Chemical Chaos

August 2, 2011

Sometimes when I read a book I will find myself attracted to other books on the same topic. This time my latest readings have been on chemistry and the periodic table. The one that started it was The Disappearing Spoon, which is a history of chemistry, the hunt for elements and the creation of the periodic table (check out the extras, especially the videos). This romp into chemistry and the personalities involved is accessible to everyone, including students in upper elementary school. Read the rest of this entry »

Science Books and Chick-Fil-A

March 30, 2011

I’ve noticed that my daughter’s kindergarten class seems to be ignoring science in favor of literacy. Of course, with a nerd like me as a father, she’s been exposed to basic concepts, but it’s the principle of the matter that bothers me. Why aren’t these kids being introduced to the type of simple science found in Sid The Science Kid? It genuinely bothers me.

In an effort to rectify the problem, I offered to Sasha’s teacher that I would be happy to donate some science books to her classroom. We really like the “Let’s Read-And-Find-Out Science” books because they offer simple explanations to complex scientific topics. Many of them have clever content and beautiful illustrations, but they’re written and illustrated by different people so the individual quality can be a mixed bag.

One of my personal favorites is the beautifully illustrated “Why Do Leaves Change Color” by Betsy Maestro.

While I’m making recommendations, you might want to stop by Chick-Fil-A soon and buy a kid’s meal for your children. Unlike other fast food chains, Chick-Fil-A makes an extra effort to offer educational toys instead of useless plastic movie advertisements. They have a series of books out now called “Science Kids”. We came home with a book about “Birds” by Nicola Davies, but there are also ones on “Weather”, “Animal Homes”, “Planet Earth”, and “Polar Lands”.  This follows up their last prize give-away, which were games by “Think Fun”, a board game manufacturer that we have voluntarily endorsed in the past. So, well done Chick-Fil-A! Keep it up!

Library Love

September 28, 2010

Most of the memories I have of my mother involve books and libraries.  Sunday memories include lying on my parent’s big bed reading the Sunday comics next to my mother who was reading her library book.  When we moved to a new Army post one of the first places we visited was the library, either on the post or the local town.

Going to the library has also become a part of my family now.  All the kids spent time at the library story hour, and one did an overnight sleep-in.  My daughter, the Linguist, would check out Japanese Anime DVDs and watch them in without dubbing with the English subtitles.  When she started taking Japanese in 7th grade she was already familiar with the sounds, rhythm and some words.  I presently have three books checked out.

But it is not all take, and no give.  We donate to the Library Foundation, and if you like your library you will consider making a donation.  It is not without reward, because when you donate you get a ticket to a Foundation Members preview to the twice yearly library sale, where most items are just a dollar!
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Book Review: Autism’s False Prophets

September 28, 2008

I just received a free copy of Dr. Paul Offit’s new book Autism’s False Prophets.  The book came as a reward for being one of the first 50 people to sign up for ScienceBlog’s new monthly book club discussion taking place here.  The folks at ScienceBlogs have put together a brilliant panel to talk about Offit’s book about the autism hysteria.

Dr. Offit will kick off the discussion, and he’ll be joined by four panelists: Kristina Chew of Autism Vox, Kev Leitch of Autism Blog, Bob Park, a University of Maryland Physics professor and the author of What’s New by Bob Park, and Orac of Respectful Insolence.

I blazed through Dr. Offit’s book.  I wish I had paid for it because all of the profits go to autism research.  To make up for my guilt at getting a free book, I’m sending it to my mother, who works with children with autism daily in her job as an early interventionist.  If she can use the information in False Prophets to counter just one of the misinformed parents she is likely to encounter in the years to come, I will have paid my debt.  I actually hope that my mother lends it out to these parents.  I hope her entire staff reads this book and memorizes it.

I recently found out that a sibling of my sister-in-law (lets call her Linda) has fallen prey to the “big pharma” conspiracy garbage spread by antivaccinationists on the internet.  She is planning on delaying her impending baby’s vaccines until age two (or perhaps not vaccinating at all).  I wrote to Linda on facebook to let her know that I’m an advocate for vaccines and that I would love to change her mind.  She responded that she would read any well-balanced book that I recommended, except for those connected to pharmaceutical companies.  Blast!

There’s no way she would read False Prophets because antivaccinationists have dismissed Paul Offit as a tool of “big pharma” (he owns a Rotavirus patent).  So, instead of reading a book by a peer-reviewed expert on vaccines who cites all his facts in a lengthy bibliography, she will probably choose a book by a wise-cracking actress who graduated from the University of Google.

Linda’s making the mistake of starting with the premise that pharmaceutical companies are inherently evil.  I think we can all agree that the safe use of pharmaceutical drugs has saved billions of lives.  That isn’t to say that these companies don’t want to make a profit, nor am I saying that they are beyond reproach.  But is it profitable to create a vaccine that causes autism or SIDS?  How much money would they lose in litigation?  The answer is that they would go out of business.  Plus, pharmaceutical lobbyists have a personal reason to have safe vaccines; they have families and children who are forced to vaccinate.  Even if there wasn’t profit and personal motive keeping “big pharma” in check, there is the Center for Disease Control, a government agency designed to keep them in check.  Each vaccine takes years to be tested, and once it is on the market, it must continue to show that it’s safe beyond the typical side effects.

Autism’s False Prophets starts with some of the more dubious autism cures that have since been debunked.  Then, Offit takes on the scientists such as Wakefield and the Geiers, who did sloppy science under the funding of lawyers and private parties eager to make themselves millionaires from future litigation against “big pharma”.  Finally, Offit points out the multiple high quality scientific studies that strip the integrity and validity of antivaccinationists.  He does an excellent job of objectively analyzing the history of this whole mess, why it started, how people became so passionate, and how the media hyped the story.

I learned a lot and added some info to my vaccine page.  I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know the whole story from the smartest characater in the story.  Dr. Paul Offit packs a punch and gives those antivaccine fanatics a dose of truth that even they can’t combat with their usual spin.  He neuters their arguments, dismantles their heroes, and leaves them looking like fools.  And though he gets death threats and is labeled the “Dark Lord” of “big pharma”, he comes across as a caring man dragged into a messy entaglement with a passionate subculture of parents who want answers.  Here are their answers.  Time will tell whether these parents will listen and believe them.


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