Saint Nickanuck of the Tundra

Worldcon goings-on

Posted in Conventions, Science by Cmaaarrr on the August 17th, 2011

Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention

I’ll be headed shortly to Renovation, the 69th (In Reno. With brothels. Yes. Ok, it’s out of my system now.) World Science Fiction Convention. Tomorrow, I have the good fortune of participating in a couple of science panels:

  • Thu 16:00 – 17:00, Space and the Biological Economy: How does space exploration drive the United States’ biological economy? What do the advances in telemedicine and the biological sciences driven by NASA mean to our nation’s long-term economic and physical health? – David W. Goldman (M), Nick Kanas, H. G. Stratmann, John Cmar, Greg Bear
  • Thu 17:00 – 18:00, Infections and Viruses that Could Doom Humankind: What could create the next pandemic? A virus from animals? Food-borne illness? An engineered retrovirus? – John Cmar (M), Vylar Kaftan, Tom Lehmann, Jim Fiscus

Apart from these, I will be otherwise hanging about with the Moon Ranger and other good folk, and possibly be doing some Bad Doctoring for The Secret Lair. As usual, I will be posting occasional pithy observations, and if you are going, I look forward to seeing you there!

Hello? WHO’s there?

Posted in Blogs, Science by Cmaaarrr on the June 4th, 2011

My weekly consultation is live at The Secret Lair, wherein I clinically evaluate the WHO’s classification of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones, into the category of “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. (Hint – I disagree.)

the death of smallpox and the birth of vaccination

Posted in Medical, Science by Cmaaarrr on the May 14th, 2011
Edward Jenners hair, a cc by-nc photo from Espino Family on Flickr

Edward Jenner's hair, a cc by-nc photo from Espino Family on Flickr

“A great deal of literature has been distributed casting discredit upon the value of vaccination in the prevention of smallpox. I do not see how any one who has gone through epidemics as I have, or who is familiar with the history of the subject, and who has any capacity left for clear judgement, can doubt its value.”

-Sir William Osler, from the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, December 22, 1910

Today marks the 215th anniversary of Edward Jenner’s first vaccination of a patient with cowpox to prevent smallpox, an event that directly lead to the first public health campaign to eradicate an infectious disease. I have a column up at the James Randi Educational Foundation looking at the fascinating history of the smallpox vaccine, accompanied by Leart Shaka’s thoughts on the same.

on biased cognition, and handware

Posted in Medical, Science, Wisdom by Cmaaarrr on the March 14th, 2011
P5 Glove, cc by-nc image from Roo Reynolds via Flickr

P5 Glove, cc by-nc image from Roo Reynolds via Flickr

‘People generally think their judgments are rational, and their concepts are stable. But if wearing a glove for a few minutes can reverse people’s usual judgments about what’s good and bad, perhaps the mind is more malleable than we thought.’

- Daniel Casasanto on his 2011 study in Psychological Science, When Left is ‘Right’: Motor fluency shapes abstract concepts. doi:10.1177/0956797611401755

Dr. Space Baby rounds – Johncon, NASA Tweetup, et al.

Posted in Conventions, NASA, Science by Cmaaarrr on the April 16th, 2010

Dr. Space Baby from Awesome Hospital,

  • I’ve been deriving great succor from Dragon Age of late, hence the reduced posting schedule. That’s right – I like Dragon Age better than you.
  • In-hospital rounds would be vastly improved if I could make them with Awesome Hospital’s Dr. Space Baby, for obvious reasons. Also, if you’re not reading Awesome Hospital, then consider this a STAT prescription to do so.
  • Ravencon provided a sleep-deprived, shambling weekend of amusement. I owe you con recaps. I’ll get on that shortly.
  • On Sunday, the Moon Ranger has used her Top Secret Contacts to get me on the list for the NASA Earth Day Tweetup on the Mall in DC. As always, I will be providing pithy commentary on my feed, and hoping against hope for a mention of space syphilis. I know it’s out there…

Drinking Skeptically at the Blue Agave

Posted in Libations, Science by Cmaaarrr on the April 7th, 2010

Drinking SkepticallyTomorrow evening I’ll be joining the Baltimore contingent of the Center for Inquiry for their latest Drinking Skeptically event. If you happen to be in the area of the Blue Agave restaurant between 6:30-8:30, stop by for a pint and some stimulating conversation. Or, witness me doubt your very existence. One of the two.

Laura @ the San Diego Science Festival

Posted in Friends and Family, Science by Cmaaarrr on the March 24th, 2010

San Diego Science Festival 2010

The San Diego Science Festival is going on as I type this, and will be bringing the awesome with SCIENCE all this week. A bit of context from their site:

The San Diego Science Festival strives to create exciting and interactive experiences that showcase the remarkable science of greater San Diego, a community recognized as one of the Nation’s scientific leaders. Our wide variety of programs and events inspire all ages, with a special focus on building a pipeline of future scientists and STEM thought-leaders.

The University of California, San Diego is lead organizer for the second annual San Diego Science Festival (, a week of community events designed to focus awareness on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. This year’s Festival will take place March 20-27, culminating in a Science EXPO Day at PETCO Park on Saturday, March 27.

The Festival’s EXPO Day is planned to inspire San Diego’s youth to pursue science-oriented education and careers. Parents and families are encouraged to attend, as are all members of the San Diego community. With the theme of “Excite Your Mind,” EXPO events will include over 150 hands-on science exhibits for attendees of all ages, a Rubik’s Cube Speed Tournament involving 45 local school teams, a science-inspired art show and even the dissection of real brain specimens. Last year, over 50,000 people took part in the San Diego Science Festival EXPO Day activities alone.

Amidst the amazing number of events going on, I am vastly tickled that Laura has been invited as a guest to host the Star Party tomorrow night! Behold:


In addition to hosting the Star Party (including a discussion of the latest news about the James Webb Space Telescope) tomorrow, Laura will also be speaking about Citizen Science at the massive Expo Day on Saturday. For details about these and all the other excellent activities, check out their site, hit them up on the Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. Most importantly, if you are in the area, stop by and bask in the radiant beauty of SCIENCE.

Explore Our World 2010

Posted in Friends and Family, Science by Cmaaarrr on the December 8th, 2009

Laura has been known to take some awesome photos on her many planet-spanning travels, and has hit upon an excellent idea – compiling them into a calendar for your viewing pleasure! As such, I am immensely pleased to present her Explore Our World 2010 calendar, available through LuLu:

Explore Our World 2010, photo by Laura Burns

Explore Our World 2010, photo by Laura Burns

While I’m hardly an unbiased observer, I can attest that the pictures she has chosen are among her best from the last year. In addition to awesome imagery, she’s selected a roster of notable days for each month that span the world (quite literally) of cultures and perspectives on our pale blue dot. The calendars are available for $14.99 apiece, and all proceeds benefit the brilliant Space Generation Foundation.

These make inexpensive, versitile holiday gifts, and benefit a great cause, so be sure to check them out.

weekly rounds

Posted in Balance Report, Friends and Family, Libations, Science by Cmaaarrr on the November 30th, 2009
  • This week was a bit abbreviated due to the Thanksgiving holiday, and I’ve just returned from my southern Ohio homeland, where the obligations of family, rest, and celebration were somewhat barely balanced. It is now time, as they say, to get back at it.

Happy Saganday!

Posted in Medical, Science by Cmaaarrr on the November 7th, 2009

“Science is more than a body of knowledge – it’s a way of thinking, of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility.”

Today is the first annual Carl Sagan Day event, which is being held to celebrate his life and contributions in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of his birth coming up on Monday. A full roster of the day’s events at Broward College in Davie, FL, can be found here, and many of the goings-on will be streaming live here.

Carl’s perspective as a humble scientist and a captivating storyteller is an inspiration to many, myself included. Even narrowly looking at my own field, many challenges that I face in my work with infectious diseases – public perceptions of the nature of the influenza virus, or unfounded vaccine fears, for two of many examples – are a directly tied to many of the issues Sagan was passionate about, including a global lack of critical thinking education, and an almost willful misunderstanding of science and medicine by some segments of the public. Continuing his work is critical not only for the betterment of public health, but also for the well-being of our global society as we continue to move into a more scientifically nuanced and technologically advanced era.

Below, in three sections, is Carl’s last televised interview. It touches on many topics, including pseudo-science in a scientifically-driven world, critical thinking v. belief, and his own illness. As with any video he was involved with, it is entertaining and thought-provoking. The quote above, and those below, are taken from this interview. Enjoy, and happy Saganday!

“We’ve arraigned a society based on science and technology, in which nobody understands anything about science and technology, and this combustible mix of ignorance and power is soon going to blow up in our faces… who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?”

“People read stock market quotations and financial pages, look at how complex that is… people are able to look at sports statistics… understanding science is not more difficult.”

“Science is after the way the universe really is, and not what makes us feel good… a lot of the “competing” doctrines are after what feels good, and not what is true.”

“If the universe does not comply with our predispositions, we have the wrenching obligation to accommodate to the way the universe really is.”