Thursday, December 23, 2010

Volcanos, the sun and recent climate coolness

Europe has been experiencing unusually cold weather with many flights delayed around the continent. Over here in southern Ontario (Toronto, Canada) we've been experiencing an unusually cold December as well. The environment is a great interconnected web, thus a temperature change can not necessarily be attributed to only one cause, but is likely the result of a series of factors.

Possible contributing factors include the recent large volcanic eruption in Iceland. Click to enlarge this gorgeous picture of the Icelandic volcano (Credit R. Th. Sigurdsson):


Monday, December 13, 2010

How many dimensions are there in the universe?

Theoretical physicists regularly disagree regarding how many dimensions exist in the universe. Some put it at 10 or 11 or 13 dimensions but no one really knows how many dimensions exist in the universe. Some theoretical physicists can be quite passionate about their particular belief in the total number dimensions in the universe even though they know that they don't know what the truth is regarding the true number of dimensions.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Breast cancer screening for women in their forties

Breast cancer screening for women in their forties has become a hot topic recently because some scientists have argued that the harms outweigh the benefits. A recent article in the journal Science (Marshall, Brawling over mammography, 2010) discusses this issue and presents some scientist's points against screening.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Google Alerts - A scientist's unsung friend

For a while now I have been experimenting with using Google Alerts as a tool to help me in research. For those who don’t know, Google Alerts is a simple application that will e-mail you whenever it finds a new page on the internet containing the search words that you provide.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Preoperative MRI can be used without increasing mastectomy rates

RSNA (Radiologists' Society of North America) holds a gigantic radiologists conference every year in Chicago. This year's conference starts one week from today and apparently one of the presentations on the first day will be from Fabio Chiesa and colleagues from the University of Milan's School of Medicine. Apparently they will present data from 2003 to 2008 showing that preoperative MRI examinations of the breast do not necessarily cause increases in mastectomy rates.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Brief: MRI lowers the mortality of women at high risk for breast cancer

This is very exciting news. The New York Times has just begun reporting on a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Dutch researchers monitored a group of over 2,000 women at high-risk for breast cancer with magnetic resonance imaging technology (MRI). After 6 years of follow up only 4 of the very high risk patients (BRCA mutation carriers, 50-85% lifetime risk) died and 100% of the moderately high risk patients (15-50% lifetime risk) survived. The author's compare their impressive results with other studies which showed that 5 year survival without MRI based detection yields a 74% survival rate.

Statistical significance is not the same as significance

There is a lot of confusion among scientists regarding the appropriate use of statistics. A recent short letter on statistics published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) helps illustrate this problem. CMAJ does not take out a copyright on the letters so we're reproducing it here, although you can access it directly from their website.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The chronic food crisis

The chronic food crisis has been the subject of numerous articles on Spotlight-on-Science.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Humorous Aside: The nature of scientific mistakes

Mistakes are part of the nature of scientific research.

Humorous Aside: The changing face of peer-reviewed publications

The process of getting one's research published has changed dramatically over the years. When Einstein was a young man he didn't have a PhD and was working in a patent office. He was brilliant, and managed to get multiple research papers published in Physics journals even though he didn’t have a PhD nor an academic appointment. He was the ultimate outsider.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Evaluating magnetic resonance mammography

Breast cancer detection can be a contentious area of debate. A recent article published in the British Medical Journal is presented here. The article acts as a reply to an article written by Dr. Kell who argued that MRI was providing no benefits to patients who've already been diagnosed with breast cancer. My reply points out that cancer detection rates are not necessarily a good way to evaluate a new screening method after years of monitoring a population (ie. in longitudinal studies). It sounds counter-intuitive but the reasoning is simple: If you're monitoring a population and you add a new screening method that is more sensitive, then it picks up more tumours as it is initially applied but by catching those tumours it has created a population that has fewer tumours remaining which lowers the cancer detection rate. Thus comparing cancer detection rates after years in a longitudinal study might be a very bad way to compare the efficacy of a new screening method! Surprised?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unnecessary testing and thermography

Spotlight-on-Science recently wrote an article about the problems with thermography – you can check it out here. At present many companies exist which offer breast cancer screening by thermography (taking a simple thermal image of the surface skin of the breast), however, finding a medical doctor / radiologist who is equipped to interpret the thermogram image is much harder (and an absolutely necessary step for thermography to be useful to the patient). Unfortunately, thermography has been shown to have a terrible sensitivity to catching cancer though it has received a lot of hype.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

News Brief: Hunger Still at Astronomical Levels

Recent news reports have indicated that the number of hungry people in the world has dropped to 925 million - down from just over 1 billion.

The cause of the decline was primarily attributed "to better economic prospects in 2010 and the fall in food prices since mid-2008."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Humorous Aside: Einstein's inspiration?

Einstein gave us so many scientific contributions. Not the least of which was a relationship between energy and matter and insights into the nature of time.  I wonder if his inspiration for these theories went through any stages like this:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hunger deaths comparable to World War 2 deaths

I decided to write this article and put it on my blog for World Food Day. Maybe I’m a dreamer but it would be great if one day we lived in a world where no one went hungry.

No one knows for certain how many hungry people die every day but according to United Nations figures, malnourished and starving people are dying 3 times faster than people were dying on an average day of World War 2! Chronic mass starvation and malnourishment deaths are not well reported – they are not typically considered newsworthy because by many people's thinking they are not news if they are a chronic problem (news being something that's new, chronic problems being something that’s old). The lack of worldwide knowledge of the scale of this problem is staggering. Even if the United Nations’ published numbers [1] are grossly exaggerated, the problem is still of massive proportions.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Be cautious with thermography

The Huffington post recently published an article by a medical doctor on the greatness of thermography as a mechanism for breast cancer detection, you can access it here.

As a breast cancer researcher, I took issue with this article because it was written by a medical doctor and provides women with some highly questionable advice (for instance: "Thermography is a better technology [than mammography]"). Dr. Northrup does not appear to be equipped to determine which technology (mammography or thermography) is better. Dr. Northrup’s main reason for believing that thermograms are the best in breast cancer detection is because of this very old study (30 years old in fact):

Monday, September 13, 2010

New developments in statistical machine learning research with application to breast cancer detection

Article on a new statistical machine learning technique recently published and presented. The technique's abilities have been demonstrated in breast cancer detection from state-of-the-art MRI examinations.

Monday, August 23, 2010

September 11th

A short article on peculiar personal effects of September 11th and an interesting technical conference in Argentina.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Humorous Aside: Che Guevara and the capitalist comeback

Just when you thought Che Guevara's reach couldn't extend further into modern capitalist society:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Humorous Aside: Governments unite against free communications

Research in Motion's blackberry is being banned or having its communications restricted around the globe because its communications equipment is too secure for a repressive government to see what its citizens are saying to each other. It is happening in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia - you can check it out here. (August 12th addition: India just added itself to this list of nations trying to restrict communication freedoms)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Humorous Aside: What's new pussycat?

I recently read in the news (the globe and mail) that in Indonesia they have a delicacy called Kopi Luwak which is a special kind of coffee prized for its smoothness.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pre-censored in China

It was recently discovered that this website comes pre-censored in China. The website is hosted by Google's free service which apparently has long been censored in China. It would seem that the Chinese Communist government doesn't like it that anyone can create a website in this space and write anything they want!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Preventing cancer and other problems with alkaline pills?

Cancer cells proliferate in acidic environments. A healthy human is free of cancer and is not acidic (typical healthy pH is slightly basic: 7.4). But it is common for people to have unhealthily low pH levels (more acidic).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Creating money

An article on the peculiarities of the ways we create money.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Global warming and global cooling

When volcanos erupt it lets off a bunch of gases into the atmosphere. A big volcanic eruption can actually cause global cooling - light waves that would otherwise have reached the earth's surface and caused some warming were instead deflected by particles in the atmosphere put up there by the volcanic eruption. When we burn some fuel, greenhouse gases are emitted which are known to act as an insulator for the earth (helping us to stay warm by retaining heat).

Bringing democracy to the United Nations

A short point on obvious shortcomings at the United Nations.