By Julia Belluz - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 0 Comments
What has been the real driver of violent crime in America? Not unemployment, or guns, or wealth disparities, or lack of access to education. According to a fascinating new Mother Jones article, it’s exposure to lead.
The piece builds a case around this thesis: “Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.” This isn’t totally crazy, since we know that lead is a destructive neurotoxin. But any skeptic out there would immediately wonder about the evidence behind such an encompassing claim, mainly because it rests mostly on population-level observational studies, which look at links between lead exposure in the environment and crime rates. As Dr. David Juurlink, a physician and researcher at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, told Science-ish, while lead could be the missing element in violent crime, “Many, many other factors also could, particularly in concert. Perhaps lead is one contributing factor, but it’s an abuse of the basic tenets of epidemiology to ascribe so much of the blame to lead.”
In other words, he added, a correlation between the two phenomena does not equal cause-and-effect.
Almost as soon as the article was published, debunkers were out in full force, picking apart the evidence behind the story. Even the author of the article, Kevin Drum, followed up with a blog post outlining the different types of evidence in the piece and the need for further research. But many a reader may have left the article thinking that the lead theory is more than just a theory; that it’s the little-known cause of criminal activity.
And it’s not the last, or even most offensive, article that will contain an incredible thesis about new science. So how do you avoid falling prey to bad science in health stories? This is a question Science-ish gets asked a lot, most recently related to an article published in Slate about Dr. Oz’s dubious use of medical evidence. Understanding evidence-based medicine and statistics takes years of practice and study, but the good news is there are a few very basic red flags to keep in mind when you’re reading about the health sciences.
By kadyomalley - Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 9:45 AM - 120 Comments
But if the story in today’s Globe and Mail had come out just a few hours earlier, we probably would have paid considerably more attention to what the PM’s pointminister on science and technology had to say to the crowd during the NSERC research awards last night at the Chateau Laurier last night.
Oh, who am I kidding? If Goodyear’s comments – or rather, refusal to comment – on evolution had been reported before last night’s awards ceremony, I suspect that reporters who turned up to cover it would have discovered that it had suddenly become closed to the media. (Maybe that’s why those PMO staffers were in such a rush to hustle us out the door after the presentations were over.)
By kadyomalley - Monday, March 2, 2009 at 8:01 AM - 53 Comments
Note to newly ascended junior cabinet minister Gary Goodyear and staff: it’s rarely a good sign when a Globe and Mail story about a recent meeting with representatives of one of your core client constituencies begins with the words “the screaming erupted” and ends with you “storming out” as they flee your office without even pausing to retrieve their coats:
The screaming erupted last Wednesday afternoon, just down the street from Parliament Hill, in the offices of a Conservative cabinet minister.
Two officials with Canadian Association of University Teachers sat on one side of a boardroom table and on the other sat Gary Goodyear, Minister of Science and Technology, his policy adviser Wesley Moore and a civil servant ready to take notes.
CAUT, a lobby group that represents 65,000 staff at 121 colleges and universities, had planned to raise concerns over the government’s handling of research funding. But within moments, it became clear they wouldn’t get very far.
“The minister was very angry,” said David Robinson, associate executive director of CAUT. “He was raising his voice and pointing his finger … He said everyone loves their [federal budget] and we said, ‘A lot of our members don’t love it’… and he said, ‘That’s because you’re lying to them, misleading them.’”
The talks, Mr. Robinson said, went from bad to worse. In 15 years on the job, he “never had a meeting like that.”
Mr. Goodyear agrees. “I, too, have never had a meeting like that. It was a unique experience and one I don’t care to repeat.” [...]
They had barely begun to state their case, Mr. Robinson said, when the minister accused them of twisting facts.
When CAUT staff said the Conservatives have a spotty record on science and noted they abolished the office of the national science adviser, Mr. Robinson said, the minister’s assistant screamed at them to shut up.
“Then the minister said, ‘You’ve burned all your bridges with us!’ and they stormed out.
“In all the meetings I’ve been in like this, I’ve never been shouted at and told to shut up,” Mr. Robinson said. The civil servant who escorted them to the elevator suggested it would not even be a good idea to return to the minister’s office to collect their coats, he said. Instead, she retrieved them.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 3:57 PM - 11 Comments
A nation’s prayers are answered. Just in time for our big university issue, here’s the latest column on… well, let me just say you’re getting very sleepy…