The WHA coronavirus resolution is not great for science

On May 19, member states of the WHO moved a vote in the World Health Assembly (WHA), asking for an independent investigation into the sources of the novel coronavirus. Their exact demands were spelled out in a draft resolution that asked the WHO to, among other things, "identify the zoonotic source of the virus and…

Good journalism is still around

This morning, a trusted scientist called my attention to a tweet thread by Jordan Fischer listing the many good stories journalists in the US had done that had improved the lives of people. The scientist then tagged me, presumably to respond to his request for someone to compose a similar thread of stories that journalists…

Poor journalism is making it harder for preprints

There have been quite a few statements by various scientists on Twitter who, in pointing to some preprint paper's untenable claims, point to the manuscript's identity as a preprint paper as well. This is not fair, as I've argued many times before. A big part of the problem here is bad journalism. Bad preprint papers are a…

In conversation with Sree Srinivasan

On May 1, I was hosted on a webinar by the American journalist Sree Srinivasan, along with Anna Isaac of The News Minute and Arunabh Saikia of Scroll.in. As part of his daily show on the COVID-19 crisis, hosted by Scroll.in, Srinivasan hosts a few people working in different areas, and they all chat about what they're doing and…

Science journalism, expertise and common sense

On March 27, the Johns Hopkins University said an article published on the website of the Centre For Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), a Washington-based think tank, had used its logo without permission and distanced itself from the study, which had concluded that the number of people in India who could test positive for…

Dehumanising language during an outbreak

It appears the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has begun local transmission in India, i.e. infecting more people within the country instead of each new patient having recently travelled to an already affected country. The advent of local transmission is an important event in the lexicon of epidemics and pandemics because, at least until 2009, that's how the…

Freeman Dyson’s PhD

A close-up photograph of Freeman Dyson.

The physicist, thinker and writer Freeman Dyson passed away on February 28, 2020, at the age of 96. I wrote his obituary for The Wire Science; excerpt: The 1965 Nobel Prize for the development of [quantum electrodynamics] excluded Dyson. … If this troubled Dyson, it didn’t show; indeed, anyone who knew him wouldn’t have expected…

A science for the non-1%

David Michaels, an epidemiologist and a former US assistant secretary of labour for occupational safety and health under Barack Obama, writes in the Boston Review: [Product defence] operations have on their payrolls—or can bring in on a moment’s notice—toxicologists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, risk assessors, and any other professionally trained, media-savvy experts deemed necessary (economists too, especially…

Losing sight of the agricultural finish line

In The Guardian, Joanna Blythman pokes an important pin into the frustrating but unsurprisingly durable bubble of vegan cuisine and the low-hanging fruits of ethical eating: These days it's fashionable to eulogise plant foods as the secret for personal health and sound stewardship of our planet. But in the process of squaring up to the…

Free speech at the outer limits

On January 12, Peter W. Wood, president of an American organisation called the National Association of Scholars (NAS), wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal against attempts by one individual to prevent NAS from organising a conference on science's reproducibility crisis. As it turns out, the individual – Leonid Teytelman – has been fighting…

A sympathetic science

If you feel the need to respond, please first make sure you have read the post in full. I posted the following tweet a short while ago: With reference to this: Which in turn was with reference to this: But a few seconds after publishing it, I deleted the tweet because I realised I didn't…

Social media and science communication

The following article was originally intended for an Indian publication but I withdrew from the commission because I couldn’t rework the piece according to changes they required, mostly for lack of focus. I thank Karnika Kohli and Shruti Muralidhar for their inputs. Since the mid-20th century, the news-publishing industry has wielded the most influence on…