A blog about science, medicine, media and the ramblings of Irish hack....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

3 men and their damn tiger's first birthday - Thanks You! Feedback welcomed....

Happy new year folks - By now I trust most of you have recovered from your hangovers / extreme debauchery over what our American friends call 'the Holiday season'. I hope my guide to alcohol served some practical use and none of you got arrested or killed anyone. Unless you did kill someone, in which case you'll probably been arrested already. Anyhow, I digress -  lots of things are a foot here and I have a few original stories in the pipeline - apologies they're taking so long but I'd prefer to release well researched pieces at a slower rate than re-hash questionable ones.  In the interim I'd like to thank you for reading and sharing this little site, it's been far more successful thus far that I'd hoped and I'm lucky to have a small but appreciative audience. So here's a little round up of some of the highlights this year for me, and I would love your feedback about future content!

Getting my PhD and starting the blog
I defended my thesis on February 16th 2011, and graduated in November. My research was on dosimetry and treatment models for phototherapy. My motivation to start this blog was realising through the course of my time as an undergrad and doctoral student how shockingly bad much of media coverage of science and health stories actually is. The more I read scientific papers, the more it dawned on me that media spin on these findings and discoveries were entirely at odds, like a game of sophisticated Chinese whispers. Aghast, I donned a costume and decided to fight these injustices....

Have cape, will request citations
Ok fine, the costume is ridiculous but hear you me, floppy hats are coming back. Anyway, the disconnect between science and media is jarring - not only perpetuating inaccuracies, but oftentimes fundamentally misrepresenting research and findings or spreading outright falsehoods. This is tragic, as science isn't some arcane religion that exists only in the ivory towers of academia (although they'd make a good secret base), but rather something everyone can appreciate that will improve all our lives. This blog is my way of correcting some of those wrongs in my own little way.

Writing for the JREF
In the circles of doubters, the name Randi is more than just a mildly amusing sex pun - James Randi is the archetype of skeptical thought, carefully challenging purveyors of woo-ology. I was deeply honoured in March 2011 to have an article on Churnalism published on the James Randi educational foundation's (JREF) website and your feedback was wonderful. If you haven't seen it already, you'll find it here.

The legend that is Randi: Kinda looks Like Santa
Writing for the The Journal
Thejournal.ie is a fantastic and widely read Irish website, and I was honoured to be asked to write for them on science and health matters. I wrote opinion pieces on homeopathy and nuclear power. The reactions to the former ran the entire gambit from total agreement to some rather amusing threats. These threats are now gone from the comment section, as is my reaction which I quote here..

"Madam, thank you for enquiring as to whether my mother is proud of me or not. I have duly contacted her and she affirms this is the case. On your second point I do need to seek further clarification though - I wish to know whether this is a regular threat, or a homeopathic threat, which would be watered down to the extent where there is no trace of actual threat left. I am confused, as according to your philosophy you may view the latter as more potent. Yours, David Robert Grimes.

Sadly, I did not get a decent screen capture of her erudite reply comprised mainly of four letter words in all caps. I was honoured when that piece was selected as one of the top ten reads of 2011 so thank you all for taking the time to read my ramblings to thanks to the journal for running it.

Debunking in other media
To be fair this isn't a common occurrence, despite my perfect face for radio. But this year I have been asked onto a few radio slots to debunk some common misconceptions. This is great, as it means a wider audience get to hear the skeptical viewpoint, rather than the churnalistic press releases. This clip below is from Phantom FM, where I was invited onto speak about the 'Happiest' day of the year following my post on the subject here.

Compare the policy 
This one might seem slightly off-topic; what does Irish election information site www.comparethepolicy.com have to do with science or skeptical thought ? Well, I would argue an awful lot - clear access to data allows people to make better decisions. Critical thinking is not limited to intellectual pursuits, it helps us make better choices in everyday life. The site was a tongue in cheek non-partisan attempt to compile the policy documents of the major Irish political parties in easy to read formats. It was the brain child of Danny 'Teegan' Murray and myself, and gained popularity around the Irish general election. While Teegan and I will never win awards for website design, it helped people make their selections amidst all the double talk of a general election and we're happy with that.

We felt a reward was in order for informed voting....

Your support in the Kate Fitzgerald / Irish Times fiasco
On comparethepolicy.com we thanked the unstoppable Kate Fitzgerald for her support,enthusiasm and promotion.Sadly, Kate took her own life in August 2011 and that unstoppable force ceased. Before she died, Kate wrote a piece about depression and the treatment of employees with mental health issues. It was printed anonymously in the Irish Times. Weeks later, Kate's identity was revealed, and her employers (a powerful PR firm) pressurised the Irish Times into burying the story, literally striking her moving piece from the records. Not only that, but the IT proceeded to issue a grovelling apology to Kate's former employer, the communications clinic, and in the process smeared Kate as a liar, despite all evidence to the contrary. This is still ongoing, and  urge you to read Kate's original words and the background to the story here. You readers were appalled and your support was overwhelming - it made it easier for me, for Kate's friends and Kate's family and I thank you sincerely for that. Thousands have seen this story now, thanks to Ben Goldacre, Mark Little and others kindly retweeting it. Rest in Peace Kate - you will never be forgotten, and your words have helped many and will help many more, despite the attempts by some to derail that.

Speaking with other science communicators and sceptics
But one of the nicest things for me so far in writing this blog is that I've meet and touched base with other science communicators and sceptics. On January 21st I gave a talk entitled "Lies, damned lies and statistics" in Blackrock Castle for Cork Skeptics, and I will be doing a similar one for Dublin Skeptics in early February.

Speaking to the Cork Skeptics in Blackrock - cape out of shot

The Future - What do YOU want to see ?
So there you have some of my personal hightlights since the birth of this blog last year - thank you for reading, and hopefully it'll continue to improve. So right now what I'd like to do is welcome YOUR suggestions on board. What can be improved, and what topics would YOU like to see covered ? I'm open to all suggestions, even 'POST MORE PICTURES OF CATS' as long as those cats can be connected to scientific thought!

Your feedback would mean a lot, thank you and please do feel free to offer your ideas, opinions and criticisms!

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