Monday, August 31, 2009

Testing new Google comment facility on the Gareth Roberts diabetes story

Click to enlarge

I did a post yesterday on the amazing - some might say disturbing - report on the BBC's website about Gareth Roberts, the man who had  been on insulin injections most of his 32 years, and is now able to take pills instead - ones intended for what supposedly is an entirely  different type of diabetes.

Last night I googled *gareth edwards diabetes* to see what else was on the Web, and spotted not just a link to the BBC's story, but a facility to leave a comment. With my thoughts now hardening on Gareth's story, I immediately availed myself of that opportunity to say what I really think.  What you see above is a cropped image capture! The key words (final sentence) are  "He is now being presented as a medical miracle. NHS cockup more likely!"

It'll be interesting to see whether or not  this facility gives added audibility to one lone voice - moi- crying in that wilderness we call the blogosphere...

Scroll back 3 posts to see my own initial "take" on the Gareth Robert's story. Alternatively, click here.

One Diabetic: Diabetes and The Luckiest Man Alive!

One Diabetic: Diabetes and The Luckiest Man Alive!

"Am not sure how these links work, so I'll just insert the URL of my own post, on which I posted earlier today on the subject of Gareth Roberts. Medical miracle? NHS cockup more likely, if you ask me!"

Confusing message? You betcha.  No, this IS NOT my main post on Gareth Roberts of diabetes fame. That's now two before this one.

So how on earth  did this one get here? Well, it's like this.

I had googled *gareth roberts diabetes* and found the link to the BBC's story. I then spotted a facility  I hadn't really noticed before, namely the ability to attach a comment to a Google entry, which I did so, asking  whether Gareth's liberation from daily insulin injections was really a medical miracle, or whether it was an NHS cockup. It'll be interestig to see if that added note  "makes waves" or not.

I then spotted another link lower down to the site of another diabetes patient, a genuine Type 1 patient this time,  and tried to leave a comment.

But  the "Leave a comment tab" was totally dead - why for heaven's sake?  Does he not want comments?  But there was a facility to link to one's own blog, and this new post  is the result. In other words, this post was generated completely automatically - by a robot-  without my being aware it would appear!  It's not what I'd intended, and I'm not over-enamoured with the result:  it's probably not really clear to you the reader how it came to be here, and could be confusing if you were looking for my main post.  But it may have its uses in future, now I now how it operates.

This blog-linking  facility is way of creating a shop window for someone else's post, which in this instance is the one at the top "One diabetic..." etc. But it's a tool I shall use with caution in future, since it has the potential to create confusion.

British plan to tackle asteroids

 One of these could really spoil your day

Have you seen that article on the BBC's website: "British plan to tackle asteroids"?

First, I have a confession to make. I know little or nothing about the detailed science - all I can offer is my gut feeling.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the excellent Bill Bryson book : A Short History of Nearly Everything. He devoted a couple of pages to the threat from asteroids. It did not make for easy reading. It's reckoned that a relatively small asteroid, eg a kilometre or two in width - would be sufficient to extinguish life - or at any rate- most life  (certainly ourselves)  on Earth. What's more, its approach speed is so great that we would probably have only minutes - or seconds warning - of its approach.

So when the BBC article says that the threatening asteroid would have to be detected 15 years, no less, before its ETA,  time  in which for us Earthlings to mount our defences and  launch a so-called "tractor",  then it hardly inspires confidence.

But there's worse to come, at least where the science is concerned. The article says a space craft would be sent up that would park itself alongside  the asteroid.  It's mere presence would gradually make the asteroid veer off course due to the small amount of gravitational attraction between craft and asteroid.

Hold on a minute. The asteroid is vastly bigger than the craft.  The asteroid will pull the craft towards it with far greater force than vice-versa. The only way a small craft can act as a gravitational magnet would be if it had a propulsion unit that kept it at a constant distance, fighting the gravitational force. But that would surely require an input of energy - for 15 years or more. Is that why the article threw in a brief mention of solar power? Well, I say - that's one super Duracell battery.

I may be completely wrong, but my initial reactions are that this scheme is hare-brained - or maybe there's a lot more untried technology involved than the authors - or the BBC journalists-  are letting on. The BBC, to its credit,  inserts a little caveat - "No prototype have as yet been tested".   Pie in the sky?  Sci-fi hardware in outer space?

Tell me: are there any other kindred spirits out there who share my profound scepticism with what looks at first sight like silly season gimcrack "science".

Neonatal diabetes - a shocking case of correct diagnosis, but 32 years of wrong treatment

Gareth Roberts
You know how it is – when you tackle a subject which leads to exams. You learn all the different categories, which you store in your head in separate little compartments. Thus doctors and nutritionists are taught that there are two main forms of diabetes. There’s Type 1 diabetes, also called early-onset diabetes.  One day a child is fit and well, and next day it’s gravely ill, because its pancreas has stopped producing insulin, and blood sugar can no longer get into cells where it’s needed. There’s only one known treatment – daily insulin injections.
Then there’s the other form – Type 2 diabetes, also called middle-age onset diabetes, associated with obesity. The pancreas is still producing insulin, but not enough, or the tissues are  not responding to insulin.  For milder Type 2 diabetes, insulin injections are rarely necessary. Treatment is to correct overweight and faulty diet, supplemented if necessary by tablets of drugs like the sulphonylureas which stimulate insulin secretion from a flagging pancreas. Type 1 and Type 2 – and ne’er the twain shall meet, right?   Imagine the response of a James Robertson Justice type consultant if the young medic suggests treating a Type 1 (real or apparent) with sulphonylureas! "You NINCAMPOOP!!"
Yet that is what has apparently happened in the case of Gareth Roberts from Blackpool, reported in today’s BBC Health page  ("They have given me my life back") .

Gareth was born with diabetes, which was treated immediately with insulin injections.  For most of his life, he has been treated as if he had Type 1 diabetes. But he doesn’t. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood, usually following an infection. It’s thought to be an auto-immune disease, in which the body starts attacking itself.

The good news for Gareth Roberts is that doctors at a West Country medical school decided to try him on sulphonylureas, for the “wrong” kind of diabetes, with near-miraculous results. The drugs control his diabetes. He no longer has to inject himself with insulin.
The bad news is that he’s spent most of his 32 years receiving 4 injections a day, because it was assumed that his form of diabetes was closer to Type 1 than Type 2, being apparently insulin-dependent, and that sulphonylureas are the wrong kind of treatment.
There is a moral here, methinks.  Medics – and their support scientists –  must always question the soundness or otherwise of their basic assumptions.  People who think out of the box should be given a fair hearing, and not immediately dismissed as nitpickers, awkward squad etc etc. 
Having said that, what a superb outcome it is for Gareth Roberts, to be freed from his daily regime. But spare a thought for the typical “Type 1” sufferers, for whom those daily injections are still needed.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Viruses - did they evolve as a form of inter-species germ warfare?

 Swine flu virus

I know it's a crazy idea, but...

Have you ever wondered about viruses, and their place within the scheme of things? I mean to say - they are not living, and they are not dead. They are intermediate between the two. They have been called "incomplete organisms"?  Why? Because they are incapable of independent existence. They are simply infective DNA (or RNA)- enclosed within a protein coat. They are unable to reproduce themselves independently. The only way they can do so is by infecting a living cell - plant, animal, even bacterial - and hijacking the host's sophisticated biochemistry in order to make copies of themselves. They are parasites, in other words, and ones which have no other purpose except to make copies of themselves. They are the epitome of the "selfish gene".

It seems clear, then, that the sophisticated cell, capable of independent existence, evolved first, and the virus arrived later - as a spoiler. But why? What were the evolutionary pressures that drove the process, with such devastating consequences ( think pandemic flu, AIDS, hepatitis B, and a host of other viral diseases).

Viruses came up as a topic today on the New Scientist, and was an opportunity to fly a kite for an idea that's been incubating in this senescent brain of mine for some time.

Suppose viruses are not something radically different from, say, higher species, say pigs. Suppose they are pigs, or parts of pigs- ie  a maverick version thereof - that has been spawned to keep in place those who abuse pigs.

You can probably guess what I'm driving at. At some distant point in time, man started capturing pigs, and rearing them as food. But pigs had no way of knowing their fate as pork chops on a plate. But suppose that a mutant pig developed a malady, and began sneezing. And suppose the people keeping those pigs began inhaling droplets from the air, and the pig DNA and protein in those droplets  - prototype virus- invaded the mucous membranes of the farmers, weakening or killing them?  That would have given the farmed pigs a way of fighting back against their "predators", and the particular trait for infecting humans, being advantageous for surviival, would have been conserved by natural selection.

You see, pigs that sneezed and infected their owners would have survived longer, with an extra window of opportunity in which to mate and pass on their mutant genes. In time, the majority of pigs would have evolved these smart viruses,  ie shed-cells that can be sneezed out, that improve  longevity and mating prospects. In time, other species that are kept for food, like ducks etc, would also have evolved the same trick, and ducks, pigs etc then start exchanging infective DNA and protein, giving rise to flu pandemics. It's surely no coincidence that a lot of them originate in poorer, rural communities in which farmers live in close proximity with their animals, allowing opportunity for infective material to be transmitted.

Remember - all that's necessary for a virus to be infective is for it to be able to breach the protective cell membrane of its host, and then use its DNA to start running off  copies of itself within the host. The mere act of hijacking is sufficient to weaken - and sometimes kill-  the host cell.  But in time, the host cell develops an immune response, such that it is no longer killed outright by the virus.

So what I'm suggesting, in essence- is that viruses evolved as a form of germ warfare between one species and another. Farmed animals - pigs etc - may have been the first to strike back against us -  their oppressors!

My Projects (No.1): Is the world greening?

 Scattered acacia trees in Africa 
Anyone reading my intro top right might be forgiven for thinking this blog existed purely for sniping. Well, there's certainly a lot of misreporting (or at any rate, over-hasty ill-researched reporting) in the media. Somebody  has to correct the record. (I'll post at a later date on how effective or otherwise a private blog can be in that regard. For the moment, think just two words: Google returns).

Having trained as a scientist, and published in a number of areas, the itch to be doing one's own research never forsakes one. Whilst it cannot be the hands-on lab-based variety, there is still that amazing  research resource at one's finger tips - the internet search engine.

So from time to time, I will research topics that seem timely.

The first, as the title indicates, is whether or not there is evidence to back up suggestions that our planet is greening.   If so -and I appreciate that I could be accused of prejudging the issue-  then for what reasons? Is it due directly to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Or is it due to secondary changes in climate (temperature, rainfall  amount and distribution etc) that are associated with climate change - whether or not due to alleged AGW?

I'll add new information as I find it onto this blog - the primary source -  and  flag up this post from time to time to remind visitors that this is an ongoing project.

First step:  to google  "are trees growing faster". Well, one has to start somewhere!

The graphic? It was chosen having read about evidence for Sahara desert greening in the National Geographic News, and reports that trees are encroaching onto hitherto virgin areas above present treelines.

"Literature" search :

1. Trees are growing faster and could buy time to halt global warning    Telegraph 5 April 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Suspended term for tea poison man

Globules of mercury

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read the above headline on the BBC site.  It's about a man who tried to poison his estranged wife by lacing her tea with mercury.

When you read the detail, it's clear that he used elemental mercury, ie the sort in thermometers.  Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at normal temperatures.  How do we know it was elemental mercury? See the reference to little "ball bearings" at the bottom of the tea cup.

Fortunately for the lady, her estranged husband was ignorant of chemical toxicology. Liquid mercury passes through the body largely unchanged, which would explain why her blood mercury levels were not raised, and why she appears - so they say- to have suffered no lasting ill effects - although she reportedly had symptoms of poisoning initially.

The real hazard with mercury comes from spillages. Mercury has an appreciable vapour pressure, and it's the vapour, when inhaled, which is highly toxic. Laboratories are required to have special decontamination kits to deal with mercury spills.  They used to contain elemental sulphur to which the miniature silvery globules stick. Whether they still do or not, I couldn't say.

Mercury salts and other compounds are also highly toxic, although one would probably be doubled up with pain very quickly if these were ingested.

OK, so the guy was ignorant, but the intent was still there. Why should his sentence have been so lenient?  The man tried to poison his wife - a despicable act - especially as it exploits intimacy and trust ("care for a cuppa, my dear?"). He wasn't trying to kill her, the court was told - but simply make her dependent.  He just wanted her back, under the same roof, grateful to him as a "carer" to a bed-ridden wife. Oh well, that's OK then...

Scientists finally image a single molecule (pentacene).

The most shared story on the BBC's excellent site right now is from the realms of chemistry - a subject that rarely gets a look-in these days.

It shows a remarkable "photograph" of a single molecule - obtained with a new gee-whizz imaging technique.

Here's the image (hope I'm not out-of-order here):

Pentacene molecule - in the flesh, so to speak

The molecule chosen for study is an aromatic hydrocarbon by the name of pentacene.  It's a relative of naphthalene (mothballs).  What's immediately clear from the piccy is that it's made from five fused six-carbon rings - benzene rings in fact. (Naphthalene by contrast has only two fused benzene rings).

The BBC's report draws attention to the fact that one can even see the bonds to hydrogen at the periphery of the molecule. However, that won't mean a lot to non-specialist readers if they are not familiar with pentacene's chemical structure.

Ay, but there's the rub - there are different ways of representing chemical molecules, depending on precisely which aspects one wishes to highlight.  A quick look at Google images will show what I mean:

Here's the most "realistic" model, so-called space-filling, in which the carbon atoms (black) and the hydrogen atoms(white) are shown in their correct relative sizes. The atoms merge with each other to represent strong chemical bonds. But the fused-ring aspect is now scarcely visible, the "hole' in the centre of each benzene ring being reduced to a mere white spot due to "crowding" of carbon atoms.

The conventional chemical shorthand strips out all non-essential detail, including the hydrogen atoms, and attempts to show the chemical bonding within the rings, as an alternation of single and double bonds (wrong, as it happens).

But that's another story: suffice it to say that chemists know it's wrong...

It took a bit of searching, but here's the representation that best complements, in my view, the BBC's image:

Ignore the second small molecule that hovers above pentacene. This structure shows clearly the five fused rings, and the hydrogen atoms. It is the bonds to the hydrogens at the two opposite ends of the molecule that are visible as bright areas in the BBC image. Don't ask me why the other C-H bonds are not easily visible.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

So-called "synthetic trees" employ discredited mickey mouse chemistry!

 Both the BBC and the Times use this picture.  
The synthetic/artificial trees are the fly-swat shaped objects, not to be confused with wind turbines.  The BBC's caption reads "Artificial trees could be used in areas where carbon emissions are high".  The BBC's caption writer seems a little confused, inasmuch as CO2 "pollution" is a global, not a local problem.  He or she seems to be confusing it with vehicle pollutants like SO2, NOx, unburned hydrocarbons etc which are an immediate health hazard (asthma-inducing etc) as distinct from global-warming greenhouse gases.

There are reports right now on the BBC, in The Times, and no doubt elsewhere of so-called "synthetic trees" (aka artificial trees) that will help save the planet.

Your ever alert and  responsive critic of pop science has just  dashed off  the following and sent off to the Times:

"Sorry, but the technology for these synthetic trees, reported in 2003, has been totally discredited:

It uses plain old limewater* to sequester CO2. Where does the lime come from? It comes from roasting chalk or limestone at high temperature, which not only requires a lot of energy, but puts CO2 into the atmosphere.

1. calcium carbonate (+ heat) -> calcium oxide  + CO2 (gas)

2. Calcium oxide + water  ->  calcium hydroxide  (+ heat)

3. Calcium hydroxide + carbon dioxide  ->  calcium carbonate (regenerated!) + water

In other words the whole process, at least as originally described, is entirely self-defeating from the point of view of carbon sequestration. It's simply an expensive way of moving chalk or limestone from a hillside to a so-called synthetic tree by the roadside.

*an aqueous solution of calcium hydroxide"

The Telegraph is now running the same story, again with the same piccy, but unfortunately provides no Comment facility.

From the archives: here is a link to a BBC item on "synthetic trees" as long ago as 2003 which explained why the chemistry was a non-starter.
More later.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Latest breakthrough cannot eliminate all forms of cancer and diabetes

Cell mitochondria - highly enlarged - with their own DNA - able in some cases to transmit disease

Hereditary diseases, including cancer and diabetes, could be eradicated before birth, scream the headlines.
It hinges on new techniques for fixing faulty DNA.But not just any old DNA.

How can cancer and diabetes be prevented, given that those diseases, while having a genetic component, are not simple inborn errors of metabolism, but multifactorial - influenced by environment as well as genetics?

One has to read quite deep into the article to see the reasons for the apparent contradiction.

It's to do with mitochondria - those sausage-shaped subcellular organelles of which the typical human cell has a thousand or two (see graphic). Mitochondria play a key role in supplying the cell with energy, by providing a package of enzymes and electron-carriers that convert the energy of foodstuffs to ATP - the universal energy currency of living cells-  using molecular oxygen to release energy.

Remarkably, mitochondria have their own DNA. It's only a tiny proportion of the cell's total DNA, but certain diseases are due to defective mitochondrial DNA, as distinct from the predominant DNA in the cell's nucleus. The new technique prevents faulty mitochondria, with  defective DNA, passing on their defect to a fertilized human embryo, basically by transplanting the nucleus with its "good" DNA, leaving the bad mitochondrial DNA behind, and substituting "good" mitochondrial DNA.

So the technique only works for those variants of cancer and diabetes that are due to defective mitochondrial DNA.  Headlines that suggest that all cancer, or all diabetes, can be eliminated, are clearly misleading.

How come mitochondria have their own DNA? There is now an impressive amount of evidence that mitochondria are ancient bacteria that were somehow engulfed in early cells, and not only managed to survive, but set up a productive partnership. The host cell protected the bacteria, and the latter returned the favour by providing a highly efficient means of oxidising foodstuffs. Prior to the so-called endosymbiotic partnership, the host cells had to rely on glycolysis - the biochemistry of anaerobic fermentation in, for example, brewing and yogurt production, or anaerobic muscle metabolism, which provides a little energy without oxygen, which is not only far less efficient than aerobic metabolism, but generates potentially toxic endproducts (alcohol, lactic acid etc). The end-product of aerobic metabolism is gaseous CO2 - non-toxic because it is easily got rid of.

One curious feature of mitochondria is that is only the mother's mitochondrial DNA that is passed on to offspring.  Male gametes (spermatozoa) have mitochondria, but they are selectively destroyed in the ovum at fertilization. Mitochondrial DNA has proved of great utility in tracing human lineage back to one original  female ("Eve") in Africa, by avoiding the complication of all that invasive male DNA!

Further reading:  New Scientist article

  The Times  

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Has Gaia got over her hissy fit?

 Saharan oasis

In a startling about turn, James Lovelock CBE, CH, FRS produced a book not so long ago with the title "Revenge of Gaia". He had previously presented  Gaia as a  benign guardian presence, a quasi-religious one some might say.  Gaia - the totality of life on Earth, behaves as a gigantic single organism, in which its numerous parts function cooperatively  when confronted with threatening change to ensure the survival of the total.  Lovelock then suddenly jumped aboard the alarmist bandwagon, having become an AGW true-believer.  We're doomed, he said, we're all doomed  I tell you.  Why?  Because we've foolishly pushed up the level of CO2 so fast with our wanton burning of fossil fuel that poor old Gaia was now in a right tiz-woz.

Some of us questioned whether things were really so bad. According to the Gaia idea, a change like, say,  increasing CO2 or average global temperature would provoke changes in one or more life-forms that tend to restore the status quo. In other words, a variety of subtle  feedback control mechanisms come into play, maintaining homeostasis.  Thus increased CO2 would tend to stimulate plant growth . There is abundant experimental evidence:  levels of the gas are increased in some greenhouses to stimulate growth and yields. A CO2-boosted increase in photosynthesis would result in an increase in  total planetary biomass, thus tending to restore CO2 levels to their original levels.

Well, a report has just appeared on the BBC's site today, with evidence for just such an adaptive change. The treeline in the world's hills and mountains, especially in the northern hemisphere it seems,  has been creeping higher and higher. This is believed to be a response to warmer winter temperatures. More trees means more photosynthesis, more biomass, less atmospheric CO2 - other things being equal.

Now here's a strange and serendipitous thing. Having mentally composed the above, I got to wondering what further adaptive change might occur  - one that might have an even more dramatic effect. I found myself thinking about those vast bare expanses of the Sahara, and wondering yet again why that desert gets so little rainfall.  Googling was not terribly informative, with vague references to planetary wobble, orbital precession, climate cycles bla bla.  But there was gold-dust in that list of returns. On the last day of last month (July) a report appeared claiming that the Sahara is again greening up - in Sudan, the Sahel and other regions that have been parched in recent times.

So, far from being in vengeful mood, dear old Gaia seems to be doing exactly what her proponent originally proposed. Oh ye of little faith, Professor Lovelock. Admit it - you thought your old girl had given up on us...

Further reading:   Rowena Mason  in the Telegraph ("Carbon capture etc").

Brown fat back in the spotlight again as a factor in obesity

 White and  brown fat cells

See the article by Richard Gray in the Telegraph, referring to a type of fat that is metabolically highly active, due to its mitochondria. It's the latter - microscopic subcellular organelles that burn up one's digested food with the aid of oxygen to produce ATP (universal energy currency) and heat.

I entered the thread early on, with a reference to a TV programme from way back that had suggested that brown fat - or the absence thereof- could make the difference between being lean and being obese, even if one was eating the recommended daily intake of calories. So it was a pleasant surprise to find the same programme ("The Fat in the Fire", BBC Horizon, 1979) mentioned by another contributor who had clearly not read all the previous comments!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dog Log

The online media thrives on its reader feedback - or so one would have thought. Readers' comments generate hits, which in turn attract advertising revenue. But one's comments - often innocuous- occasionally fail to make it past the moderator on duty. Complaining is pointless - and may lead, one suspects, to being systematically blocked.

This post is where I will log - without criticism- - all the instances when a comment of mine has failed to appear.

1. Times OnLine 23/8/2009 Britain's best selling singles ranked by beats per minute

sciencebod - August 23, 2009 Your comment is awaiting moderation.
Well, I don’t wish to be the party pooper, but this is at best incomplete research. It merely suggests that chart-topping singles need to be somewhat up-tempo, which will probably come as little surprise. Indeed, the arbitrary lower cut-off point of 85 beats/min is questionable, given that some 13 or so hits fall below it, which is more than a quarter of the total.
To put things in perspective, we’d need to see the distribution for a selection of also-rans. Who’s to say that a preponderance of them are not extremely (excessively? painfully?)up-tempo?
Conclusion - a reasonable up-beat tempo is needed for No 1 success - itself no guide to melodic or rhythmic quality. In other words, a good tempo may be necessary but not sufficient for chart success.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Humour an act of aggression?

 Jokers(?) - left; victims - right

So claims Helga Kotthoff, a German academic at the "Frieburg (sic) University if (sic) Education" in an article in today's Telegraph.

"Humour is an act of aggression and making others laugh means you see yourself as higher up the social ladder than your audience, according to a German academic."
Well, I think I had just the physical and biological sciences in mind when starting this blog. The social sciences are something of a foreign country for this test-tube science bod .
But I like any ideas that shake all one's most basic assumptions. Nope, I'm not expressing surprise that a Teutonic lady academic could have anything useful to say on the subject of humour. ;-)
Indeed, that bit of genteel snidery could be cited as evidence of the very point that is being made - we do indeed use humour to put-down, to control. And what an effective weapon it can be, given that any attempt at a serious riposte would be interpreted as feeble and po-faced, and that few have the ability to reply instantly in kind with an equally witty rejoinder.
Examples: I recall a boss who gathered us together, and announced his intentions to inflict still more rigid routines and procedures. Before anyone had a chance to raise an objection he said "Of course, there will no doubt be one or two among you who will have thrown their toys out of the pram before the day is out". How was that for a pre-emptive strike - demonstrating the use of humour as an instrument of suppression and control?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Oh purleeze

Here's one of those little come-ons which the papers use on their websites to entice you to click.

It's from the current Times website, as it happens:

Anyone like to guess what's wrong with it? Here's a clue: it shows an image of an exoplanet (one outside our own solar system) transiting its star, leaving a trail of hydrogen gas in its wake... Now if that's not a sufficient clue, then I'm deeply, deeply disappointed, indeed gutted to the point of total evisceration...


Decided to google "science buzz", and what do I find? A whole page of entries of folk who got there before me, including the US-based National Science Foundation. Indeed, their whatsit underneath reads "Dig deeper into science headlines", which was exactly my concept for this site - I was just struggling for the right words you realize. ;-)

Well, let's be philosophical about such things. After all, didn't Newton and Leibniz both stumble on the idea of calculus while sunning themselves in their respective back gardens, albeit a few hundred miles apart, with or without windfall-dropping apple trees to concentrate the mind?

What matters at the end of the day, say the peacemakers, is the idea, not who discovered it. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they, bunch of boring old peacemaking farts, boring being their raison d'ĂȘtre ? Effing morons - they just just don't understand the nature of the game. It's about fame, glory, being acknowledged as "brain of the century", indeed the millennium - that's 10 raised to the power of three years in case you didn't know - recognized with one's tomb parked in Westminster Abbey alongside that of King Whatsisname- you know, the one who 'ad-something 'orrible done to 'im- , with gawping tourists saying " 'E was the world's greatest ever scientist, y'know. They say he 'ad his best idea when an' apple dropped on 'is bleedin' head"...

Another monument stands in tribute, attached to the wall of the covered "Isaac Newton Shopping Centre "in Grantham, Lincs, now better known as the birthplace of the Iron Lady. It's a giant painted jigsaw cut-out from plywood or similar of a rosy-red apple. Bless...


Some people keep a old boot handy when watching TV - or is that a cartoonist's creation? Irrespective, I feel the need for a virtual old boot when perusing the media's handling of science. Think of this new blog on the block as that "old boot", but don't be surprised if some constructive comments creep in from time to time, or even new, highly questionable, indeed suspect hypotheses. What is science if it's not sticking one's head above the parapet?

Never is my spectator ire more keenly felt when there's no facility for readers to post responses, or when one's gems of wisdom/vitriol/jaundice fester unpublished in the moderator's in-tray during three-hour lunch breaks, or fail to appear at all.

Think of this, then, is a talking-shop for making sense - or nonsense- of the science we read on the main sites. The ones I track on a regular basis are the BBC, the Telegraph, The Times, The Independent and the Guardian. Yep, up-market anglocentric, I grant you, (do I hear groans) and I've no time for the dumbed-down underbelly. But I'll broaden my sweep if folk can suggest some wider reading which, in estate agents' argot "repays closer inspection".