Back pain: Acetaminophen no better than placebos


A large-scale, rigorous study published in the Lancet found that the go-to, front-line treatment for back pain was no better than a placebo.

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Deforestation leads to Ebola

Over the past few months, West Africa has been experiencing the biggest and most deadly Ebola outbreak on record and deforestation is a key part of why.

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Is sunscreen dangerous? An actual scientist weighs in

There's a viral news story going around that claims scientists have found that using sunscreen increases your risk of death. As a redhead, this is relevant to my interests. But it turns out that the paper being cited was vastly misconstrued and wasn't even about sunscreen at all.

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Crowdfunding to send injured "How to Cheat at Everything" author to UK for free healthcare


I've written over the years about Simon Lovell's How to Cheat at Everything, a must-read encyclopedia of cons.

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FDA approves robotic exoskeleton for paraplegics


The FDA has approved Rewalk Robotics' personal exoskeleton for personal use by paraplegics.

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GIF of the day: NASA satellite images reveal air pollution improvement in US

Nitrogen dioxide pollution, averaged yearly from 2005-2011, has decreased across the United States. Image: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/T. Schindler


Nitrogen dioxide pollution, averaged yearly from 2005-2011, has decreased across the United States.
Image: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/T. Schindler

NASA satellite images released this week in animated GIF form show how air pollution has decreased across the United States over the past decade.

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Facial-exercising pink fright mask


Worried about sagging facial skin? The "Facewaver Exercise Mask/Beauty skin sag face stretcher" ($60) is an elasticated pink fright mask/balaclava within whose confines you bind your face and then "stretch and tighten" your phiz, thus "kneading out wrinkles, lines and sag," through repetitive facial movements The manufacturer also claims additional circulation, which is useful if your face doesn't have enough blood it in. (Thanks, Alice!)

Alopecia baldness cured with arthritis drug


In Killing Two Birds with One Stone: Oral Tofacitinib Reverses Alopecia Universalis in a Patient with Plaque Psoriasis [PDF], a paper in Nature's Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Yale researchers Brittany G Craiglow and Brett A. King document an extremely successful trial in treating total baldness due to alopecia with the rheumatoid arthritis drug tofacitinib citrate. The 25 year old patient, who had both plaque psoriasis and alopecia, grew a full head of hair, as well as eyelashes, eyebrows and armpit hair, and reported no undesirable side effects.

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Microbe cross-stitches for germy decor and hobbyists


Alicia Watkins's Microbe cross-stitches are an absolute treat (and part of a deep and impressive collection of nerdy cross-stitches running the gamut from The Princess Bride to Star Trek). You can get them in five-packs, as well as in patterns you can complete yourself.

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As many as 75 federal scientists may have been exposed to anthrax

Anthrax bacteria. (Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)


Anthrax bacteria. (Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Up to 75 scientists who work at a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biosecurity lab in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax, because researchers there did not follow procedures for inactivating the deadly and highly contagious bacteria.

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Bars in Alaska offer free pregnancy tests


Bars in Alaska have installed free pregnancy tests in their women's bathrooms in an effort to curb drinking among pregnant women. The tests are subsidized by the state of Alaska as part of a campaign to reduce fetal alcohol syndrome, which is more prevalent in Alaska than in any other state.

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Snowdenbot performs tele-diagnosis and offers aid to reporter who had first epileptic seizure

Edward Snowden routinely hangs around at the New York ACLU offices by means of a BEAM telepresence robot, through which he can meet with journalists for "face-to-face" interviews. During a recent interview with Julia Prosinger from Der Tagesspeiggel, Prosinger had her first-ever epileptic seizure, brought on by the flickering screen where he appeared.

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Inside the design of 3D printed back-braces and fairings

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Joris writes, "I did an interview with Scott Summit who designs beautiful 3D printed fairings and back braces. 3D printing lets the customer customize them and makes the orthopedic implant become much more a part of themselves and their lives."

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Miles O'Brien on life after losing an arm

Television journalist, Miles O'brien, who lost an arm after an accident, gets ready for his day.


Television journalist Miles O'Brien gets ready for his day. (Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine)

While on assignment in the Philippines in February, reporter Miles O’Brien had an accident and lost his left arm. In the weeks that followed, he learned that every movement, no matter how small, requires rethinking. In this week's New York Magazine, he describes his "Life, After."

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Long-term weight loss considered nearly impossible


Here's a CBC science piece quoting several obesity experts argues that long-term weight loss is almost impossible, saying that (uncited) meta-analyses of weight-loss intervention found that in the 5- to 10-year range, most weight-loss was reversed. According to Tim Caulfield, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, this is an open secret in scholarly and scientific weight-loss circles, but no one wants to talk about it for fear that it will scare people off of healthier eating and exercise regimes, which have benefits independent of weight-loss.

I found the article frustrating. While I am willing to stipulate that the data on long-term weight-loss suggests extreme difficulty, I wish the journalist had found biologists or doctors to discuss the issue, and had cited actual, specific research to support the claims made, which would make it easier to parse the nuances in the piece. It's not that I think that interdisciplinary lawyers with an undergraduate science background have something to say on this (I am 100 percent for interdisciplinary researchers, especially on complex questions like obesity), and while I think that psychologists like Traci Mann have a lot to say about some dimensions of weight-loss, it would have been great to find out what endocrinologists and other bioscience-types had to say about the phenomenon.

For my part, I went from about 250 lbs to about 170 in 2002/3, by eating a very low-carb diet. This morning, I weighed in at 176 lbs. I attribute my sustained weight loss to daily swimming (which I do for physiotherapy for chronic back pain) and a moderate-carb diet, as well as a two-day-a-week 600 calorie fasting regime.

Which is to say, it's a ton of work to stay where I am, and I know from past experience that if I skip swimming for a few days, or let myself go nuts on carbs for more than a day or two, or skip fasting-days (which aren't really fasting -- just very low-calorie days) that my weight creeps up. I pretty much never eat without making a complex (and tediously unwelcome) calculation about what I'm about to consume, and I often experience guilt while eating "bad" food and shame afterwards.

Clearly, this is less than optimal!

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