“Balanced” and “Unbalanced” Journalism

Journalists and editors seem to insist on balanced reporting. This involves statements from different sides of an argument, but too often doesn’t involve any fact checking.

Jay Rosen at PressThink has an example on an accusation of plagiarism against Rick Perlstein in his book  “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

The problem here is that the Times had what it needed to make a call. “Perlstein plagiarized Shirley” was a checkable claim. Shirley’s accusations were online. Perlstein’s source notes were online. The Times knows what plagiarism is. Its writers and editors have to guard against it every day. Under these conditions, “leaving it there” amounts to malpractice, even though it still feels like normal practice and, as I said, the safer choice.

The risk the Times was taking was exposed the following week. After receiving complaints from readers, the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, took a closer look. “We wrote about it because it was out there and thought we could take it head-on in the story,” said deputy media editor Bill Brink. “We did that in the most responsible way possible, and put it in context.”

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Return to Blogging

I’ve had a summer of home renovations, parties, company, and beach, so blogging dropped to a very low priority. These activities took precedence:


Things have settled down here, but I was bombarded with a plethora of topics that have dominated the news cycle this summer.

Just a few of the topics that have dominated the news cycles: the Russians in Crimea, ISIS in Syria, the US is back in Iraq, the Israelis in Gaza, the Pope OKs violence, Ebola, police vs blacks in Ohio, Missouri, and New York.

Closer to home, we had an abortion conference on PEI that attracted protesters with a limited grasp of truth and decency and a river of dead fish.

There were times I had to back away from news to preserve my own mental health. Sometimes I find it difficult to remain positive with human beings treating one another so terribly.

Of course, there was the constant nonsense that I often write about:


I hope all of you are having a good summer and haven’t given up on the weather just yet.

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Deep sea Cnidarian

There are approximately 9,000 species of Cnidarians. They are familiar to us as jellyfish and corals and one of the characteristics of the phylum is the nematocysts that can inject poison through human skin making the pelagic types the bane of swimmers worldwide. This toxin varies from the harmless moon jelly Aurelia aurita to the deadly box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi and Malo kingi).

An interesting Cindarian, recently filmed, is the Scyphomedusa Deepstaria enigmatica.

The description and classification of the species can be found here. It has so far been found in the mesopelagic zone; since this zone strateches from ~660 to 3300 feet down, you are unlikely to encounter it anytime soon. Because of the relatively few sightings, worldwide distribution is unknown.

Here is a remarkable video of the strange, and relatively unknown animal.


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Bathroom Breaks in Movies

With Season 4 of the Game of Thrones behind us, we realize that people only use the toilet in movies when the plot demands it. In fact, without doing a count, I suspect people have sex more often than they urinate in movies.  Defecation is even more rare, probably because, as Tyrion Lannister discovered that day,  Lord Tywin Lannister did not, in the end, shit gold. 

Occasionally, a character will stop along the way for a bathroom break, but while many of us, especially as we age, can have our lives disrupted by overly frequent pit-stops, movie characters seldom have that weakness.  Continue reading

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The Dangers of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the more popular forms of CAM and is often touted by practitioners as being risk free. The truth is something else. The latest criticism comes from a study published in PLOS One.

The authors describe 30 cases (7 confirmed and 23 suspected ) of primary inoculation tuberculosis all from a single clinic in China over a 3 month period in 2011.  Continue reading

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The Need For Vaccines

A child with a deformity of her right leg due to polio – image from Wikipedia

Vaccine deniers are increasing in number in Canada and the US; countries that have not seen the major impact of preventable diseases in a couple of generations. In some parts of the world, people are not so fortunate. Polio was a scourge of the past that has been eradicated in most of the world. However, thanks to wars and superstition, it has been creeping back.

In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed, polio paralysed more than 350 000 people a year. Since that time, polio case numbers have decreased by more than 99% (with only 406 polio cases reported in 2013).

Polio has been creeping back in Guinea; it experienced new cases in January after being free of polio since 1999, one of many Africans countries where the disease has returned after being contained. The virus was carried into Guinea from Cameroon, which was infected by migrants from Chad, which redeveloped polio as a result of vaccine refusal in Nigeria more than 10 years ago.

Now the polio virus has been found in Brazil. Just in sewage so far, but the danger for infection is present. Continue reading

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No physicists were harmed in the making of this video. 

Sarah Donner bills herself as a singer/songwriter/creative type. Her music is quirky and often related to science, in a roundabout peripheral way.

Here are a couple of videos from her YouTube channel.

The Rebuttal of Schrödinger’s Cat Continue reading

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Dumbo’s Feather

Many of us remember the Disney movie Dumbo starring the flying elephant.  Dumbo’s buddy, Timothy Q Mouse, realized that the only thing holding Dumbo back was his lack of self-confidence and tricked him into believing the power came from a magic feather. In the end, of course, Dumbo recognizes that power comes from within and flies on his own. Happily ever after. The End.

The idea is that we have the ability to accomplish great things if only we don’t allow negative thinking to hold us back. To a certain extent, that can be true, but we must recognize that even positive thinking has limits to its power. The book “The Secret” filled with tales of people acquiring riches, curing illness, or even reversing age related Presbyopia. CAM including prayer are often based on similar flawed ideas. If your treatment works, it’s sometimes claimed that the cure is based on the placebo effect; in other words, it’s all in your mind. It it doesn’t doesn’t work, it’s often because you didn’t want wellness hard enough. It comes down to personal failure. Continue reading

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More on MacKay

Here’s a bit of follow-up to the comments of Justice Minister Peter Mackay I wrote about yesterday.  It didn’t take very long for The Toronto Star to find some people who strongly disagree, not only with MacKay’s tone, but also with his facts.

Avvy Yao-Yao Go an Ontario lawyer, recently appointed to the Order of Ontario, was furious. Continue reading

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Peter MacKay Justice Minister. Is he racist and sexist?

My first introduction to Peter MacKay was back in 2003 when he became leader of the progressive Conservative party of Canada partly by making promises that he would not attempt a merger with the then Canadian Alliance party. That promise lasted about 3 months. Later, he showed considerable disrespect to Belinda Stronach after their relationship ended. He is not a man who has ever garnered much respect from me.

Today, The Star newspaper reports on some very disturbing statements from MacKay. Continue reading

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