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

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

Last week I went skipping off to the amazing and fun ScienceOnline Climate Conference for a few days.

My scholarship focuses in large part on the ways knowledge about science, nature, and health are produced, deployed, understood, and/or acted on.

My primary goal in attending this event was to get a better understanding of how science communicators are situating people in their work – whether that means looking at the differing relationship Indigenous arctic people, scientists, tourists, and commercial fisheries have with wild ice or enacting policies on climate change related coastal damage in Southern states or engaging with members of the public who deny climate change is being accelerated by human behavior.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many attendees had an anthropology background or who were very interested in how engaging with the topic from an anthropological perspective could strengthen their work.

I made some great contacts, put faces to a lot of names I only knew online, and saw some old friends. I’ve got posts in progress about 3 workshop sessions: communicating climate change as a non-expert, the role of art in communicating about climate change, and using games to communicate climate change issues.

In the meantime, here are links to Keynote speaker Andy Revkin’s post on his NY Times blog, Dot Earth and Plenary session panelist Dan Kahan’s (@cult_cognition) article at Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, “Who distrusts whom about what in the climate science debate?”

You can also check in to the conference wiki, where blogposts, pictures, and video of sessions are being added even as I type.

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.”

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. What’s that? You ask. Here’s a short and sweet answer:

Ada Lovelace Day is about sharing stories of women — whether engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians — who have inspired you to become who you are today. The aim is to create new role models for girls and women in these male-dominated fields by raising the profile of other women in STEM.

I wanted to construct a mighty post about some of the inspiring women who are doing great science and/or ably communicating about science online. I also wanted to get my homework done before class tomorrow. Nothing I could have written would come close to the epic post that Ed Yong (Not Rocket Science) has written.

“Happy Ada Lovelace Day – a celebration of women science writers”

I’m taking a slightly different tack. I’m sharing the names of women who tell stories – science writers whose work I admire. (If anyone’s wondering, here’s the intensely scientific method I used to compile the list: I sat down, wrote names, and stopped when I got to 15) Each name is accompanied with a brief reason why I think they’re awesome and some links to past work. And as I’ve said before, this is not a list of top female science writers; this is an all-female list of top science writers.

[go read the whole post and check out the writers he’s highlighted.]


I like Studio 360. (My favorite episode of all-time is still an episode from 2008, “Nikola Tesla: Strange Genius.” It wasn’t the point of this post, but I’m going to embed it, just because I can).

The astounding mad scientist life of Nikola Tesla. Just who was this pioneer of radio, radar, and wireless communication? We discover his legacy in the work of today’s scientists and artists. Samantha Hunt’s new novel The Invention of Everything Else is a fictional portrait of Tesla. Monologist Mike Daisey tells us how Tesla X-rayed Mark Twain’s head. And across the country, garage inventors toil in obscurity at the next breakthrough that will change the world.

A more recent episode made me think of Michele Banks, so I thought I’d post about it so I’d remember to make sure she heard it.

In 1928 the Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming discovered the fungus from which penicillin is derived. Fleming made the discovery while trying an unusual experiment: painting with strains of bacteria. Lindsay Patterson talked with a team that’s taking bacterial painting to a new level.

Michele has a new show, “Love and Death”, at the National Institutes of Health through March. I need to go check it out so I can post about it.