Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz


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Friendly book review: genes and brains

I am lucky to have met some amazing people over the last decade and a significant number of them are writers of various sorts – some journalists, bloggers, freelance writers and indeed authors.

booksigns

It definitely was worth it, Dean! Trying to enjoy the ride, Kat x

It seems it’s the time for book-writing so naturally I have picked up some of these labours of love (and occasionally deep resentment, inevitably) and will share my non-spoilery thoughts about a couple of them with you. Continue reading

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Are you transphobic? Am I?

This is a difficult post to write, but it’s been on my mind for a while. No one is obliged to comment, or to educate me if I’m wrong (which no doubt I will be), but comments are, as ever, welcome, to continue the discussion.

I’ll start with some conditions – please read them first and try to bear them in mind if what I’m saying causes some rage.

Edit: some very constructive comments have happened, so thanks to everyone who’s pitched in and been civil with it. I’ve also added some stuff to the end of the post.

Transphobia is real. Hundreds of people are killed and abused every year because society says we must obviously present as male-men and female-women and some people disagree so much, fear and hate so much, that they think murder or assault is justified. It is not. Obviously. Continue reading


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Scientists cure cancer but no-one notices

The Cancer Research UK Science Update Blog has published an excellent post by Kat Arney on cancer conspiracies – here it is, plus some other excellent pieces:

Licenced under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 (Image B0002108)

Wellcome Images: Human breast cancer cells dividing

It has prompted me to look back through my posterous archive for something I remember writing but couldn’t find on here – about how offensive it is when people accuse us (people working in cancer research in any capacity) of being part of some great conspiracy to hide cures. I’ve edited it a bit as it’s from 2011.

Let us not forget that many people are living examples that we can and do cure cancer, it’s just difficult to define “cure” – 5 years free? 10? We all die of something. But particularly “treatable” diseases include some forms of leukaemia, or breast, skin and testicular cancer – surgical techniques, chemo- and radiotherapy have come a very long way in the last 50-60 years, since DNA was discovered and we started to learn a lot more about this hugely varied set of diseases.

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Helpful Poisons

Cancer Research UK run the Race For Life evens, in which thousands of people from all walks of life, young and old, go out and run/walk to collect sponsorship money that’s donated to CRUK.

My boss – known in the building as one of the many PIs (Principal Investigators) who head the lab groups in the Institute we work in – went along with her 6 year-old daughter to go up on stage and thank people for participating.

I spoke to her about it a while ago and she told me how moved she was to see so many people come out to do their best on a Sunday morning, raising what money they can so enthusiastically. That she was very emotional surveying the sea of people in pink who had turned up to support each other and by raising that money, the scientists whose work aims to improve the treatments we have for cancer. That includes our lab. Plus the patients and their families who have to go through all of it.

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The 3rd Perspective

In the spheres of skepticism and alternative health there are two main perspectives we encounter:

The ‘good’ and the ‘bad’

1)      That of the incredulous skeptic who insists all is bullshit, gets angry at the quacks and tries to stop them peddling rubbish at gullible people.

2)      The alt med proponents; be they sellers or consumers, they aggressively try to persuade you that it works and big pharma/your doctor are lying to you and the global conspiracy has suppressed all the ‘natural cures’.

Of course there are various severities of those views, stronger and milder, but they’re the most prominent types.

The Ugly?

However, there is a point of view that receives less attention. The sufferers of chronic incurable conditions whose friends and family, often merely out of care and concern, insist on telling them about this or that treatment/remedy/ritual/product that will make them better or even cure them.

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Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm

Now, I’ve had this in my drafts box for ages.

The zoo/farm is near Bristol and I’ve been kicking around the idea of a field trip for some time – the lack of desire to give them any money being one deterrent.

What is it? It’s a tourist attraction, specialising in school trips, pushing a creationist agenda. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect to see in the Bible Belt of the States but it’s been nestled in South West England for some time now.

You could be forgiven for thinking “that’s a bit harsh” and that they are in fact a decent, educational establishment. The website is fairly innocuous until you reach the far-right tab ‘Evolution and Creation‘, which links to a ‘sister website’, Earth History: A New Approach.

Some gems:

We believe the fossil record does not show one evolutionary tree of life but rather genetically controlled diversification from a number of original forms

As the currently measured value of an element’s decay rate (or half-life) has no theoretical basis, the only way we can test which is true is to compare the results against the primary evidence.

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A “Media Tart” Case Study

I recently went to a course run by some ex-BBC journalists, Media Players International, on how to engage with the media regarding your research. They encouraged us to become the Media Tarts of the future, so here I (vaguely…) recall some of Dr Armand Leroi‘s lecture to postgrads at my institute from way back in the Summer, which was on that very topic.

I’ve enjoyed Armand’s telly programmes and was fortunate to have a pint and a chat with him at the very first London Skeptics in the Pub I went to (having been apprehensive about knowing no-one beforehand!).

Probably most famous for his science best-seller, Mutants, Armand has a great passion for his subject – evolutionary biology – which I very nearly pursued after university myself (and still sometimes wish I had!).

My Life As A Media Tart

Guest lecture to School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, Postgradute Day.

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