The Lay Scientist

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Where science and the media collide...

Martin Robbins
34 posts

Casey Rentz
3 posts

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  • October 4, 2010
  • 05:36 PM

Choosing mates: do we REALLY want what we say we want?

by Casey Rentz in The Lay Scientist

"Study shows real partners are no match for ideal mates," says a Sheffield University press release I read last week. So, sometimes we settle for less than George Clooney or Heidi Klum.

read more... Read more »

Alexandre Courtiol1, Sandrine Picq, Bernard Godelle1, Michel Raymond, Jean-Baptiste Ferdy. (2010) From Preferred to Actual Mate Characteristics: The Case of Human Body Shape. PLoS ONE. info:/

  • July 16, 2010
  • 09:06 PM

Which came first, the scientist or the sensationalist?

by Casey Rentz in The Lay Scientist

The best headline I read last week is from Metafilter blog: "Scientists prove that lunch came before breakfast." In fact, journalists at major news sites all around the web reported that scientists have solved the infamous chicken-and-egg problem.
Which came first? The chicken. Definitively.

read more... Read more »

Freeman CL, Harding JH, Quigley D, & Rodger PM. (2010) Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by an Eggshell Protein. Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English), 49(30), 5135-5137. PMID: 20540126  

  • June 23, 2010
  • 04:31 PM

Football fandom--psychological diff between Scottish and British

by Casey Rentz in The Lay Scientist

Cheering for your home team evidently solidifies your national identity if you're Scottish, while English tend to see their fan-dom as an individual preference, finds scientist Jackie Abell at Lancaster University.
This sounds like a study my 12 year old nephew would come up with. From the paper..
Support for the England football team is
not necessarily an expression of collective social identity and pride.

read more... Read more »

Jackie Abell. (2010) ‘They seem to think “We're better than you”’: Framing football support as a matter of ‘national identity’ in Scotland and England. British Journal of Social Psychology. info:/

  • January 7, 2010
  • 11:39 AM

Circumcision: A Response to Amy Tuteur

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

This is a response to a controversial piece in Science Based Medicine by Amy Tuteur, M.D. on circumcision: "The case for neonatal circumcision," which cites a recent journal paper of the same title [1]. Beyond calling for the American medical establishment to put pressure on parents to circumcise their infant children, the article implicitly compares those who don't circumcise or who are opposed to circumcising infants to anti-vaccination activists.

........ Read more »

  • November 25, 2009
  • 05:13 AM

Is the Belgian Coma Patient's 'Voice' a Hoax?

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

Recently, claims have surfaced surrounding a Belgian coma victim - Rom Houben - who spent 23 years 'locked in', conscious but paralysed. It was only recently discovered that he had been conscious, and efforts were made to enable him to communicate using a controversial technique called 'Facilitated Communication'. As The Times report; "Mr Houben is now seemingly able to express himself in remarkably lucid messages while [his 'facilitator'] Mrs [Linda] Wouters g........ Read more »

Mostert MP. (2001) Facilitated communication since 1995: a review of published studies. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 31(3), 287-313. PMID: 11518483  

Cardinal DN, Hanson D, & Wakeham J. (1996) Investigation of authorship in facilitated communication. Mental retardation, 34(4), 231-42. PMID: 8828342  

Weiss MJ, Wagner SH, & Bauman ML. (1996) A validated case study of facilitated communication. Mental retardation, 34(4), 220-30. PMID: 8828341  

  • November 24, 2009
  • 09:10 AM

Studying Anti-Vaccination Activists on the World Wide Web

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

The paper I'm about to present was written in 2002, and in the fast-paced world of the internet may seem out of date - after all, Youtube hadn't even been invented then, and Wikipedia and Google were shiny new businesses. But in fact, Davies et al's study of anti-vaccination websites is as relevant today as it was then - perhaps even more so [1].
"The internet has provided antivaccinationists with unprecedented opportunities for exposure. In the USA, 55% of adults with internet access use it ........ Read more »

Davies, P. (2002) Antivaccination activists on the world wide web. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 87(1), 22-25. DOI: 10.1136/adc.87.1.22  

  • November 23, 2009
  • 09:23 AM

Using Chocolate to Exterminate Coyotes

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

Chocolate, like many of the things we eat regularly, is a potentially fatal poison, and so it should come as no surprise that a study by the unimaginatively-named John Johnston (at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center) shows that our favourite sweet could prove to be an effective pesticide, for use against coyotes [1].
Chocolate, or rather the theobromine and caffiene it contains, is potentially fatal to many creatures, but of course "the poison is the dose." Humans are particularly ef........ Read more »

  • November 20, 2009
  • 09:26 AM

The Drink Spiking Myth Part 2

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

As promised, here's the second part of my look at the myth of drink spiking. Last time, we saw that the idea that drink-spiking is a widespread problem is a myth, with the evidence showing that in fact in the vast majority of cases where people believe their drinks have been spiked, this simply isn't the case - the symptoms they experience have been down to alcohol poisoning. In this post, we'll look at the reasons why this myth has become so widespread, as discussed in Burgess et al's "Embody........ Read more »

  • November 18, 2009
  • 06:26 PM

Tobacco harm reduction - no smoke without fire

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

Smoking kills millions of people every year and yet the medical community seems pathologically opposed to any measure to tackle the issue other than through the promotion of total abstinence. Carl Phillips suggests in his paper in the Harm Reduction Journal this month that smoking for just one month is more dangerous than switching to a smokeless nicotine product for a lifetime.
Take a moment to take a deep drag on a few breathtaking statistics.
Across the world approximately 1........ Read more »

  • November 17, 2009
  • 08:26 AM

The Drink Spiking Myth Part 1

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

Searching the archives of the BBC, Daily Mail or Guardian returns hundreds of results for date rape drugs, such as Rohypnol. Figures from Google Trends show that search volume for 'date rape drugs' or more specific terms like 'Rohypnol' has decreased since 2004, but remains high. Up and down the country, many people are convinced they have been a victim of date rape drugs, their fears fuelled by media scare stories and alarming reports from the usually sensible ACMD.

So it's a........ Read more »

  • June 18, 2009
  • 09:24 AM

A Review of The BCA's Evidence for Chiropractic

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

Well over a year after Simon Singh's 'libelous' article on Chiropractic was published; with Singh preparing to launch an appeal against Eady's ruling in the preliminary hearing of the result trial; and with the chiropractic profession under siege from a PR nightmare; the British Chiropractic Association have finally decided to release the evidence that they claim backs up their promotion of Chiropractic treatments.

In doing so, they appear to have been deliberately dishonest in their presentat........ Read more »

Cathryn MA Glazener, Jonathan HC Evans, & Daniel KL Cheuk. (2009) Complementary and miscellaneous interventions for nocturnal enuresis in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

  • May 19, 2009
  • 08:27 PM

Dismantling the chiropractic claims of the BCA, GCC and others

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

[bpsdb] Guest blogger "Blue Wode" has produced a definitive review of the science and evidence (or lack of) behind claims made by the BCA, GCC and other chiropractic advocates. [Written by Blue Wode, edited by Martin Robbins]

- - - - - - - - - - -

It has become apparent that the Achilles’ heel of chiropractic - promoted as an effective, cost-effective, and safe alternative to drugs and surgery for a range of health conditions - is negative publicity. One wonders whether this insecurity is ........ Read more »

Assendelft WJJ, Morton SC, Yu EI, Suttorp MJ, & Shekelle PG. (2004) Spinal manipulative therapy for low-back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000447.pub2  

Di Fabio RP. (1999) Manipulation of the cervical spine: risks and benefits. . Phys Ther, 50-65.

Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2005, Canter PH, & Ernst E. (2005) Sources of bias in reviews of spinal manipulation for back pain. Wien Klin Wochenschr., 333-341.

  • May 17, 2009
  • 06:13 PM

Treating the Morgellons Meme

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

[bpsdb] Looking at the culture-bound syndrome Grisi Siknis recently, I was reminded of Morgellons - a subject I've been meaning to look at for many months. Sufferers report strange organic and artificial fibers erupting from lesions, sensations of bugs crawling under the skin, and tentacled "starfish" crawling inside flesh. The problem is that while sufferers insist they are suffering from some new and exotic disease, both the medical establishment and the weight of evidence so far suggest that ........ Read more »

KOBLENZER, C. (2006) The challenge of Morgellons disease. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 55(5), 920-922. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2006.04.043  

MURASE, J., WU, J., & KOO, J. (2006) Morgellons disease: A rapport-enhancing term for delusions of parasitosis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 55(5), 913-914. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2006.04.042  

Accordino, R., Engler, D., Ginsburg, I., & Koo, J. (2008) Morgellons disease?. Dermatologic Therapy, 21(1), 8-12. DOI: 10.1111/j.1529-8019.2008.00164.x  

  • May 4, 2009
  • 01:00 AM

Burma - How an Early Warning from Science was Ignored

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

It was the most disasterous cyclone-hit in recent times. Over 140,000 people have been confirmed dead with tens of thousands more missing and millions rendered homeless, mostly in the low lying Irrawaddy delta region on the Burmese coast, where even one year on, survivors are facing deficits of foot, water, shelter and sanitation, and the UN have only recently been granted significant access. The damage was done not by the winds of "Cyclone Nargis" however, but by a tidal surge more than ten fee........ Read more »

DAHDOUHGUEBAS, F., JAYATISSA, L., DINITTO, D., BOSIRE, J., LOSEEN, D., & KOEDAM, N. (2005) How effective were mangroves as a defence against the recent tsunami?. Current Biology, 15(12). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2005.06.008  

  • December 18, 2008
  • 09:51 AM

Catching Snowflakes: The Media and Public Perceptions of Disease

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

It's repeated so often that it has long been regarded as a cliche, but we live in an increasing information-intensive world, bombarded by facts and figures from an endless queue of media outlets, websites, television shows and Windsor-based science bloggers. This abundance of information often comes with a cost. If my grandfather wanted to learn something about his health - and of course like many men of his generation he didn't - he would have seen a doctor or read a reputable book.

read more... Read more »

Ahern J, Galea S, Resnick H, Kilpatrick D, Bucuvalas M, et al. (2002) Television images and psychological symptoms after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Psychiatry, 289-300.

  • November 26, 2008
  • 09:12 AM

NHS Takes Aim at Daily Mail over Baby Buggy Bollocks

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

... Read more »

  • November 26, 2008
  • 09:12 AM

NHS Takes Aim at Daily Mail over Baby Buggy Bollocks

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

[BPSDB] It started off as a simple observational study [1] that showed that babies facing forwards in their buggies have slightly higher heart rates, a phenomenon that could be attributable to stress, or perhaps simply to the increased amount of stimuli the babies received. Then the papers got a hold of it.

read more... Read more »

  • September 19, 2008
  • 11:16 AM

WARNING: Ejaculation as a Treatment for Nasal Congestion is Inconvenient, Unreliable and Potentially Hazardous!

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

Awesome fellow blogger Scicurious delved into the Journal of Medical Hypotheses today and showed us the recently published hypothesis of one doctor who believes that the answer to nasal congestion could be... masturbation. Go and read her brilliant blog post on this moment of medical genius, but then come back here, because the journal has now published a letter by Mohammad Fakhree angrily rejecting the claims, in the prelude to what could be the biggest medical controversy since MMR.

read more........ Read more »

  • September 19, 2008
  • 09:43 AM

The Great Global Cooling Swindle

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

You've heard it before, at dinner parties, from taxi drivers, from commenters on the intertubes: "Global warming? Pah! I remember they were talking about global cooling when I was a lad." As Peterson, Connolley, and Fleckthe, the authors of "The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus" [1] explain: "the following pervasive myth arose: there was a consensus among climate scientists of the 1970s that either global cooling or a full-fledged ice age was imminent." But was it true? No......... Read more »

Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, & John Fleck. (2008) The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, preprint(2008), 1. DOI: 10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1  

  • August 15, 2008
  • 07:14 AM

The Birth of Maggot Therapy

by Martin Robbins in The Lay Scientist

In 1917, at the height of the Great War, William Baer made a chance, startling discovery. The result was his exploration of a novel form of treatment, one that - while somewhat grim to contemplate, is still used today. His experiences and early experiments are described in this paper, "The Treatment of Chronic Osteomyelitis with the Maggot (Larva of the Blow Fly)" [1].

read more... Read more »

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