DEFINITIONS OF BUG USED IN THIS BLOG -
1. Slang verb or noun: concern or annoy (most common use of the word in this blog),
2. Proper noun: best dog I know,
3. Proper noun: name of dog in COMING FLU and MURDER: A NEW WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT,
4. Noun: computer error or flaw, and
5. Noun: an insect
The U.S.’s rank in
the Global Innovative Index dropped from 7th to 10th this
year. The validity of the survey published by the World Intellectual Property
Organization, an agency of the United Nations, and INSEAD, a business school could
be questioned (Education Week, J. Tomassini blog, July 9, 2012). Reports like this cause many to worry about science
literacy of Americans and to wonder about the U.S.’s public and private
investments in science education. Please
forget politics and just keep reading please.
Making science interesting and fun for kids.
The National Science
Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate on Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
(HHMI), the National Academies of Sciences, NIH Office of Science Education,
and dozens of museums and conservation groups have invested in science
education programs for children and teens (K-12). Most of these programs have
teamed scientists with educators to create innovative and fun science education
modules and curriculum for students. These
programs work but do not reach enough children, especially those in poor school
districts. If you doubt these
generalizations, Google any of these organizations.
What about making science interesting and fun for
Fun depends on the
eyes of the beholders. There are hundreds books on science topics (medicine,
the environment, astronomy, etc) published for the general public every year.
Obviously many adults enjoy these books.
A few of these “science
books” read like action novels, particularly Richard Preston’s The Hot
Zone and The Demon in the Freezer. If you like horror, it’s hard to beat
Preston’s description of the symptoms of smallpox with the skin peeling from
the live bodies. And John Barry really “develops the character” of several of
the dedicated (but quirky) scientists, leading medicine at the time of The
Great Influenza (the early 1900’s).
Okay, you say, but I really like novels better than
Try a novel with a
science theme. These novels are not stodgy textbooks but real mysteries,
thrillers and romances. The science in these novels adds credence and color to
the novel but does not overwhelm the plot.
For example, one reader asked me why I didn’t mention cytokine storms in Coming Flu. I know many severe
flu symptoms are due to a cytokine storm (an over reaction of the body’s immune
system to the flu virus), butI’ve
seen a glazed look in the eyes of too many college biology students when the cytokine
storms were explained. Despite the “short cut,” you’ll learn a bit about
vaccine development and immunology from Coming Flu. More importantly you’ll
think about the wonders and limits of modern biology.
Fun books with tidbits of science written by
scientists or physicians
My medical thriller Coming Flu is the point
of view of an epidemiologist trapped in a quarantined community because of an
unstoppable flu virus. My next novel Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight (due
out in April) is from the point of view of an associate dean in a medical
school investigating charges of scientific misconduct against a “diet” doctor.
I was a professor in nutrition and toxicology.
Robin Cook, a physician, wrote more than
twenty-five medical thrillers, the most famous being Coma.
Kathy Reichs, an anthropology professor,
writes of modern forensic anthropological techniques in her Tempe Brennan
series of crime novels.
Camille Minichino, a retired physicist, writes
mysteries with titles based on the periodic table.
So why not borrow one
of these books from the library or better
still buy one. I think fans of
mysteries and thrillers, will enjoy these books. They may even decide that
science is fun.
Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray said,
“There is only thing worse in the world
worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”Was he right? Probably most writers and
scientists would agree, perhaps not all politicians (or at least former
Is publicity just for the ego?
Scientists and writers want
publicity for practical reasons. First the obvious reason – sales. Consider the
plethora of books, which are written or at least 80% written by ghostwriters,
but “authored” by celebrities. The publishers know the celebrity’s name and the
attendant publicity (past and present) help sales and ghostwriters happily take
the money to the bank. Everyone wins.
believe a good image and publicity are essential to gain the support for
scientific research by the electorate and policy makers and to attract talented
students. In 2009, universities in the U.S. spent $55 billion on research and
development; the federal government provided 59% and state and local government
provided 7% of these funds (NSF/ Division of Science Resource Statistics. Survey of Research and
Development at Universities and Colleges, FY 2009
http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf11313/pdf/tab1.pdf). In other words, scientists depend on public
opinion for financial support of their research.
Is bad publicity really bad? What constitutes bad
Lots of people complained
about Dan Brown’s literary style and his use of historical information in The DaVinci Code. All the attendant
bad publicity probably helped sales. The “tell-alls” of disgraced celebrities sell
better than well-written memoirs of less famous, but often heroic, people.
found guilty of scientific misconduct are often barred from being a principal
investigator on federal research grants for several years. Many quietly resume
their careers afterwards. Those hit with a firestorm of publicity are often
forced into a career change. The seriousness of the offenses does affect the
level of publicity, at least sometimes. So there is such a thing as bad publicity for a scientist.
Perhaps some variables are
more responsive to bad publicity. I suspect recruitment of students,
particularly graduate students, to a major in the sciences is a variable
sensitive to image and publicity. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of
doctorates earned in the sciences grew by nearly 40% (Nature [April 20, 2011] 472:276-279).
Many factors influenced this
growth, besides the job market (which was not that good for newly minted PhD
scientists). One is the changing image of scientists, i.e. positive
publicity on scientists and science in fiction and in the press.
Before you say no, think
of the scientists depicted in fiction and movies before 1980, i.e. Dr.
Frankenstein and Dr. Strangelove.Christopher Frayling studied a thousand
horror movies distributed in the United Kingdom between 1930 and 1980 (New Scientist [Sept. 24, 2005] 2518: 48). He found
“scientific research” was a threat to mankind in 39% of these films. Since 2000,
being a scientist has been “cool” in mainstream TV shows and movies. The
2011 movie Contagion grossed $130 million in theatres. Two popular network
TV shows (CSI and Bones) feature quasi-realistic
scientists as their heroes and heroines.
Oscar Wilde was probably right, at least much of
the time. Maybe that’s why so many authors, scientists, educators, etc. are
writing blogs. The next questions are:
Does anyone read most
Are they worth reading?
What makes some worth
you care to comment?
Or will these questions just remain my bugs (annoyances).
The medical thriller Coming Flu will
have a sequel in April. It’s called Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight.
I always think
November is a transition month - from fall to the winter holidays. However,
there are some important things to do in November.
should vote. If you hate the lines, you can vote early in a number of states.
2. Update your vaccinations, including for flu.
The Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) suggests adults, get these vaccinations:
A flu shot every year. If you want an
incentive for getting a flu shot, read my novel Coming Flu. It’s an
extreme example, but will you make you think.
shot for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (commonly called whooping cough)
every ten years.
of vaccine against chickenpox sometime as an adult
shot against shingles sometime after sixty.
If you have questions or are immunosuppressed, check with you
health care provider. You may want to visit: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
3. Be thankful
Thanksgiving has always
been my favorite holiday - quiet, no presents to buy, and a chance to make
favorite recipes. Here’s how I add zip to my Thanksgiving stuffing. The
limiting factor is me – when I get tired of chopping.
Zip for Your
or all of these to your traditional bread stuffing:
1/2 -1 cup
of grated carrots
1 cup of
sauted sliced mushrooms
of fried ground sausage
1 cup of chopped,
1 cup of chopped celery (If you like, saute the celery with
the mushrooms, sausage, and/or onions before adding to your bread crumb
cup of chopped parsley or cilantro
this relate to my bugs?
Two ways. I’m thankful for my dog Bug. And it bugs me so
many Americans can’t find time to vote, get vaccinated, or be thankful.
Which neighbor would you fear more: a friendly neighbor
infected with a new flu virus or a not-so-friendly neighbor who runs drugs?
COMING FLU will challenge you to rethink your priorities.