“The mice catch the scent of landmines and they fall down.”
As I joked on Twitter, I would have named my story about genetically-modified mice differently if I could by making an esoteric reference to the incredible book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.” That’s because these genetically-modified mice have extremely sensitive noses capable of detecting DNT, a close chemical cousin of TNT found in explosives — but the sensory overload may also cause them to have seizures.
The ongoing saga of China’s rather incomplete reporting on air pollution in cities such as Beijing inspired a great DIY project by a Chinese and U.S. grad student — a grassroots effort that marries air pollution sensors to the ancient Chinese kite-flying tradition.
My most popular story this week was about the latest evidence that the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is a rather clever forgery by an amateur. The Guardian gets credit for being among the first to spot the new scholarly analysis of the “gospel” written on a small papyrus fragment, but I dug into more of the implications by talking to several of the scholars.
If this is indeed a fake, it would represent the first time that an amateur without even the knowledge of the ancient, dead (Coptic) language had so successfully fooled expert scholars. But it’s also a fascinating tale that shows both the good and bad sides of the Internet’s power — enabling the supposed amateur to create a convincing forgery because of an online translation tool, but also allowing scholars from all over the world to rapidly pool their expertise and dissect the claim.
The growing chorus of doubt over the fragment’s authenticity has not gone unnoticed by Harvard University, the institute that first made the fragment’s controversial findings public. The Harvard Theological Review decided to pull the article that would have described the findings from its January 2013 issue until further tests on the fragment are completed.
Last but not least, I was proud to get mentioned by a health news watchdog for my article about a “smart bra” that would supposedly beat mammograms in screening for breast cancer. I doubt many people will read the article compared to the dozens of optimistic, unquestioning articles that flooded news sites over the past week, but I was glad to have taken the time to try and assess the new medical device’s claims — especially given that its method has some resemblance to an existing, ineffective screening method called thermography.
The maker of the device, First Warning Systems, was good enough to tell me in great detail about why it wasn’t making clinical trial data public just yet, and to explain how it’s using proprietary software and a better, real-time tracking version of thermography. I’m not even a journalist who regularly covers the health beat, but I was astounded by how so many earlier news articles failed to even try assessing the validity of this approach — especially when we’re talking about something as serious as breast cancer.