Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Science controversies in the news


Some recent news items provide us with good opportunities to bring up in our classes important issues about how science is done and the interplay between culture and science.

In previous blog posts, I've chatted about how best to teach the scientific method:
Is the scientific method working?
Kevin Patton
The A&P Professor blog 11 Nov 2008
[My previous discussion of how the scientific method is understood and taught]
I think it is important to discuss mistakes and misunderstandings--and what mechanisms there are to correct them--to impart a full understanding of how science works in the real world. I also think it's important to recognize that our culture affects science--and how science affects our culture.

One of them is the recent lifting of a U.S. ban on embryonic stem cell research.

A few years ago, we in Missouri were asked to vote on a statewide proposition to permit embryonic stem cell research and to permit patient access to therapies using embryonic stem cell science. As the pros and cons were being debated across kitchen tables across the state, several threads on this topic appeared in the optional online forum in my A&P course. We'd been talking about stem cells, so this was an appropriate use of the forum.

The spontaneous debates involved questions that were researched and answered by other students. I watched, but stayed completely out of it. It turned out to be a "learning moment" for many as they increased their understanding of science and their understanding of how science and culture relate. And I think many of them came to understand themselves as individuals better.

So now may be a good time to discuss the recent change in federal government policy regarding stem cell research:
Obama to lift restrictions on embryonic stem cell research
Lisa Stein
Scientific American online 6 March 2009
[Summary article from the 60-second Science Blog includes hyperlinks to original sources and definitions]
Donor-Derived Brain Tumor Following Neural Stem Cell Transplantation in an Ataxia Telangiectasia Patient
Amariglio N, et al.
PLoS Medicine Vol. 6, No. 2, e29 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000029
[Recent FREE research article illustrates one of the risks of using stem-cell therapies, a point often made during debates about stem cell research. The included Editor's Summary is a great tool for students and teachers. The summary includes links to good information about stem cell research.]

Here's a video summarizing issues regarding the recent change:

[The video player embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The A&P Professor blog to access the video viewer. Go to The A&P Professor website to learn how to embed the video in your PowerPoint or webpage . . . or simply link to it from your own email or webpage.]

Some discussion starters:

  • What is stem cell research?
  • What are its potential benefits? Its potential risks?
  • What are the sources of embryonic stem cells? How do such sources relate to different cultural beliefs and positions?
  • How is science affected by culture? How is culture affected by science?

Another topic in the news lately involves anesthesiologist Scott Reuben, who faked at least 21 important research studies in pain management during orthopedic surgeries. His fictional studies may have impacted millions of patients worldwide.

A Medical Madoff: Anesthesiologist Faked Data in 21 Studies
Brendan Borrell
Scientific American online 10 March 2009
[Nice summary of the story, with links to sources and other information]

A Listing of the Twenty-One Fabricated Studies by Dr. Scott Reuben
Mike Adams
NaturalNews.com 16 March 2009

Here's a Real Audio clip about the controversy:
Medical Studies Allegedly Fabricated
Bob Oakes
WBUR (NPR affiliate) 11 March 2009

[Includes nice discussion of the bigger picture.]
Here's a video clip on the story:

[The video player embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The A&P Professor blog to access the video viewer. Go to The A&P Professor website to learn how to embed the video in your PowerPoint or webpage . . . or simply link to it from your own email or webpage.]


Some discussion starters:

  • What are the possible effects of faking medical research?
  • What is currently done to prevent fake research from being published? Considering this case, is that enough?
  • Should the scientific method be changed?
  • What might be some motives a scientist has to fake research findings?

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