science policy

Orrin Hatch, a Republican Senator from Utah, has announced his retirement. When he leaves, the Senate will lose its most ardent supporter of alternative medicine.

Previously, that title was held indisputably by Tom Harkin, a Democratic Senator from Iowa. He is largely to blame for the abomination known as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), an organization so worthless that it had to change its name so biomedical scientists would stop mocking it.

If Ted Kennedy was the Lion of the Senate, Sen. Harkin was the Snake Oil Salesman of the Senate. Given that his pet project wasted billions investigating pure...

Scientists and lawyers do not get along. There's a reason for that. Simply put, scientists and lawyers do not think alike.

I was smacked in the face by this reality when I was called into jury duty in 2011. The case involved a car accident, and the standard in Washington State for the jury to decide in favor of the plaintiff is a "preponderance of evidence," which is a fancy way of saying, "51 percent." Essentially, a coin toss decides if the plaintiff wins a bunch of money.

The judge asked if any of the potential jurors objected to that. I did. "I'm a scientist," I explained, "and I need more evidence than that." So, I was shown the door.*

That experience...

Open displays of bipartisanship are rare these days and, as such, should be applauded. Unfortunately, a recent example of bipartisanship promotes junk science and bogus health claims.

In a press release, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis and Republican Congressman Mike Coffman announced their intention to launch the Integrative Health and Wellness Caucus. That sounds nice, until you realize that "integrative" and "wellness" are code words for "alternative medicine."

However, as we've said multiple times, there's no such thing as alternative medicine. If alternative medicine worked, it would just be called medicine. In other words, a patient has two choices: evidence-based...

Over the past few days, a controversy has erupted following claims in the Washington Post that the Trump Administration has banned or otherwise discouraged the use of seven words, such as "fetus" and "transgender," by the CDC and other HHS agencies. For what it's worth, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald has denied these reports.

Lest we forget, the Obama Administration did something similar: In 2009, it began referring to acts of terrorism as "man-caused disasters." Additionally, throughout its eight-year tenure, the...

A recent editorial in JAMA Marijuana, Secondhand Smoke, and Social Acceptability begins by remarking on “The cloud of secondhand marijuana smoke” visible a half mile away from a 420 party [1] in Golden Gate Park. (Obviously, the work of people capable of making joints larger than Cheech and Chong could imagine.)

The authors point out that this behavior, if smoking tobacco rather than weed, would be “unthinkable (and illegal)” because it has to do with social acceptability – pot good, tobacco bad. To bolster their acceptability argument, they note differences between the two combustibles. For example, 16% of high school sophomores and 25% of high school seniors report marijuana use,...

Like a coffee stain on a new carpet, Karl Marx stubbornly refuses to go away. The appeal of his ideas seems to be rooted in some fanciful, whitewashed version of history, because almost without fail, Marx's biggest fans are those people who never had to live under the consequences of his political philosophy.

Attempts to rehabilitate Marx's image occur among left-wing academics, usually fringe economists and undergraduate philosophy majors. Marx is not a typical topic of conversation among biomedical scientists, which is why a recent editorial by Richard Horton, editor-...

It doesn't matter how bad or wildly untrue an idea might be; it is a near certainty that one can find an academic somewhere who is willing to embrace it. Alternative medicine, AIDS denialism, Holocaust denialism, communism -- all of these find a welcoming home within the ranks of academia.

The latest bad idea -- admittedly, not nearly as bad as the aforementioned -- comes from Smith College history professor Daniel Gardner, who believes that the U.S. should learn from China about air pollution. In an article for Project Syndicate, he makes the case that a nation with some of the cleanest air in the world can learn from a nation...

The other night, I had dinner with one of my best childhood friends who became an OB/GYN. She has three amazing children and was pregnant with her fourth.

Trigger warning: She ordered a glass of wine. And drank it.

I warned her that there was a lunatic on Twitter with a master's degree in photojournalism who pretends to be a science journalist that would be publicly mommy-shaming her into submission. She shrugged. A little bit of alcohol isn't going to hurt.

Of course, she's right. But when it comes to alcohol, the United States is incredibly puritanical. Our society has promoted the view that even a single drop of alcohol is harmful to developing babies. However, the totality of evidence does...

In foreign policy, it is difficult to state anything with certainty. Intelligence agencies have sources that journalists do not. As a result, publicly available information is often incomplete. For North Korea, this problem is made exponentially worse by the reclusive nature of the regime. All conclusions should be thought of as tentative.

Given those caveats, a team of researchers at Harvard's Belfer Center scoured the globe for whatever was publicly available on North Korea's biological weapons program. Referencing news articles, journal papers, expert interviews, and government reports, the team assembled a comprehensive study of the knowns and...

Every so often, the media likes to warn us that we're all dying from air pollution.

Headlines like, "Air Pollution 'Kills 7 Million People a Year'" are common and repeated like a morose version of the childhood game "Telephone." Predictably, that leads to calls for tighter environmental regulations, and anyone who disagrees is labeled an Earth-hating, cancer-loving industry shill.

Now a team of researchers from the University of Chicago has created a map that depicts the average number of years of life per person that could be saved if countries adopted the...