Just here with an update on some of the latest and strangest of my work elsewhere.
The Viral and Bacterial Links To The Brain’s Decline (Newsweek)
But while modern medicine has grown comfortable with the idea that even chronic physical ailments can be sparked by the living infinitesimal, there is a bolder, more controversial proposition emerging from a growing number of researchers. It’s the idea that certain germs, bugs and microbes can lie hidden in the body for decades, all the while slowly damaging our brains, even to the point of dementia, depression and schizophrenia.
Our Memories Are Deeply Flawed, and We’ll Be Happier If We Accept It (Pacific Standard)
The ubiquity of false memories isn’t exclusive to humans — Shaw explains that bumblebees and rats can also experience them — but we’re likely the only species capable of being terrified to our core by their existence. It’s unnerving to accept that implausible memories of Satanic cults or sexual abuse can be conjured under certain conditions, but it’s chilling in a different way to know that all our recollections are a patchwork of imprecise perceptions that generally make our pasts rosier than they really are.
Malaria Mosquitoes Don’t Like Chicken; Poultry-Scented Insect Repellent May Be Key To Disease Control (Medical Daily)
As for why mosquitoes avoid chickens, the answer’s likely pretty simple. The ruffled feathers of a chicken (or any bird really) make it harder for them to gain access to their blood, and more importantly, chickens can easily scarf down any mosquitoes that try. The blood of chickens may also be nutritionally unappealing to them. Over the long span of evolution, the needling critters likely adapted and developed an ingrained scent-based fear of chickens.
Might have some exciting news in the near future (and new stories), so stay posted!
I’m never the best at self-promotion (writing-wise at least) but my latest article is definitely an exception.
Last summer, I traveled to Michigan to investigate claims of recovered memory therapy (RMT) being haphazardly performed in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s a topic, as anyone aware of my career would know, that I’ve had experience covering in the past. To say that this story took some unexpected twists and turns, though, would be the definition of underselling. Check out an excerpt below and the full piece here.
Elsa believes that her mother is sincere in her belief that RMT caused Kristi’s estrangement. But she also thinks Joan has continuously rewritten the family’s past in order to excuse her and Lale’s behavior toward their children — in part by shifting blame onto shadowy secular forces. “My mother, in her twisted way, does love her children, I think,” Elsa said. “[But] she’s just an abuser and she covered for my father’s abuse, or rather tried to not see it.”
In later emails, Joan warned me not to take Elsa and Aaron’s words seriously. If I did, she advised, I would risk forsaking the crucial task of eliminating the remnants of RMT that exist today. “Perhaps you should reconsider the timing of the article,” she wrote. “That way you would not inadvertently print something that would hurt the overall cause.”
As it must be painfully aware to anyone who’s stopped by in the past few months, I’ve been completely absent from the blogging scene.
That’s not for lack of material, mind you, it’s entirely because I’ve transitioned from freelance to full-time.
As of this April, I’ve become a reporter for Medical Daily, a site “dedicated to covering health and science news that matters most to our generation,” as they themselves put it. Five days a week, you’ll be able to catch my reporting efforts, as well as deep dives into topics that you’ve always wanted to know more about (just what is smegma anyway?)
On the print side of things this summer, my work has been featured in Engineering and Technology magazine and Pacific Standard – the second time I’ve been published in the latter. And last but certainly not least, I recently made my debut in Newsweek, reporting on one of the most egregious cases of malpractice and negligence within the oncology field – the sordid cancer treatment practice of Dr. Farid Fata.
To put a long story short, it’s been an amazing and truly fulfilling past few months for me. And I can only hope that this is the beginning of a long and fruitful career in science journalism.
With that said, I doubt that I will be able to maintain regular posts on the blog for quite some time, if ever again. Because several people have been able to find and contact me through here, though, I won’t be shutting it down either.
For now, this will serve as my personal website, with occasional updates on my work and links to particularly interesting articles, either of mine or others. I hope to slightly revamp my clips section to better highlight my print work. And the pugs, irrelevant as they are to my journalistic career, will of course be sticking around.
In the meantime, please feel free to browse through my old posts, check out my current work and shoot me emails to your heart’s content. Thanks and I’ll seeya around.
Horrible updater that I am, I do have some new tidbits to share.
Namely that now I’ve landed in the Atlantic…’s Health section. Check out my article debunking a long held belief about weight loss — that it necessarily makes us happier. Here’s a brief snippet:
An extensive 2011 review of different weight-loss methods by Anthony Fabricatore, an assistant professor of psychology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and others found that obese people generally experienced decreased symptoms of depression after taking part in a weight-loss trial. As noted in the review, that conclusion provides a sharp contrast to studies conducted throughout the 1950s. In a 1957 paper, AJ Stunkard—an eventual pioneer of obesity research—wrote that “for a large number of overweight persons, the current prescription of reducing diets has had unfortunate consequences; for a smaller number, it has been disastrous.” These consequences included depression, anxiety, and even psychosis.
Full story here.
Per some very good advice, here’s what will become a now-regular look at some of my latest articles around the web:
New Study: Homeless Children Facing Mental Health Crisis (Affect Magazine)
Earlier today, researchers from North Carolina State University have gone one step further in illuminating these children’s unique hurdles, publishing a pilot study that provides one of the largest looks yet at the mental health and developmental status of displaced children. The authors found that they’re more likely to suffer developmental delays than the average child, as well as be at greater risk to develop behavioral and emotional problems. More startlingly, they conclude that 25% of homeless children are in need of mental health services.
Is Netflix Turning Us All Into Depressed Lonely Zombies? (Daily Dot)
Contrary to what Entertainment Weekly, Hypable, and the Huffington Post say, no, the study does not prove that binge-watching television, whether on subscription apps like Netflix and Hulu or through DVD box sets, makes you sad and lonely. Nor does it conclude that if you engage in binge-watching (the definition of which I’ll pick a bone with later), you are, thus, a burlap sack of melancholy.
How A Children’s Song About Cartoon Penises and Vaginas Took Over Sweden (Daily Dot)
For peen’s sake, we were a nation desperate enough to invent Corn Flakes just on the off-chance it could stop boys from masturbating. Corn Flakes. If and when women were included in the conversation, they were either told to maintain their chastity for their future property owners or cited as a dirty whirlpool of sin and disease eager to gobble up our proud wartime boys. That latter fear is the only reason we have sexual education programs in the first place, our society only stepping in to educate young people about sex so we could scare the bejesus out of them with slides of syphilis and gonorrhea-infected members.
Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to post some original work and commentary on here soon enough! Till next time.
The following is excerpted and slightly modified from the audio essay “Hearts and Minds” that I did for the Skeptical Connections podcast last year, sadly no longer in production. As I’m tied up in other writing projects currently, but I did want to touch on the ongoing anti-vaxxer backlash as a result of the measles outbreaks in the U.S., I figured this would be a good compromise. Enjoy.
Let’s make things simple here.
Andrew Wakefield — of the UK MMR vaccine scare — is an unethical fraud. Many of the renegade doctors who endorse staying away from vaccines are unscientific cranks who offer unproven, unnecessary and even harmful remedies to their patients. Those who conflate the money-grubbing practices of ‘Big Pharma’ with a conspiracy-laden scheme to keep sticking America’s kids with syringes are misguided at best, ignorant at worst. And parents who swear their children were infected with autism by a needle tend to misremember the course of their child’s gradual decline in order to create a narrative in which their tragedy was somehow preventable.
All this is true, but so is the reality that an idea is a hard thing to fully banish from the hearts and minds of people invested in it.
Without further ado, my cover article for the November/December issue of the Pacific Standard. Short excerpt and link below.
Child sexual abuse is, of course, a serious and widespread issue in America. Researchers agree that it occurs far more often than official statistics indicate, because children so often decline to report their abuse out of embarrassment, a desire to protect members of their family, or in an attempt to avoid the memory altogether. But the idea that people can immediately banish abuse from their own consciousness, lock those memories away for years, and then recover them through therapy is one with far shakier empirical grounding, and a deeply problematic history. The therapeutic vogue for memory recovery in the early 1990s fueled a nationwide moral panic over ritual sex abuse, satanic cults, and other supposedly repressed traumas. Today, for most of us, the fad seems like a strange, self-contained, and very much closed chapter in recent cultural history.
But for Tom Mitchell, who denies his daughter’s accusations, the controversy is very much alive. He believes his family has suffered from the fact that the mental health establishment has never really purged itself of a thoroughly discredited idea—and arguably lacks the basic mechanisms necessary to self-correct.
Check out the full story here.
Anne: I’m a scientist. I like studying the world! And stuff.
That there might just be the most cogent definition of ‘scientist’ ever made, and it came from the mouth of a 11-year-old girl who builds giant robots androids in her spare time.
Someday, when the shores of Florida have retreated onto itself, New York is more levee than city and the heart of Africa is flooded, our grandchildren will come knocking at the drenched door and ask why.
Why, when faced with the knowledge of an impending yet preventable catastrophe, did we do nothing but squabble about its merits? Why did we stare into the face of oblivion only to stomp our feet and drown out its repeated warnings with cries of cost-effectiveness and socialist takeovers? Why did we, as journalist Nick Cohen put forlornly earlier this year, fail to shake humanity from its complacency? And I don’t know what I’ll be able to say to them.
Maybe I’ll point them to the financial records of energy corporations who spent millions every year to cultivate public doubt of the long established scientific consensus. Or the inane scribblings of designated climate skeptics who repeated the same debunked arguments until their ears filled up with sea water, and of the supposedly impartial publications that continuously allowed them writing space. I’ll tell them of an ideological movement fundamentally opposed to the idea of responsible, restrained capitalism and of those who sheepishly stood aside for them as they crafted policy, doled out billions in oil and gas subsidies and prevented regulatory action. These were all pieces of the puzzle, I’ll say. And though there existed plenty who were willing to fight for the future, they underestimated the tenacity of our collective passivity.
As my eyes welt up in quiet anger at that last realization, I’ll plead with them to forgive us for what we did and didn’t do. And I’ll understand when they instead turn around and slam the door in my face.
Among global warming deniers, U.S. is number one: Poll (July 22nd)