The Institute for Figuring posted this exciting note on facebook yesterday:

IFF Director, Margaret Wertheim’s, TED Talk about our Crochet Coral Reef project as an artistic response to global warming, has reached a million views. We’re currently working on a book about the project that will highlight all 30 Crochet Reefs around the world and the 8000 participants who have contributed to these unique marine-inspired installations.

Here’s the talk, in case you haven’t seen it:

Here’s a detail photo from the Smithsonian Community Reef (October 16, 2010-April 24, 2011), in case you’ve forgotten how amazing it was:

Photo by MeanLouise

“Aerodynamics of the flying snake Chrysopelea paradisi: how a bluff body cross-sectional shape contributes to gliding performance.”

This research was partially supported by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant W911NF1010040 to J.J.S. and P.P.V.

I guess it turns out it wasn’t a secret.

Holden, Daniel, John J. Socha, Nicholas D. Cardwell, and Pavlos P. Vlachos. “Aerodynamics of the flying snake Chrysopelea paradisi: how a bluff body cross-sectional shape contributes to gliding performance.” Journal of Experimental Biology. (217):382-394. (available February 1, 2014)

Yesterday, I posted about how puzzling it is that a clearly false story about Jenny McCarthy recanting her anti-vaccinating ways has caught fire on facebook.

Apparently, the New York Daily News couldn’t be bothered to look at the date on, or even read, that old Time Magazine article, either. Although the use the word “suggests” in reference to the Time article, the headline plays on her role as co-host of “The View” to reinforce the rumor that McCarthy is changing her tune about vaccines.

JENNY CHANGES HER ‘VIEW’ – January 5, 2014

Jenny McCarthy’s immunization bashing may be coming to an end. “The View” host, who rallied publicly about her belief that MMR shots caused her son, Evan’s, autism, was interviewed for a Time magazine article, which suggests her son instead suffers from Landau-Kleffner syndrome, “a rare childhood neurological disorder.” McCarthy had been a voice to help those with autism since Evan’s diagnosis in 2005.

They don’t even mention the intermediary blog post that started the whole rumor.

That sounds like the title of the worst children’s book ever written.

I’ve been mostly off the grid for the last few weeks, so I was surprised to see links to a 3 year old post about Jenny McCarthy at something called The Sports Pig’s Blog were sprouting on facebook like mushrooms. “Jenny McCarthy: My bad, turns out my kid doesn’t have autism.”

McCarthy’s latest tweet told a different story:

@jennymccarthy via twitlonger:
Stories circulating online, claiming that I said my son Evan may not have autism after all, are blatantly inaccurate and completely ridiculous. Evan was diagnosed with autism by the Autism Evaluation Clinic at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Hospital and was confirmed by the State of California (through their Regional Center). The implication that I have changed my position, that my child was not initially diagnosed with autism (and instead may suffer from Landau-Kleffner Syndrome), is both irresponsible and inaccurate. These stories cite a “new” Time Magazine interview with me, which was actually published in 2010, that never contained any such statements by me. Continued misrepresentations, such as these, only serve to open wounds of the many families who are courageously dealing with this disorder. Please know that I am taking every legal measure necessary to set this straight.


Here’s what the Sports Pig’s blog post states:

Now in a stunning article in Time magazine, it’s revealed that McCarthy’s son NEVER had autism in the first place. It turns out the boy had been misdiagnosed and really has a rare neurological disorder. Fortunately, the child is getting better and no longer displays any signs of autism. However, McCarthy has not apologized for her misdirected zealotry against having children vaccinated. Even if she did, APOLOGY NOT ACCEPTED.

Except that’s not what the Time article said.

Here’s an archived version of the original Time article: The Autism Debate: Who’s Afraid of Jenny McCarthy? by Karl Taro Greenfeld, published Thursday, February 25, 2010. The section in question is from the 2nd page:

She believes she did fix her boy. A psychological evaluation from UCLA’s neuropsychiatric hospital, dated May 10, 2005, was “conclusive for a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder,” and yet here, running toward us on a warm California afternoon, is Evan, shouting out, “Are you here to play with me? When are we going to play?” McCarthy’s boy is a vivacious, articulate and communicative child who seems to have beaten the condition. He is an inspiration, the fact of him as incontrovertible as any study done in any laboratory in the world.

Or is this the truth? There are dark murmurings from scientists and doctors asking, Was her son ever really autistic? Evan’s symptoms — heavy seizures, followed by marked improvement once the seizures were brought under control — are similar to those of Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a rare childhood neurological disorder that can also result in speech impairment and possible long-term neurological damage. Or, as other pediatricians have suggested, perhaps the miracle I have beheld is the quotidian miracle of childhood development: a delayed 2-year-old catching up by the time he is 7, a commonplace, routine occurrence, nothing more surprising than a short boy growing tall. It is enraging to the mother to hear that nothing was wrong with her boy — she held him during his seizures, saw his eyes roll up after he received his vaccines — and how can you say that she doesn’t know what she knows?

That’s not a scientific diagnosis. It’s conjecture by a journalist who repeats “dark murmurings” by unnamed scientists and doctors to identify a potential neurological disorder that this child could have.

I can’t imagine how painful this is for parents of autistic children who’ve suffered abused, guilt or fear as a direct result of McCarthy’s behavior. I certainly get why all parents would be incensed by the idea that McCarthy’s child was never autistic, why all people should be incensed by her actions.

I don’t know whether McCarthy’s child is autistic or not. No matter what, I feel for the poor child. What I’ve been perplexed about is why this story was suddenly mutating and rising from the dead.

I found this informative blog post by Jen Gunter: Jenny McCarthy is still anti-vaccine despite what you may have learned today on Reddit.

Ah, Reddit.

Today I learned: Jenny McCarthy’s son doesn’t even have autism. 1511 comments and it appears no one read the original Time article. I don’t honestly know, I skimmed the top comments and read the original poster’s ongoing defense of her link, but I didn’t invest a lot of time in the venture. (Yet).

It’s fascinating and bizarre how quickly this link to a dead sports blog has spread.

I blogged this because I’m interested in science communication and media literacy and I wanted to capture the evolution of this strange story before links started vanishing.

If you see this story mutating and/or being reported (on a media site, not someplace like your aunt diane’s facebook page), would you take a moment to leave me a note and link in my comments? Thanks!

In the meantime, if you want to read more about why McCarthy’s anti-vaccine crusade matters, here are a few links for your edification:

The New Yorker: “Jenny McCarthy’s Dangerous Views”

Slate, Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog: “Vaccinating Against McCarthyism”>

Time Magazine: “Viruses Don’t Care About Your View: Why ABC Shouldn’t Have Hired Jenny McCarthy

The Jenny McCarthy Anti-Vaccine Body Count


Image: The Simpson (Fox)

Yesterday, I let grappling with trolls distract me from blogging actual interesting things. This is no one’s fault but my own, but I’m going to whine about it anyway.

Before I went to bed last night, I scribbled a note to myself to write more about the Fukushima disaster, particularly the peculiar relationship with nuclear energy that’s on display in American pop culture.

It bothers me that, in arguing with the opportunists and the xenophobes yesterday, I may have appeared to be dismissing nuclear dangers when my intent was to dismiss the trolls. I’ll start with the explicitly serious stuff and then move on to a few interesting examples of atomic imagery in entertainment (or, in Disney’s case, the precurser to infotainment).

Today, the Washington Post featured this article, For Tepco and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, toxic water stymies cleanup.

That seems like a good place to start this post.

Two and a half years after a series of nuclear meltdowns, Japan’s effort to clean up what remains of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is turning into another kind of disaster.

The site now stores 90 million gallons of radioactive water, more than enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim. An additional 400 tons of toxic water is flowing daily into the Pacific Ocean, and almost every week, the plant operator acknowledges a new leak.

That operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, was put in charge of the cleanup process more than two years ago and subsequently given a government bailout as its debts soared. The job of dismantling the facility was supposed to give Tepco an opportunity to rebuild credibility.

But many lawmakers and nuclear industry specialists say that Tepco is perpetuating the kinds of mistakes that led to the March 2011 meltdowns: underestimating the plant’s vulnerabilities, ignoring warnings from outsiders and neglecting to draw up plans for things that might go wrong. Those failures, they say, have led to the massive buildup and leakage of toxic water.

“Tepco didn’t play enough of these what-if games,” said Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who recently joined a Tepco advisory panel. “They didn’t have enough of that questioning attitude” about their plans.

The article is a long read that’s well-worth your time, whether you think you’re interested or not.

Because you should be interested.

And now, because I believe the word “should” is weak and should be mercilessly edited out of any piece you wish taken seriously, I can’t stop pompously writing “should” statements. The more I try to change my language in this post the worse it gets, so maybe I should just…oh, nevermind.

Let’s just forge ahead. If I put this into the drafts folder until later I’ll never get it published, so here it is, chock full of sanctimonious should statements I can’t seem to stop myself from using…

You should be interested in the Fukushima meltdown and it’s aftermath because other human beings on this planet are suffering, because of the damage to the environment, and because of the important lessons to be learned from the accident, the response, and the consequences.

You shouldn’t be interested because there could be a way to make a buck selling dubious products or medical treatments to vulnerable people – in Japan or anywhere else.

You should be deeply concerned about the health consequences of this disaster for people – especially Japanese children – who are actually being impacted by this disaster. Because they’re human beings. If you missed the fracas over my previous post – hysterical fears about the possiblity of “mutant” children in Japan or the U.S. took an even uglier turn than I wish to rehash here. I will reiterate that any human being who is harmed by any environmental accident is still a human being, not a damaged creatures who should be warehoused so you don’t have to see them or be reminded that human folly has consequences.

On a little bit of a tangent, I just learned that in 2011 in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Germany, Austria and Switzerland banned episodes of the Simpsons that make jokes about nuclear disasters.

According to this brief Entertainment Weekly interview with Simpson’s Executive Producer Al Jean, the studio has willingly provided stations with a detailed list of episodes that contain story elements about nuclear accidents or radiation.


I’m not going to link to any of the idiotic posts I just read accusing European media of censorship for not airing reruns of a show making light of nuclear accidents. They’re poorly argued and take this post too far afield – particularly in light of the fact that it didn’t actually become illegal to view or possess the episodes, the stations just aren’t going to air those reruns again any time soon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that The Simpsons normalizes our relationship with human error and nuclear power. Although the show is satirical, and it’s obvious no one is meant to view Homer Simpson as a role model, I wonder what effects 20 years of jokes about nuclear disaster and nuclear waste have on our attitudes toward nuclear accidents?

Does it make us less concerned about our immediate environment? Less sympathetic to people in other places who experience the consequences of uncontrolled radiation? Does it make the default attitude, “Well, if they didn’t want a disaster, they should have hired better workers?”

I don’t mean to suggest that The Simpsons are to blame for warping our understanding of atomic energy, particularly regarding the idea that atomic or nuclear production is less an industrial process and more of a natural process.

For that we can blame Walt Disney.

The blog Brain Pickings posted some of the most interesting illustrations from the book, Our Friend the Atom, but I recommend you watch the original movie, as broadcast on television in 1957.

Our Friend the Atom:

If you don’t have an hour to spend with the Wonderful World of Disney, you can easily find the program posted in 10 minute segments that are labelled by chapter. I’m not going to link them all here because I have faith in your youtube skills.

And also because I’m a little bit lazy, but that’s not news.

{Comments are closed on this site at this time, but you’re welcome to leave a comment on facebook or contact me on twitter: @meanlouise}

I’m at ScienceOnline Climate but have to take a quick moment to express my adoration for John Oliver. Again.

Please don’t leave us, John.

John Oliver on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop:

It is way too early in the morning for me to figure out why this is not embedding properly but you can click through to the Comedy Central site if you need to. Totally worth it.

Megalodon fossil cast
Megalodon fossil cast, image by MeanLouise.

edited at 8:20 p.m. to update some links.

The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week opened last night with a pseudo-documentary that is so abysmal that the words “fraudulent” and “bullshit” and “lies” are among the kinder assessments I’ve seen thus far. And I haven’t even looked very far.

The wildly differing goals of fiction films and documentaries are, I think, pretty well understood by most reasonable people. Crappy sci-fi or horror production houses aren’t big on maintaining a stable of science advisors. Hell, even the biggest budget movie or tv show will throw science to the wind in the pursuit of good storytelling.

It happens.

Sometimes, this becomes an opportunity for interesting conversation or an opening for some innovative science education programming. Other times it’s just a fun opportunity to get together with your science-y pals and have a few laughs.

Discovery is not the SyFy channel. Discovery purports to be a purveyor of science. Discovery needs to be held to a higher standard than Hollywood.

Discovery’s annual ichthyological bacchanalia has become an increasingly irresponsible blurring of fact and fiction and their sensationalization of the behavior of sharks – animals that are already misunderstood, over-fished and, in some cases, endangered.

This year, Discovery has taken things a step further, casting aside science in favor of science fiction delivered in a deliberately misleading fashion.

Christie Wilcox’s excellent piece, “Shark Week Jumps the Shark: An Open Letter to Discovery Communications,” is vital reading for anyone who doesn’t understand why paleontologists, conservationists, science communicators, documentarians, and ocean scientists, among others, are already pulling their hair out and tweeting madly about this year’s Shark Week.

This year’s Shark Week kick-off special, Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, claimed to provide evidence that these massive beasts are still out there, using scattered anecdotes and scientific testimony to support the assertion. There’s only one problem: the entire “documentary” wasn’t real.

No whale with a giant bite taken out of it has ever washed up here in Hawaii. No fishing vessel went mysteriously missing off of South Africa in April. No one has ever found unfossilized Megalodon teeth. Collin Drake? Doesn’t exist. The evidence was faked, the stories fabricated, and the scientists portrayed on it were actors. The idea that Megalodon could still be roaming the ocean is a complete and total myth.

The heart of her argument is this:

The real science of these animals should have been more than enough to inspire Discovery Channel viewers. But it’s as if you don’t care anymore about presenting the truth or reality. You chose, instead, to mislead your viewers with 120 minutes of bullshit. And the sad part is, you are so well trusted by your audience that you actually convinced them: according to your poll, upwards of 70% of your viewing public fell for the ruse and now believes that Megalodon isn’t extinct.

The letter continues on as Wilcox outlines the reasons for her fury and ends with samples from Discovery’s facebook wall that show that she is far from alone in condemning their absurd content. You should go read the whole thing. It’s not that long, you can spare the time.

I was even more disappointed in Discovery for Megalodon: The Monster Shark that Lives than I was for the hoax-y “mermaids are real” programs they’ve run the last two Memorial Day weekends. See also: Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post article, Mermaids: The official U.S. position (yes, there is one) (which raises serious points. Go read it). See also: Southern Fried Science – Mermaids: The New Evidence is a Fake Documentary. See also: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s statement on aquatic humanoids.

Jacquelyn Gill has a timely guest-post on her blog, The Contemplative Mammoth, by PhD students Meghan Balk and Catalina Pimiento. I suggest reading The Megatooth Shark: Megalodon to learn actual things.

If your kids watched this fetid show, I suggest downloading the University of Florida’s Megalodon educator’s guide. UF is also the home of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, a great source for dispelling some of the myths and rumors programming like Shark Week disseminates in the name of ratings and profit.

Want some interesting (and intelligent) shark week commentary (52 weeks a year) on twitter? Start with David Schiffman, aka @WhySharksMatter. And perhaps turn off Discovery in favor of Nat Geo Wild’s Sharkfest. I’ve heard rumors it will have real science. Instead of, you know, bullshit and rumors.

updated to add links to other indignant blog posts:
It’s Okay to be Smart: “Shark Weak” (good title).

Wil Wheaton: “Discover Channel Owes it’s Viewers an Apology.”


Anyone who’s anyone knows that Brian Switek (aka @laelaps) is on Brontotour to promote his groovy new book, My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs.

Tomorrow, the Brontotour rolls into Politics and Prose, which is a mere mile from where my ass will be sitting in class unless we get out early. I’ve been laying the groundwork for this adventure, which in my burned-out end-of-the-semester insanity has come to be known as The Great Escape. My professor is extremely tired of hearing about the book, but is fairly amused at how it’s author inadvertently gave me the idea for my research proposal, so she might let me out early without a guilt. She made no guarantees.

So, if you’re like me and you might not make it to the the reading/signing/dramatic dinosaur battle re-enactments at Politics & Prose, you can always join the DCSciTweetup as it migrates to Jake’s American Grill (see the event info for more details and to do the polite thing and rsvp so they can adjust the reservation) where there will be drinking & slightly more dramatic dinosaur battle re-enactments.


I may have made up all that stuff about the dramatic dinosaur battle re-enactments, but wouldn’t that be fun? We’d need to be wearing homemade felt dinosaur costumes for it to be as adorable as it is in my imagination. I’ll get to work sewing those just as soon as I finish the final that’s due in the aforementioned class tomorrow night. Sure.

Maybe artologica is up for the challenge. It could be like Project Runway for nerds.

I spent hours today crafting a post about professionalism and web-presence. Then I glanced at twitter and all hell broke loose (in my brain).

I’m not, by any means, a fearless person. Still, I like to think that I don’t let any phobias control me, but I know that’s not true.

I’m deeply, utterly, completely afraid to eat powdered donuts.

Suffice to say it’s all because of Gamera Vs Guiran, Creature Feature with Dr. Paul Bearer, and the fact that a tiny irrational part of my brain wants me to believe eating powdered donuts will enable these women to open my skull and eat my brains:


Today, Scientific American asks: “Nano-Powder on Your Donuts: Should You Worry?”

Hell, yes, you should worry!

You should lie awake all night tonight worrying about this, like I’m going to.

I haven’t even read the article yet, I’ve been so busy worrying about the headline.

Those women are going to try and steal all of our brains.

All. Of. Our Brains.

All of them.

Or, if you’re unconcerned with food safety and/or alien brain-suckers, you can revisit this early 21st century classic meme, (turn up your speakers) the creepy donuts, which is what I found when I searched my archives for a post about The Powdered Donut Monster Movie Incident of 1976.