Stories tagged bad science

Sep
03
2009

The Minnesota State Fair is in full swing this week, and lest you think it's just a band of hucksters pandering to a bunch of yokels, you couldn't be more wrong. Science is evident all over the fair, no matter where you look. I didn't capture everything but in my short amble around the fairgrounds I came across all sorts of examples of science and science in action, as the photographs illustrate. Of course, it's just a small sample of what's out there. The fair runs through Labor Day so there's still time to get there and discover for yourself all the fun science that can be found at the Great Minnesota Get Together.

Geology: The Geological Society of Minnesota booth in the Education Building.
Geology: The Geological Society of Minnesota booth in the Education Building.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Biology and nature: The Department of Natural Resources building is a great place to experience the call of nature.
Biology and nature: The Department of Natural Resources building is a great place to experience the call of nature.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Paleontology: Dinosaur World is a new exhibit at the fair this year. Inside are skeletons, fossils, and information about dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.
Paleontology: Dinosaur World is a new exhibit at the fair this year. Inside are skeletons, fossils, and information about dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Population and habitat studies: Determine the time it takes a species to fill its range.
Population and habitat studies: Determine the time it takes a species to fill its range.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Winds of change: If you're into controversial ideas like climate change, head over to the Eco building where you can see new innovations in sustainability. They've got electric cars, solar cells, and other new eco-friendly stuff. It used to be called the Technology building. What's up with that?
Winds of change: If you're into controversial ideas like climate change, head over to the Eco building where you can see new innovations in sustainability. They've got electric cars, solar cells, and other new eco-friendly stuff. It used to be called the Technology building. What's up with that?Courtesy Mark Ryan

Gravitation: Fair-goers can experience the persistent tug of gravity for just three bucks.
Gravitation: Fair-goers can experience the persistent tug of gravity for just three bucks.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Food science: Sometimes experiments go awry, but it's all just part of the scientific process.
Food science: Sometimes experiments go awry, but it's all just part of the scientific process.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Evolution: Transitional fossils? Sure, there are plenty to see in museums around the world, but who needs them? Fair-goers can witness for themselves one species evolving into another.
Evolution: Transitional fossils? Sure, there are plenty to see in museums around the world, but who needs them? Fair-goers can witness for themselves one species evolving into another.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Space exploration: To boldly go where a lot of people have gone before.
Space exploration: To boldly go where a lot of people have gone before.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Electromagnetism: The wonder of it all!
Electromagnetism: The wonder of it all!Courtesy Mark Ryan

Angular momentum: P = mv. Oh boy!
Angular momentum: P = mv. Oh boy!Courtesy Mark Ryan

Orogeny: Mountain building at its finest.
Orogeny: Mountain building at its finest.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Immunology: It was reported today that 120 4-H'ers were sent home from the fair as a precaution because 4 members tested positive for the H1N1 flu virus. But assistant state health commissioner John Stine said "it is perfectly safe for people to come to the State Fair."
Immunology: It was reported today that 120 4-H'ers were sent home from the fair as a precaution because 4 members tested positive for the H1N1 flu virus. But assistant state health commissioner John Stine said "it is perfectly safe for people to come to the State Fair."Courtesy Mark Ryan

Probability: See if you can scientifically calculate if this guy's girlfriend goes home with a giant Sponge Bob Squarepants.
Probability: See if you can scientifically calculate if this guy's girlfriend goes home with a giant Sponge Bob Squarepants.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Feb
12
2009

These guys have been eating bacteria all day: That's all it takes!
These guys have been eating bacteria all day: That's all it takes!Courtesy Dave Austria
Hey y’all! Get a earful of this: Russian scientists claim to have found bacteria living in the superfrost that may be able to significantly extend our lifespans!

Whoa!

Oh, also, “superfrost” isn’t the word the original article used. In fact, “superfrost” isn’t a real word in the first place. The perpetually frozen sandy soil the bacteria were found in is actually called “permafrost.” I just invented the word “superfrost” because it was kind of cool in this post’s title. I also used the fake word to honor the original article, which contains an amount of information somewhere between zero and almost zero.

Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up over a quasi-science article coming from a the Daily Mail, considering that the other stories on the page feature shots of the octuplet mother’s explosive looking belly, and Chris Brown leering over Rhianna’s shoulder… but it seems so cool! Seriously, this is sci-fi stuff!

What I can tell is this: Russian scientists were digging in an area of Siberia known for its abundance of wooly mammoth remains. Among the biological materials they recovered was a species of bacteria that appears to live in the permafrost. Finding it was an accident.

After doing a partial DNA analysis, the scientists determined that they were working with a unique type of bacteria. I don’t know if this means it’s a new species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, or kingdom… whatever. Probably not important, right, Daily Mail?

What’s interesting about the bacterium is that it appears to be very, very old. Three to five million years old, according to the article.

Say what, Daily Mail? Say what?!

I mean… What? Check out the wikipedia page on long-living organisms. With the exception of this weird jelly fish that could potentially live forever (we won’t get into it), 3-5 million years puts everything else on the list to shame. By far.

I’m guessing that the age was estimated based on the age of the associated mammoth remains in the area (they’re about 4.8 million years old), but how they know that the bacteria were alive at the same time as the mammoths isn’t explained.

Some scientists have made claims that certain bacteria might be able to remain in stasis for millions of years before being revived. But those claims are disputed, and, anyway, we’re talking about bacteria trapped in amber or salt deposits, not permafrost (which, despite the “perma,” has probably been considerably more dynamic over the last 5 million years than most amber).

If the bacteria were in stasis, which wasn’t suggested in the helpful article, that wouldn’t explain what the Russian scientists did with the bacteria next: they put it in some mice.

We aren’t talking gene therapy here, either. All the article says is that the mice were “vaccinated with the bacterium extract.”

That makes sense, right? I mean, I know turtles and parrots live a really long time, so if I’m always eating turtle soup and parrot cake, so I’m pretty much guaranteed to live a long time, right? And if I supplement that diet by shooting up some alligator (into my veins with a needle, say), I’ll be alive forever!

I don’t know. Somebody help me out here. Why would vaccinating yourself with a bacterium imbue you with properties of that bacterium? Wouldn’t it just help your immune system figure out how to kill that organism? I was vaccinated with weakened mumps virus, but, as far as I know, I don’t have the ability to make anyone’s face inflate on cue, nor did the process transform me into a protein shell full of bits of DNA.

Nonetheless, after their inoculation with the bacteria, the mice demonstrated “growth of physical, mental, and sexual activity” into their old age. Female mice were even able to give birth at an age equivalent to a human 70-year-old.

That’s freaking amazing, isn’t it? So, hmm… here at the Daily Mail, we seem to have an exclusive story on this awesome biological breakthrough. What should we title this story? What… should… we… call… it? I know! “'Pre-historic Viagra' found in Siberian mammoth DNA could boost your sex life and let you live longer”

Duh. I mean, it says in the article that the bacteria and the mammoths, though they were found in the same area, are not believed to be linked to each other, but nothing else makes sense, so why should the headline? Mammoth DNA! Pre-historic Viagra! Print it!

How frustrating. This seems awesome, but until I can get some better, and possibly less fake, information, I have to file it under “Thhhbbtttbbbtbb.” Fudge.

I just got sucked into this wonderful list of commonly held scientific beliefs which are in fact not true. Some of my favs: when a meteor lands on earth it is generally cold not hot, Koalas are not bears, and blood is never blue, veins appear blue because of the same reason the sky does, Rayleigh scattering. It's not exactly topical or current but I just couldn't resist posting these. I'm a sucker for random facts.

This is my new favorite site: BadScience.net. Based in England, it looks at various claims made in the media and examines whether the science behind them is any good. Lately they've been debunking various health complaints supposedly linked to WiFi. Much fun!