The fracking controversy has been high profile in recent years, and tempers are short on all sides of the subject. Some groups see natural gas and the process used to extract it – hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – as a boon to energy production in the U.S., while others see it as a pernicious threat to people and the environment.
As shown in this New York Times interactive infographic, fracking (sometimes called “unconventional gas drilling”) is a complicated process. It involves high-pressure injection of fluids into natural gas reserves that lie thousands of feet underground, trapped in layers of shale. In addition, there’s a landslide of conflicting information and anecdotal evidence.
So, as a reporter, how do you sift through the various interests and pull out a story that is relevant to your community?
On Sunday, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey on the interaction between scientists, the media and the public. The survey revealed how scientists engage with the public, and how different demographics view scientific issues.
Pew released the report in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the findings were presented at the AAAS 2015 Annual Meeting on Sunday. The report included feedback from 3,784 AAAS scientists, and it is the second in a series of surveys canvassing both scientists and the American public on the interface of scientific data and public understanding.
“How Scientists Engage the Public,” reveals that most scientists – 87 percent – feel they should participate in the public policy process and in relevant debates about science and technology. Not surprisingly, almost all of them said they engaged on some level with journalists or members of the public.
Why do the brains of some older adults look very different than those of their peers? Scientists at Northwestern University say the answer may explain why these elders don’t suffer the same cognitive decline that affects other seniors.
These so-called “SuperAgers,” all age 80 and older, have memories as sharp as those of healthy people 30 years younger, according to a small study by researchers from the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. This is the first study to quantify brain differences of SuperAgers and normal older people.
When compared with people of similar ages, the “brain signature” of SuperAgers have a thicker region of the cortex; significantly fewer tangles — a primary marker of Alzheimer’s disease – and a substantial supply of von Economo neurons, which are linked to higher social intelligence.
“The decision to remove wisdom teeth often seems like a routine part of young adulthood. But more people are starting to ask whether it’s always necessary,” Elise Oberliesen told readers of the Los Angeles Times in a recent story.
“Those who oppose automatically taking out those four teeth say “watchful waiting” is a better path because the teeth and surrounding gum tissue might remain normal, making costly surgery unnecessary,” she wrote. Continue reading
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes are growing in popularity among American adults, and while some states restrict their use by minors, nearly 1.8 million American middle and high school students reported using them one recent year, a federal study found.
The battery-powered devices work by vaporizing a liquid solution that users inhale. They are sold in various flavors, including mint and chocolate, and typically contain nicotine as well as a propellant to create the vapor. Continue reading
Americans spend about $3 billion annually getting wisdom teeth removed. But some experts are now questioning whether the procedure is always necessary, Elise Oberliesen recently reported in a story for the Los Angeles Times.
“Those who oppose automatically taking out those four teeth say ‘watchful waiting’ is a better path because the teeth and surrounding gum tissue might remain normal, making costly surgery unnecessary,” Oberliesen writes.
The four back teeth, also known as the third molars, generally erupt in young adulthood. But they sometimes only partially break through the gum. The teeth can become impacted because there’s not enough room in the jaw. Impaction can lead to decay, inflammation, the formation of cysts and other problems. Continue reading
Last month, journalists from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting raised serious questions about prenatal genetic screening tests, saying physicians and patients may not fully understand the results of these tests for fetal abnormalities.
In their reporting, the journalists exposed a symptom of what may be a bigger problem: the proliferation of genetic tests without a full understanding about what such testing can and cannot do. Even health insurers have struggled to understand how to pay for new genetic tests.
The stories also pointed out that federal regulators are wrestling with how to classify genetic tests. Many of these tests fall into the category of what pathologists call lab-developed tests or LDTs. These tests are not regulated by the FDA, as the NECIR journalists reported. In October, the FDA proposed regulating these tests as medical devices and clinical laboratories are pushing back, saying such regulations could interfere with the practice of medicine.
We’ll address these issues one at time. Continue reading
A $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation will be used to create a database of retractions from scientific journals, extending the work done by Adam Marcus and AHCJ Vice President Ivan Oransky on their Retraction Watch blog.
The grant was awarded to the Center for Scientific Integrity, a nonprofit organization set up by Marcus and Oransky. Continue reading
Dutch researchers have concluded that during a 10-second French kiss, partners exchange an average of 80 million bacteria.
Their study, “Shaping the Oral Microbiota Through Intimate Kissing,” was recently published in the journal Microbiome.
The researchers conducted their investigation with the help of 21 human couples visiting Amsterdam’s Royal Artis Zoo on a summer day in 2012. They administered a questionnaire on the kissing habits of each partner in each couple and collected samples of tongue and salivary microbiota from each participant before and after a “controlled kissing experiment.” Then they offered a probiotic yogurt drink containing marker bacteria to one of the partners in each couple prior to a second French kiss to quantify the number of bacteria exchanged.
The findings suggest that a shared microbiota is able to develop in the mouths of partners. While collective bacteria in saliva were eventually washed out, those on the surface of the tongue were able to find “a true niche, allowing long-term colonization,” the researchers wrote.
“French kissing is a great example of exposure to a gigantic number of bacteria in a short time,” lead researcher Remco Kort of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research said in a story published online by the BBC. “But only some bacteria transferred from a kiss seemed to take hold on the tongue.