Weekly Science Picks

Halloween week and we have a collection of scientific goodies for you to dig your teeth into. Some scary, others not, (does not contain smarties).

Halloween’s Debt to a Demonic Virus

“Our demons have their origins in our dread of death and the unknown. Today is Halloween, a time for costuming ourselves and confronting those fears (and, most importantly, for outsized consumption of sweets). For those of us celebrating Halloween disguised as vampires, werewolves and zombies, we owe a great debt to one of the world’s deadliest and most feared zoonotic viruses, rabies. This past summer I wrote about the fascinating microbial origins of some of our most enduring humanoid monsters in “The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires.””

The microbiology of zombies, part III: “We’re all infected”

“In many latter-day zombie movies, books, and TV shows, zombie-ism has a biological cause. In 28 Days Later, the infection is caused by the “Rage” virus, which escaped from a lab when animal rights activists break in and release a group of infected chimpanzees. Of course, one of the animals promptly bites one of its “liberators,” and the infection spreads rapidly throughout Great Britain. In Zombieland, it’s a mutated form of “mad cow” disease. The Crazies, it’s the Trixie virus; World War Z, the Solanum virus; Resident Evil, the T virus. I could go on and on. Zombie causation has clearly evolved from the early days of radiation or curses, and has become a biological phenomenon in most modern zombie tales.”


Do Facemasks Protect Against the Flu? It’s Hard to Tell

“My search through individual studies was frustrating. The evidence supporting the use of facemasks is lacking, and results are varied. So I turned to a 2011 Cochrane Review of the literature. The review concluded that facemasks seem to be effective in containing respiratory viruses, but that studies on facemasks have a high risk of bias, illustrating the difficulty of performing such research and drawing meaningful conclusions from it. A 2011 Institute of Medicine Report recommended the use of masks and other personal protective equipment but echoed the need for further research on how the flu is transmitted, and how facemasks may decrease transmission.”


The Gladwell pivot

“The gripe about Gladwell is his selective use of such information—not letting facts get in the way of a good story. A different story, certainly a more nuanced one, would result if other studies, other personal narratives, other experts had been considered. The average reader is not aware of what has been left out and thus can be easily mislead. His selective use of the research literature turns scientific findings into another form of anecdote. This is particularly bothersome to scientists whose own first commandment is something like: thou shalt address all relevant evidence, not merely the findings that support the most interesting, attention-getting hypothesis.”

An enticing and impressive collection of this week’s science happenings out there in the blogosphere. Enough to keep you occupied this sunday. Until next time.