptoms, but the benefits greatly outweigh any risk. Both vaccines are on the World Health Organization’s Model Lists of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system. Had the vaccine been available earlier, U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt would not have contracted polio in 1921.

The spoonful of sugar in combination with a medicine may have an impact other than just pleasing our musical appetite. It seems that infants given a little bit of a sugar solution feel less pain during injections. British pediatrician Paul Heaton found that a few drops of sucrose solution put on their tongues before an injection was capable of blocking the pain felt in their arms or bottoms. He theorizes that: “The sweet taste works through nerve channels in the tongue that perceive sweetness in the brain.” The brain reacts by producing endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers. Furthermore, in babies, sucking releases endocannabinoids that also alleviate pain. Heaton noted that once babies taste the solution, they cried less and recovered more quickly from the jab. He recommends giving babies just enough sugary solution to taste, but not enough to swallow before vaccination. Interestingly, the relationship between sweets and pain relief was first mentioned in historic Jewish texts that document baby boys being given honey before circumcision. What about adults? Well, chocolates, sweet pastries and soft drinks make for a less painful life for many people.

The Sherman brothers also composed the song that has been played more often in the world than any other. It’s a Small World After All is featured at all the Disney theme parks, an adaptation of an attraction introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. The Sherman Brothers wrote the song in the wake of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which influenced the song’s message of peace and brotherhood. They also wrote a song for the Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction that was presented in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from 1967 to 1985 designed to simulate humans shrinking to a size smaller than an atom. Visitors boarded Atommobiles and began a journey that passed through snowflakes into the inner space of molecules, then atoms. They got an idea of crystal structure, bonding between atoms and the composition of an atom. The journey was accompanied by the song Miracles from Molecules.

From the beginning until 1977, Adventure Thru Inner Space was sponsored by the Monsanto Company, which later transitioned from being a chemical manufacturer to a biotechnology firm. Founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny and named after his wife’s family, Monsanto initially produced food additives like saccharin and vanillin before expanding into industrial chemicals such as sulphuric acid and PCBs in the 1920s. By the 1940s, it was a major producer of plastics, including polystyrene, as well as a variety of synthetic fibres. Monsanto scientists had a number of notable achievements, like the development of “catalytic asymmetric hydrogenation,” that made possible the production of L-Dopa, the major drug used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. They also laid the foundation for the mass production of the light emitting diodes (LEDs) that have revolutionized the lighting industry.

Monsanto has been criticized for once manufacturing such controversial products as the insecticide DDTPCBs used as insulators in electronic equipment and the notorious Agent Orange that was widely deployed as a defoliant during the Vietnam War. At the time, DDT and PCBs solved immediate problems, with DDT saving millions of people from contracting malaria and PCBs in transformers making electricity widely available. The environmental issues that eventually emerged concerning these chemicals were not, and probably could not have been foreseen at the time.

Today, most people associate Monsanto with genetic modification and the company serves as a lightning rod for anti-GMO activists. Indeed Monsanto was among the first to genetically modify a plant cell and one of the first to conduct field trials of genetically modified crops and now markets canola, soy, corn and sugar beet seeds that yield plants capable of resisting herbicides and warding off insects.

Let me end with a stanza from the Sherman brothers’ song Miracles from Molecules that once captivated visitors to Disneyland and which I believe is still meaningful today:

Now Men with dreams are furthering, What Nature first began, Making modern miracles, From molecules, for Man Read more
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The Right Chemistry: “Responsible scientific journalism is 2016 Trottier symposium focus”

Recent posts from our Blog - Sun, 10/16/2016 - 11:02
First time I had a chance to watch television was in 1956, after I came to Canada in the wake of the Hungarian Revolution. Back then, there was only one channel and it was on the air for only a few hours a day. But the newscasts did provide a window to the world that I had not seen open before. For breaking news, you depended on local radio stations, where you could also tune in to a variety of talk shows. There was the popular Joe Pyne, who would invite you to gargle with razor blades if you disagreed with him, and my favourite, Pat Burns, who had an opinion on everything and was not averse to abusing his callers. Indeed, it was Burns who stimulated my interest in skepticism. One of the regular callers on the Burns Hot Line was a woman who was convinced that space aliens walked among us, specifically, on Ste-Catherine Street. She recognized them because of their distinctive eyes! Pat would humour her for comic relief and often goaded her into making outrageous comments. One day, he was stressed for time and told her that he couldn’t let her go on about “her little green men.” She didn’t take this well, and claimed that if Pat cut her off, the aliens would cut him off. “OK, tell me tomorrow why they didn’t,” he retorted, as he proceeded to cut her off. Then he went to the next call, but there wasn’t one. The station had gone off the air and stayed off for six hours. There was no explanation. The woman called back the next day to gloat, but Pat just said “coincidence Doll, coincidence.” She stuck by her guns and maintained the aliens had done it. “So let’s see them do it again,” Burns fumed as he again cut her off. Well, you guessed it. The station went off the air again for half an hour! She called back the next day and this time Pat told her she could talk as much as she wanted, but she said there was no need because the aliens had made their point. A remarkable coincidence? A publicity stunt? Someone actually hacking the transmitter? We never heard a reasonable explanation as to what really happened. What I do know, is that the bizarre affair triggered my interest in “aliens,” and much to my surprise, I found that the local library had quite a collection of books on the subject. I read about the 1947 Roswell incident, involving the crash of what some people believed was a UFO, as well as about all sorts of UFO sightings. By this time, I had developed an interest in science and found the “proof” for alien visits less than compelling. Many of the accounts were fanciful and it seemed to me that the writers were sometimes driven more by commercial appeal than by evidence. This led me to look at all news reports, especially in the scientific realm, with a skeptical eye, and I took to evaluating them in terms of adhering to the tenets of responsible journalism. These days, with the tsunami of information and misinformation we face on a daily basis, that has turned out to be quite a challenge. We are no longer talking about one TV channel, but hundreds, satellite radio with access to thousands of stations and, of course, social media, which allow anyone to have a say on anything. As we witness on a regular basis, any twit can tweet. Then there is the Internet, featuring millions and millions of posts ranging from sound science to the inane blather of scientifically confused bloggers to whom responsible journalism is a foreign concept. But what exactly is responsible journalism? What makes some journalists more trustworthy than others? How do some activists become so adept at communicating twisted facts? These are the sorts of questions that McGill’s Trottier Public Science Symposium will attempt to answer this year. The symposium is organized by McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, of which I am director. We have reached out to four outstanding journalists who will explore the role of the media when it comes to science communication. On Monday evening, the CBC’s Erica Johnson, with five Gemini nominations for her work on the consumer program Marketplace, will detail her investigations of the pharmaceutical industry, alternative medicine and various marketing scams. She will be followed by National Magazine Award-winning journalist Julia Belluz, who covers medicine and public health for Vox.com. Julia will speak on “The Dr. Oz problem: How reporters should cover the peddlers of bad science.” On Tuesday evening, the Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach, whose National Geographic cover story about “The War on Science” was widely acclaimed around the world, will explore “How to Survive the Age of Bad Information.” Then Trevor Butterworth, executive director of Sense About Science USA will discuss “Facts, fiction, and science: where the lines become blurred.” Sense About Science is a non-profit organization that aims to equip people with the tools needed to make sense of science in an age permeated by nonsense. Their motto is “evidence matters.” Indeed it does. Famed American journalist Sydney J. Harris once opined that “The words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” The Trottier Public Science Symposium speakers will provide great information, and they will get through. You are all invited to two spirited evenings of presentations followed by a question and answer period. If any of those little green men who may have managed to knock Pat Burns off the air all those years ago are still around, well, they are invited too. We will look for their distinctive eyes. It all happens Monday, Oct. 17 and Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 5:30 p.m. at The Centre Mont Royal, 1000 Sherbrooke St. West. There is no admission cost for terrestrials or extraterrestrials. For more information on the Trottier Public Science Symposium, please visit the website.
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