Wednesday, May 06, 2020

April 2020 - Evaluating News Media Coverage of Health Risk

  • April 18, 2020 - Evaluating News Media Coverage of Health Risk, Zoom talk
  • Prez Sez
  • March lecture canceled due to corona virus
  • Crowdsourcing Request for NCAS Members
  • NCAS Board elections
  • Amazon Smile
  • Shadow Lite
  • Time to renew

Shadow of a Doubt - April 2020


April 2020

NCAS Public Lecture Series

Wine and Roses:
Safe or Carcinogenic?

Evaluating News Media Coverage of Health Risk

  YouTube Live Event with Q and A 

Saturday, April 18, 1:30pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00)
NCASVideo YouTube Channel:


For more information, call the NCAS Skeptic Line at 240-670-NCAS (6227).
ncas@ncas.org

We've all heard reports that red wine is protective against cancer, while other studies find it to be carcinogenic. Similarly, some say herbicides such as glyphosate are safe to use (but not on your rose bush!) while others say it’s carcinogenic. Which is true? There are many opportunities for scientific information to become biased on the pathway from scientists to the public.  In this talk, Dr. Bodnar will describe how to effectively talk about risk and how to identify reliable sources.

Originally from Florida, Anastasia Bodnar has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Maryland and a Doctorate in Genetics, with a minor in Sustainable Agriculture, from Iowa State University.  Dr. Bodnar is the Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc., a non-profit organization that fosters conversation about issues in food and agriculture. She is also a founding member of SciMoms, and starred in the Science Moms documentary. She started her career in the US Army, working in public health and integrated pest management. As a Presidential Management Fellow, she worked at the National Institutes of Health, where she conducted special projects in science policy, science communication, and legislative affairs. She then worked in risk assessment and risk management at the US Department of Agriculture and served as a Senior Science Advisor at the Foreign Agricultural Service. Dr. Bodnar now works in risk assessment in the USDA Office of Pest Management Policy.

There will be an online question-and-answer segment after the presentation.


How to Watch and Participate in the First Online Event in the 33-Year History of NCAS:

1) Use a supported browser... https://www.youtube.com/supported_browsers
2) Use the link https://youtu.be/vZQWIekh0-Y .  If typing the link, use capital "I" and "0" (zero).
3) The live stream begins shortly before 1:30pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00) on Saturday, April 18, 2020.
4) To post questions, you must be signed in to a Google account.
5) Post your questions in the chat window to the right of the video player when the live stream is active.
6) Click into where it says "Say something..." and begin typing (up to 200 characters). Then click the send icon .



Along with your question, please post what city or town you're in.




Prez Sez
By Scott Snell

I hope all of you are well, in both health and livelihood.  These are uncharted waters that our civilization has been drawn into.  Each nation is trying to steer a safe course between a modern-day Scylla and Charybdis of deadly pandemic and economic ruin.





I've found some solace in watching how well our nations and communities quickly learned what they needed to do, and accomplished it.  No one prepared us for this in our childhood education, or even in fiction.  If there are one or more science fiction books or movies about a pandemic, and what steps have to be taken in response, none of them became widely known in our culture.


Yet within a matter of days, people learned new habits, changed their way of life, and made huge sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable among us.  Some nations and communities did better or worse at it, but the graphs of infections and deaths are showing the response of ordinary people generally following scientifically based guidelines.  As of today, April 15, New York and New Jersey appear to have moved past the worst of the onslaught.  Unfortunately the National Capital Region is still worsening, but will likely get through its peak in the near future.

Scientists are steering us away from "Scylla."  I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when scientists were so prominently and continually at the center of international attention.  Meteorologists have a lot of on-screen time when a particular hurricane or other storm is heading for populated areas, but that only lasts for a few days.  The COVID crisis has brought Doctors Birx and Fauci into the public spotlight, day after day, for over a month, and that's likely to continue for weeks or even longer.

The details of what went wrong and what went right are being (or better yet, in my opinion, will be) sorted out.  But I offer here a very quick and definitive few milestones for anyone to calibrate what is being hashed out in the news media and blogs:

World Health Organization. (2020, January 14). Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus...

United Nations. (2020, January 30).  NEWS: #Coronavirus declared a public health emergency of international concern by @WHO. Global outbreak includes 98 cases in 18 countries, outside China.

NBC Today.  (2020, February 29).  Dr. Fauci: "No, right now, at this moment, there is no need to change anything that you're doing on a day by day basis.  Right now, the risk is still low, but this could change.  I've said that, many times, even on this program.  You've got to watch out, because although the risk is low now, you don't need to change anything you're doing.  When you start to see community spread, this could change and force you to become much more attentive to doing things that would protect you from spread."

US House of Representatives, Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, "Coronavirus Preparedness and Response."  (2020, March 11, 10:47 AM ET).  Dr. Fauci: "We would recommend that there not be large crowds."

World Health Organization. (2020, March 11, 12:26 PM ET). We have therefore made the assessment that #COVID19 can be characterized as a pandemic.


March NCAS Lecture
The March 15 NCAS lecture of biologist Adam Ruben (co-host of the "Outrageous Acts of Science" series on Science Channel) was canceled due to the health risks of public gatherings.  We hope to reschedule it later this year.


Crowdsourcing Request for NCAS Members
What can ordinary skeptics (if there is such a thing!) do to help our nation and communities, as skeptics?  Some of our members may be career health scientists, or know someone who is.  But the general skill set of a skeptic is probably good enough to help a little...particularly the ability to identify contradictory information and the ability to ask good questions.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web page for COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

Do you see any information that is contradicted by other information at the site?  Do you see any information that isn't clearly presented?

I assume people at CDC are carefully reviewing all new content, but they might make mistakes.


Do you have a suggestion for a new FAQ?

If you find anything in any of these categories, email it for peer review to ncas@ncas.org.  Please include your name, and relevant expertise, if any.  Our board of directors will review your finding(s) and will contact you for final submission to the CDC, with proper attribution, of course.


NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
The upcoming 2020 NCAS election will use electronic voting.  When voting begins, each member will receive an email from NCAS (via surveymonkey.com) containing a unique web address usable as a single-cast secret ballot.  (NCAS will receive information indicating who voted, but nothing to indicate who cast each ballot.)

Note that voters will not be at risk for spamming as a result of participating...SurveyMonkey has a zero-tolerance spam policy:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/legal/anti-spam-policy/


AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
When shopping at smile.amazon.com, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that a portion of the purchase price (0.5%) goes to NCAS! It's simple and automatic, and it doesn't cost you anything!

AmazonSmile's disbursements to NCAS in the fourth quarter of 2019 came to $20.75, meaning that over $4100 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's enough to cover an hour of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

Thanks again to our members who have chosen to support NCAS!

For more information:
http://smile.amazon.com/about
https://press.aboutamazon.com/news-releases/news-release-details/amazon-launches-amazonsmile-simple-automatic-way-customers


Shadow Light
Some members and contacts of NCAS receive a postal notification of this and every new monthly Shadow of a Doubt.  The Shadow Light postcard announces the monthly lecture and highlights of the electronic Shadow of a Doubt, which is available online at ncas.org/shadow.  NCAS thereby reduces Shadow production and postage costs.  To further reduce costs, members and contacts can opt out of postal notification altogether, while continuing to receive Shadow of a Doubt via e-mail.  To opt out, send us an e-mail at ncas@ncas.org.


Time to Renew?
Be sure to check your renewal date above your postal address on the Shadow Light postcard. Send any queries to ncas@ncas.org.  Use the online membership form to renew.
http://ncas.org/shadow

Monday, April 13, 2020

April 18 - Wine and Roses: Safe or Carcinogenic? Evaluating News Media Coverage of Health Risks

Presented by Anastasia Bodnar, Ph.D.

Saturday, April 18, 2020
1:30 pm

We're unable to have an onsite talk this month, but our speaker will present her talk online!
Live streaming at https://youtu.be/vZQWIekh0-Y
Post your questions in the YouTube chat during her talk, and they will be relayed to her.


We've all heard reports that red wine is protective against cancer while other studies find it to be carcinogenic. Similarly, some say herbicides such as glyphosate are safe to use (but not on your rose bush!) while others say it’s carcinogenic . Which is true? There are many opportunities for scientific information to become biased on the pathway from scientists to the public.  In this talk, Dr. Bodnar will describe how to effectively talk about risk and how to identify reliable sources.

Originally from Florida, Anastasia has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Maryland and a Doctorate in Genetics, with a minor in Sustainable Agriculture, from Iowa State University. Anastasia is the Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc, a non-profit organization that fosters conversation about issues in food and agriculture. She is also a founding member of SciMoms, and starred in the Science Moms documentary. She started her career in the US Army, working in public health and integrated pest management. As a Presidential Management Fellow, she worked at the National Institutes of Health, where she conducted special projects in science policy, science communication, and legislative affairs. She then worked in risk assessment and risk management at the US Department of Agriculture and served as a Senior Science Advisor at the Foreign Agricultural Service. Anastasia now works in risk assessment in the USDA Office of Pest Management Policy. While away from work, Anastasia enjoys spending time with her family, learning and writing about agriculture, reading science fiction, and exploring the DC area.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

March 15 - It Came from the Science Fair!


IMPORTANT NOTICE: [March 12, 2020, Noon]: Because of the concern about meeting in large groups and the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 virus, this lecture has been postponed. We expect to reschedule it later this year.


Presented by Adam Ruben, PhD
Writer, Comedian, and Molecular Biologist

What are the most common mistakes kids make when preparing projects for science fairs?  What can we learn from these events about the way science is taught and understood?  And can we all please agree, onceand for all, that science has learned all it needs to learn from measuring classmates' heart rates before and after playing video games?  In this talk, scientist/comedian Adam Ruben will share some of the most bizarre, most inadvisable, least scientifically rigorous science projects he's judged and talk about their implications for the future of science education.

Adam Ruben is a writer, comedian, and molecular biologist. Adam has performed stand-up comedy and told stories on stage for more than 20 years. He has appeared on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, the Weather Channel, Discovery International, Netflix, and NPR, and he currently hosts the shows Outrageous Acts of Science and What On Earth? on the Science Channel and is writing episodes of Elinor Wonders Why, a new show on PBS Kids premiering in September 2020. Adam is the author of two books, Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School (Random House, 2010) and Pinball Wizards: Jackpots, Drains, and the Cult of the Silver Ball (Chicago Review Press, 2017), and writes the monthly science humor column Experimental Error in the otherwise respectable journal Science.

SUNDAY, March 15, 2020 (Note date- Sunday is not a typo)
1:30 pm
Central Library
Barbara M. Donnellan Auditorium
1015 North Quincy Street
Arlington, VA

Monday, January 13, 2020

February 8 - Should We Worry About 5G Towers?

Presented by Roopesh Ojha, Ph.D.

The fifth generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks, popularly known as 5G, is rapidly being deployed around the world. The leap in network speeds it will enable have several well-known benefits and, if the past is any guide, the most profound benefits haven't even been imagined yet. 5G uses radio frequencies that are higher than the radio frequencies in current use. In some quarters, concerns have been raised about putative health impacts of these radio waves. In this talk, Dr Ojha will take a look at 5G from the physics perspective as well as the statistics perspective and discuss where the balance of probabilities lies.

Dr. Ojha has worked for the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (including a year operating a telescope at the South Pole) in Cambridge, MA, the Australia Telescope National Facility in Sydney, and the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. He currently works for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space telescope primarily studying the physics of active galactic nuclei - galaxies where the dominant source of energy is matter falling onto a central supermassive black hole. Dr Ojha is known for his ability to communicate science at any level, from highly specialized scientific meetings to elementary school students. He is a regular speaker at local schools, non-profit organizations, and STEM events.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

1:30 pm 

Connie Morella Library

7400 Arlington Road

Bethesda, MD

Saturday, January 11, 2020

January 2020
  • "The Little Non-Profit That Could" presented by Nick Little, Vice President, General Counsel, and Legal Director of the Center for Inquiry

  • February NCAS Lecture - "Should We Worry About 5G Towers?" Saturday, February 8, 2020 at Connie Morella (formerly Bethesda Regional) Library.
  • National Archives Project Blue Book Exhibit
  • Prez Sez
  • AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
  • Shadow Light
  • Time to Renew?

Click to see Shadow.

Shadow of a Doubt - January 2020

January 2020

NCAS Public Lecture Series

The Little Non-Profit That Could –
CFI’s challenge to pseudoscience and alternative medicine through consumer protection laws

Nick Little
Vice President, General Counsel, and Legal Director of the Center for Inquiry

Saturday, January 11, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Central Library
Barbara M. Donnellan Auditorium
1015 North Quincy Street
Arlington, VA [map] [directions]
Virginia Square-GMU Metro station will be closed, but shuttle buses will be connecting it to/from East Falls Church and Rosslyn stations
https://www.wmata.com/service/status/details/weekend.cfm#main-content
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members


How is so much pseudoscientific junk on store shelves? Why isn’t homeopathy illegal? Nick Little, Legal Director and General Counsel of Center for Inquiry (CFI), explains the path that CFI has taken to filing consumer protection lawsuits against retail giants CVS and Walmart for their marketing of homeopathic products.  The talk will address the limits of the law in dealing with pseudoscience, and how litigation and lobbying together can help skeptics challenge both government policies and private company promotion of pseudoscience — from climate change denial to snake oil medical products.

Nick Little is Vice President, General Counsel, and Legal Director of the Center for Inquiry. As CFI's attorney, he supervises the Center's litigation, both in the area of separation of church and state and the protection of the rights of non-believers, where he has brought multiple suits to require states to permit secular wedding celebrants, and in the area of skepticism, where he has filed CFI's groundbreaking consumer protection suit against CVS stores for their deceptive marketing of homeopathy. Educated at Oxford University, the University of  Warwick, and Vanderbilt University Law School, Nick seeks to keep CFI involved in cutting edge litigation to further its mission of a secular society based on reason, science, and humanist values.

Refreshments will be available.


The underground parking garage entrance is located at the library's NW corner.  Surface lots are north and east of the building.



February NCAS Lecture
Roopesh Ojha, PhD will discuss the alleged health impacts of fifth generation wireless technology in "Should We Worry About 5G Towers?"  Saturday, February 8, 2020 at Connie Morella (formerly Bethesda Regional) Library.


National Archives Project Blue Book Exhibit
On December 5, the National Archives issued a press release about a new display in the East Rotunda Gallery of its museum in Washington: "Today, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the end of Project Blue Book [the Air Force's unidentified flying objects (UFOs)  investigation], the National Archives is displaying a selection of records from the program in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. The records, on display through January 16, 2020, are a sample from the thousands of pages of textual records, still pictures, motion pictures, and sound recordings in National Archives holdings relating to Blue Book."

https://www.archives.gov/news/articles/project-blue-book-50th-anniversary

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHeZjJgO9Ns

Comment by Scott Snell, NCAS President:
I've visited the exhibit.  It's just a few artifacts in a display case.  If you're already planning to visit the Archives museum (perhaps to double-check on what the Constitution says about impeachment?), spend a few extra minutes and visit the Project Blue Book exhibit.  Otherwise I'd recommend using the two links above to see everything on your computer.

By the way, the two comic book pages in the display are excerpts of Weird Science-Fantasy #26 (December 1954) by EC Comics:

https://files1.comics.org//img/gcd/covers_by_id/36/w400/36810.jpg

https://www.comics.org/issue/11733/

Prez Sez
By Scott Snell
Happy New Year and Decade!  (The third decade of the century won't start until next year, but we've started the twenties!)

The holidays are often a time of wish lists and resolutions.  At the recent (Dec 19) NCAS board meeting, I and the rest of the board put together a short wish list of ideas for new events, new things to try, etc.  Some, perhaps all, will eventually be developed and announced.

What about you, our members?  Do you have a wish list for NCAS?  It could be an idea for a speaker, a lecture topic, a type of event that NCAS could present, or some other activity.  If so, send an email to ncas@ncas.org.

Regarding resolutions, I'll share one of mine here.  But first, 2020 hasn't been announced as the "Year of the Skeptic," though maybe it should be.  2020 brings to mind the acuity of 20/20 vision.  Perhaps it can bring to mind the acuity of thought as well.

My resolution is to improve my skepticism.  I've always intended that, but making a resolution of it might be a step forward.

One of my "self tests" is to see how often I'm surprised by something in the news (assuming I've been following the particular topic long enough to have a sense of what's likely to follow).  Are my predictions coming true?  Am I confronted with more or fewer inconsistencies (conflicting information, or a mismatch between hypotheses and information) over time as I'm following the topic?  Through an iterative process, I hope to find (though perhaps fool?) myself in a less-frequent confrontation with conflicting information, except for some cases when an important fact emerges.

It can be fun to do an "audit" of your positions.  If you post on social media, review what you've posted about current events over a year or more and see how well they've held up over time.

If your audit turns out worse than you expected, you may feel the same way I have at times.  Setting aside the normal and expected fallibility of news coverage of emerging stories, would it help to reconsider your sources of news, and how to think about the presented claims?

We skeptics have known for a long time about some publishers' and TV/radio producers' coverage of the paranormal, rife with omission of important information, unlikely interpretations of presented information, and undue emphasis or de-emphasis of particular details.  The problems apparently aren't limited to paranormal topics.  Personal biases and dedication to causes are why this occurs, though their own genuine ignorance and cynical exploitation of the public's misconceptions surely play a part too.

It can be time-consuming to find and play back full recordings of speeches and examine other primary sources of "political data," though that is one way to check on how well your news media sources are doing their job.  A quicker way to check on them is to examine their news coverage for unasked questions.  Are there particular "angles" that are omitted, either out of ineptitude or because of an agenda?

Hunt around a bit.  Use keywords from the question(s) you would've asked.  If you find another news source that includes the omitted elements, you may have found a better news source...at least for that topic, or in that particular case.  It's frustrating when it's only for that topic or case.  But we have to do our best with what we have available.


AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
When shopping at smile.amazon.com, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that a portion of the purchase price (0.5%) goes to NCAS! It's simple and automatic, and it doesn't cost you anything!

AmazonSmile's disbursements to NCAS in the third quarter of 2019 came to $13.51, meaning that over $2700 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's more than enough to cover a half hour of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

Thanks again to our members who have chosen to support NCAS!

For more information:
http://smile.amazon.com/about
https://press.aboutamazon.com/news-releases/news-release-details/amazon-launches-amazonsmile-simple-automatic-way-customers

Shadow Light
Some members and contacts of NCAS receive a postal notification of this and every new monthly Shadow of a Doubt.  The Shadow Light postcard announces the monthly lecture and highlights of the electronic Shadow of a Doubt, which is available online at ncas.org/shadow.  NCAS thereby reduces Shadow production and postage costs.  To further reduce costs, members and contacts can opt out of postal notification altogether, while continuing to receive Shadow of a Doubt via e-mail.  To opt out, send us an e-mail at ncas@ncas.org.

Time to Renew?
Be sure to check your renewal date above your postal address on the Shadow Light postcard. Send any queries to ncas@ncas.org.  Use the online membership form to renew.
http://ncas.org/shadow