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Dr Neil Tyson – Argument and Action from Ignorance

The Sherrod Event reminded me of this talk given by Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson at St Petersburg College, Florida, 2009, which I liken to the need to apply scientific rigor in journalism – know of what you speak, know of what is spoken, before you move to action. For example, WWWWW – Who, What, Where, When Why…now replaced by WWWBS –
World Wide Web, Blogs, Soundbytes…

In response to a question about UFOs – Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, skilfully and articulately developed a response that in the context of Sherrod, could be seen as a lesson in the “science of journalism” as opposed to science journalism.

The video clip that created the avalanche of events around Ms Sherrod, was like the U – in UFO – unidentified, unchecked with rigor. When we do not know, we engender, what Dr Tyson calls – “Arguments from Ignorance. Humans are uncomfortable steeped in ignorance so they move quickly from an abject statement of ignorance to an abject statement of certainty, which in the Sherrod case led to abject actions from ignorance. He stated that “If you don’t know what IT is, then that’s where the conversation should stop”!

He reminded us that the lowest form of evidence is eyewitness (and ear witness, my addition) testimony. There is a failure in human perception that leads to poor data taking/analysis and evaluation, a classic example of GIGO. When the evidence derives from ignorance, scientific rigor (and journalistic rigor) are negatively impacted, resulting in, as regards journalism, what came crashing through our television sets, computers, cell phones, airwaves, satellites – the “Sherrod Asteroid”.

How can an astrophysicist help us get to the science of journalism, and not only focus on science journalism? Shouldn’t our journalists apply scientific rigor to the news they report? If not, then, what?

I say, turn Dr Tyson loose on all of them!!!

Mums for Malaria Movement

Mums for Malaria

Mums for Malaria

“If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow Chrysanthemums.” (a Chinese philosopher)

Planting chrysanthemums good for malaria, for the environment/planet, good for bringing in $$$ to local communities…

Issues of sustainability are critical in any project if we want really that the project has a longterm viability. Malaria No More is doing great work in spreading awareness about malaria and doing something about it by providing bednets.

While following the tweeters and mosquito bednets, I began to have flash backs to my days in the UN working in water and sanitation, organizing with communities in ridding their environment of puddles, old tires with stagnant water, and other places of mosquito breeding. Too much water can create too many disease problems.

Bednets are very important and every effort to rid the earth of this deadly scourge should be applauded. We also need to examine ways of making the efforts sustainable, for, as an old man told me when we were talking about using bednets – we need to have beds first…

In answer to the Bill Gates Foundation in which they were looking for ideas to Create New Tools to Accelerate the Eradication of Malaria. I submitted the idea of Growing Chrysanthemums to help accelerate the eradication of Malaria.

Of note, bednets are currently treated with either Permethrin & Pyrethrum Insecticides (One is a natural insecticide the other is syntheti)

Pyrethrum, natural pyrethrum or “insect powder” a natural insecticide made from the flowers of certain species of chrysanthemum. It is a mixture of several different compounds called pyrethrins and cinerins. Originally pyrethrum was made by grinding dried chrysanthemum flowers into a powder.

Today, pyrethrum is extracted from chrysanthemum plant material with solvents. Pyrethrum is still widely used today in household insect sprays where it is usually combined with another chemical “synergist” called piperonyl butoxide (PBO). PBO helps pyrethrum by enhancing its toxicity in insects. (source livingwithbugs)

The Rockefeller Foundation began using pyrethrum sprays experimentally in India to great
success and this method of malaria control was recognised as enormously valuable. The use
of pyrethrum was then expanded to Assam by Dr. D. K. Viswanathan, the well known Indian malariologist in 1942.

Beginning Earth Day 2009 and beyond we should start  a movement on the planting of chrysanthemums and the extracting of the inherent herbicide pyrethrum to treat the bednets, thus beautifying the environment, generating income, and treating bednets/malaria… MUMS FOR MALARIA

For every effort there has to be some thought to the sustainability of the effort, to what happens when the source dries up. Let us create a Mums for Malaria Movement

Sources: living with bugs, Glasgow submission to Gates Foundation

More on cell phones and cancer

Larry King Live on 29th July 2008 was about a revisiting of whether cell phones can cause cancer.  This review was based on an advisory from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

The advisory, by Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, suggested that users of cell phones take measures to limit exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by the phones. In particular, he urged children to limit their use of cell phones.

Read more here  for information on the ongoing debate


Cell phones and cancer

Do cell phones cause brain cancer?

Jury still out on this question. So far, studies show no relationship after about 10 years of use – see Danish study (conducted by Johansen et al.) linking data on all of the 420,095 cell phone users in Denmark between 1982 and 1995 to the Danish Cancer Registry.

Muriella’s Corner has been tracking this issue for a while now see below

Cell phones and sperm counts

Our cells and cell phones

Is there a link?



On the Larry King show, 27 May 2008 this issue came up again. The discussion centred on seeking more info on the relationship between cell phones and brain cancer. Mrs D. Cochran, wife of the late Johnny Cochran, Esq. and Dr Keith Black, Neurosurgeon and Mr Cochran’s medical doctor, led the discussion as to whether Mr Cochran’s death could be attributed to heavy use of cell phones which might have led to brain cancer. Read info here

Other neurosurgeons joined in the discussion, notably Dr Sanjay Gupta and Dr Vini Khurana, the latter being the only one among them who tenaciously held the view that he believed that there was a link and who pointed to recent data coming in from the Interphone Study Group established through the World Health Organizaton (WHO)

INTERPHONE Study Results update – 7 February 2008
The INTERPHONE Study is a series of multinational case–control studies set-up to determine
whether mobile telephone use increases the risk of cancer and, specifically, whether the radiofrequency radiation (non-ionizing) emitted by mobile telephones is carcinogenic, is nearing completion.

Details of the study protocol and procedures have been published for acoustic neurinoma, glioma, meningioma and tumours of the parotid gland. The studies used a common core protocol and were carried out in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Read more here

What should be noted from the King discussion are the following:

  • Cell phone users should be aware that there are procedures to follow and should read the instructions coming with the phone (distance recommended between phone and ear, use of case, care in placing phone near body without being in a case…
  • More use should be made of ear devices – headset, earpiece, speaker on phone, blue tooth even though the latter might be a potential issue as it is plugged into the ear and might emit low-dose radiation
  • Cell phone only users should reconsider returning to having landlines, as the tendency to eliminate landlines and increase cell phone use as the only communication tool should be revisited, given that landlines might provide some respite to users as regards exposure to non-ionizing radiation
  • Reduce/eliminate cell phone use among young children as their developing brain might be more susceptible to cancer causing radiation given that brain tumour/cancer is now being identified as the number one killer in young children

What also came out of the discussion is that we should not believe that brain cancers might be attributable to cell phone use only. As was pointed out, farmers might be affected due to heavy diesel exposure, air pollution is being identified strongly with an increase in brain tumors.

Cell phone technology is also evolving thus leading to reduction in the levels of non-ionizing radiation. However, given the popularity of cell phones, there has been dramatic increase in usage around the world.

In 2004, there were over 1.7 billion cell phones in use worldwide (Source – CIA /facts and figures). That figure has grown exponentially by now. Of these phones, more than 60 percent are in developing countries. For example, if you examine the explosive growth in one region, Africa – in 2000 there were about 500,000 phones including land lines; today there are over 30 million with many of them wireless cell phones.

Evolution of utilization of the cell phone

This developing country market might not be cognizant of the health discussions going on in the developed world, and as such they might just become victims of any long-term health consequences, as for them, the cell phone is not only a communication tool but could be their livelihood as well.

Creativity has surrounded cell phone usage and the demand has affected supply. Cell phones are used in economic dealings, for communication and connection with loved ones and friend. Cell phones open up a sea of possibilities for the delivery of information, from sources not yet thought of and thus not not yet available; they are specifically establishing a sense of empowerment among people living in developing countries, by assisting them to leap frog into the internet without having a computer by using the cell phone for business, communicating, and texting/SMS.

For example, Grameen Bank, through Grameen Telecom whose goal is to provide telecommunication services to the 100 million rural inhabitants in the 68,000 villages in Bangladesh, provides cell phones mostly to women who use them as a means of livelihood. In Africa, cell phones are used to spread messages about health and disease, as well as to connect women traders to users of their products and for telephone banking and leasing of phones to clients/customers in the street to make calls.

Muriella’s Corner hopes that the Interphone Study Group has developed or will develop a protocol to examine this evolution and heavy-duty utilization of the cell phone in developing countries.

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