Dangerous Ideas

I’ve been reading Big Think for a while now, and it’s always pretty interesting. Perhaps their most thought-provoking articles are in the Dangerous Ideas series, which they describe as:

Brace yourself: these ideas may at first seem shocking or counter-intuitive—but they are worth our attention, even if we end up rejecting them.  Every idea in this blog is supported by contributions from leading experts, from the world’s top theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, to linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky.

It’s worth a look. Some are definitely better than others, and none really explore the issues in much depth, but in general they’re good to get you thinking or to start a conversation. A few of my favorites:

OMGZZ! Cell phones cause cancer!

Science!

No no no no no. This guy is a crank. The first thing he does is claim that the swine flu isn’t “real medicine.” And this is Fox News, where no facts are checked, ever. He cites an “increase in the incidence in brain cancer” as proof! Well, there is also an increase in the incidence of obesity, so maybe cell phones cause you to gain weight, too. Microwaves/radio waves are too long in wavelength to affect DNA. Longer wavelengths = lower frequency (ie, lower intensity). See the graph on this page.
Look at the size of the antenna on your phone (if your phone is from 1999) or radio. That’s the size of the wave, maybe a little smaller, but still nowhere near the intensity to affect DNA. They’re longer in wavelength than VISIBLE light. that would mean that your lightbulb causes even more cancer than your phone! The worst thing microwaves could do to the human body is warm it up. That said, don’t put your cat in the microwave.

Blind to be cured with stem cells

BRITISH scientists have developed the world’s first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness. Surgeons predict it will become a routine, one-hour procedure that will be generally available in six or seven years’ time.

The treatment involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells. It was pioneered by scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital.

via Blind to be cured with stem cells – Times Online (thanks, Nick!).

Vision for all

Inventor’s 2020 vision: to help 1bn of the world’s poorest see better:

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

Such an amazing idea. With self-adjustable glasses cheap enough, and with the right distribution networks, sight could be restored to massive numbers of poor people in the world.

A good day

I managed to make it through the seminar I had to give today, and I think I did well. I still need to work on speaking slowly and clearly, but I think the content came across well enough anyway. Here’s a link to the slide show, if you’re interested in a bulleted version of my talk (apologies to Flickr randoms I borrowed, and Google Docs seems to have mangled my PowerPoint slightly).

The ride home today was serene. On the train in West London, passing through trees changing color and football pitches waiting for players, it seemed there was nothing better or more peaceful than a sunny, autumn afternoon, when the sunlight shines strong at low angles to the Earth, lighting everything with an ethereal glow, and there’s a chill in the air and Midlake in my headphones. The Midlake is key.

So what’s new?

I’m sitting in a cafe near London Bridge, trying to prepare for a presentation I have to give on Tuesday. I’m speaking on the topic of pertussis (whooping cough), and how its resurgence in some parts of the US could display a lack of trust in the medical establishment. Finding good, recent articles on the subject is proving difficult. Perhaps my focus is too narrow. Any advice is appreciated.

What’s new with you?