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Fast-Food-Loving Cornell Prof Faces Ethical Scrutiny

Mother Jones

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In 2014, I profiled Brian Wansink, a behavioral psychologist who studies how our surroundings affect our eating habits. Wansink runs Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, a prolific group known for its clever dining research—one widely cited study, for example, found that people who keep their breakfast cereal in a cabinet weighed 21 pounds less on average than those who keep it on the counter; another showed that diners who sit near a restaurant’s entrance are 73 percent less likely to order dessert than those who sit in the restaurant’s interior.

I wasn’t the only one who thought Wansink’s work was cool. His research—some 200 studies since 2005—regularly makes headlines. But in January, a team of researchers reanalyzed the data from four of the Food and Brand Lab’s studies about pizza and turned up what appear to be serious problems: The researchers spotted 150 data inconsistencies. As Columbia University statistician Andrew Gelman put it in a blog post: “Although the four papers were all based on the same data, they differed in all sorts of detail, which suggested that the authors opportunistically used data exclusion, data coding, and data analysis choices to obtain publishable (that is, p less than .05) results.”

In a blog post on Thursday, one of the researchers, University of Groningen Ph.D. student Nick Brown, pointed to what appear to be several incidences of self-plagiarism in Wansink’s writing. Brown also found that the data from two of Wansink’s studies—one from 2001 and another from 2003 “appear to be almost identical, despite purportedly reporting the results of two completely different studies.”

Wansink declined to comment on the accusations. Instead, he pointed to a statement on the lab’s website, where he writes, “We are currently conducting a full review of studies in question, preparing comprehensive data which will be shared and establishing new standards for future operations at the lab which will include how we respond to requests for research information.”

The statement also notes that Wansink has enlisted a Food and Brand lab member who wasn’t involved in the studies to reanalyze the data in question. This move has raised some eyebrows in the scientific community: Why not hire an independent researcher? Here’s how Wansink answered that question in a Q&A with the scientific integrity watchdog blog Retraction Watch:

That’s a great question, and we thought a lot about that. In the end, we want to do this as quickly and accurately as possible—get the scripts written up, state the rationale (i.e., why we made particular choices in the original paper), and post it on a public website. Also, because this same researcher will also be deidentifying the data, it’s important to keep everything corralled together until all of this gets done.

But before we post the data and scripts, we also plan on getting some other statisticians to look at the papers and the scripts. These will most likely be stats profs who are at Cornell but not in my lab. We’ve already requested one addition to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), so that’s speeding ahead.

But even though someone in my lab is doing the analyses, like I said, we’re going to post the deidentified data, the analysis scripts (as in, how everyone is coded), tables, and log files. That way everyone knows exactly how it’s analyzed and they can rerun it on different stats programs, like SPSS or STATA or SAS, or whatever. It will be open to anyone. I’m also going to use this data for some stat analysis exercises into one of my courses. Yet another reason to get it up as fast as possible—before the course is over.

In the same Q&A, Wansink defended his work on methodological grounds. “These sorts of studies are either first steps, or sometimes they’re real-world demonstrations of existing lab findings,” he said. “They aren’t intended to be the first and last word about a social science issue. Social science isn’t definitive like chemistry. Like Jim Morrison said, ‘People are strange.’ In a good way.”

Cornell has declined to intervene. In a statement to New York magazine, John J. Carberry, the university’s head of media relations, wrote, “While Cornell encourages transparent responses to scientific critique, we respect our faculty’s role as independent investigators to determine the most appropriate response to such requests, absent claims of misconduct or data sharing agreements.”

I’ll be tracking this story, and we will post updates as they occur.


Fast-Food-Loving Cornell Prof Faces Ethical Scrutiny

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Disney radio will stop shilling for frackers

Disney radio will stop shilling for frackers

chuck holton

A Radio Disney station in Ohio recently teamed up with the state’s oil and gas industry on an “educational program” promoting resource extraction — from Never Land to Gasland, you might say. The partnership made many parents and environmentalists unhappy.

From Al Jazeera:

The program, called Rocking in Ohio, went on a 26-stop tour of elementary schools and science centers across the state last month. It involves interactive demonstrations of how oil and gas pipelines work, and is led by three staffers from Radio Disney’s Cleveland branch. It is entirely funded by the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), which gets its money from oil and gas companies.

The Wooster Daily Record described the tour’s stop at the Wayne County fairgrounds last year:

Radio Disney of Cleveland and its road crew promoted the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, with games pitting all ages of children vs. their peers and even families vs. families and dads trying to beat other dads in a variety of challenges. All the challenges, except perhaps the dads’ dance competition, related back to the science behind oil and gas production and their value as natural resources. …

One of the challenges was “literally creating our own pipeline,” [said Jag, the Radio Disney master of ceremonies], using balls and tubing to demonstrate “how we get oil and gas to your home.”

As contestants shot balls through the “pipeline” to end up in colored pails at the other end, Jag encouraged the audience, “Cheer these guys on like crazy.”

“I don’t think it’s doing the children or the state of Ohio any good,” Robert Shields of the Sierra Club’s Ohio chapter told Al Jazeera. “Kids’ ability to reason is not yet quite established, so it feels to me that they’re getting some kind of propaganda.”

After concerned citizens started protesting and circulating petitions, Disney backed out. Here’s the latest from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The Cleveland-based Radio Disney station will no longer participate in an educational program sponsored by Ohio’s oil and gas industry, after protests by environmental activists snowballed in recent weeks.

The Rocking in Ohio program raised eyebrows and outrage among parents and environmental advocates who say the program activities constituted propaganda.

A Disney spokesman provided the following statement to Northeast Ohio Media Group: “The sole intent of the collaboration between Radio Disney and the nonprofit Rocking in Ohio educational initiative was to foster kids’ interest in science and technology. Having been inadvertently drawn into a debate that has no connection with this goal, Radio Disney has decided to withdraw from the few remaining installments of the program.”

But that’s not the end of the roadshow. Rhonda Reda, director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, said the controversy was “blown out of proportion” and the program will continue without Radio Disney.

Making education fun: Kids’ day at the Wayne County Fair features Radio Disney, Ohio Oil and Gas energy education program, The Daily Record
Network made 26 stops across Ohio with industry-funded group to promote oil and gas to students, Al Jazeera
Cleveland Radio Disney station ends partnership with oil and gas industry-funded kids’ program, The Plain Dealer

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Disney radio will stop shilling for frackers

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Green Levies May Well be ‘Crap’. The Way to Deal with Carbon is to Bury It


How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend – Monks of New Skete

For nearly a quarter century, How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend has been the standard against which all other dog-training books have been measured. This new, expanded edition, with a fresh new design and new photographs throughout, preserves the best features of the original classic while bringing the book fully up-to-date. The result: the ultimate trai […]

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Clan Raukaan – A Codex: Space Marines Supplement – Games Workshop

Famed for harnessing the power of bionics over flesh, the Iron Hands are the most calculating and merciless of all the Space Marine Chapters. Clan Raukaan is the most aggressive of the Iron Hands’ ten great clans of Medusa. Under the leadership of the Iron Council, Clan Raukaan has spearheaded countless victories in the name of the Iron Hands, securing […]

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Everything the Internet Didn’t Teach You About Crochet – Jean Leinhauser & Rita Weiss

Want to be a better crocheter, but have a lot of questions? Don’t waste hours searching the Web — find all your crochet questions answered here! Do you know about the various types of crochet hooks? When is a thin steel crochet hook used? What kind of yarn is needed to make an outfit for a new baby? What’s this business about gauge? How do you read a croche […]

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How to Paint Citadel Miniatures: Necrons – Games Workshop

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Codex: Inquisition – Games Workshop

The Inquisition is the most powerful organisation within the Imperium. Bound by no Imperial law or authority, its agents – Inquisitors – operate in a highly secretive manner and answer only to themselves. Inquisitors use whatever means are necessary in order to safeguard the Imperium from heretics, mutants and aliens. It is not without good reason that Inqui […]

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The Art of Raising a Puppy (Revised Edition) – Monks of New Skete

For more than thirty years the Monks of New Skete have been among America’s most trusted authorities on dog training, canine behavior, and the animal/human bond. In their two now-classic bestsellers, How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend and The Art of Raising a Puppy, the Monks draw on their experience as long-time breeders of German shepherds and as t […]

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How to Raise the Perfect Dog – Cesar Millan & Melissa Jo Peltier

From the bestselling author and star of National Geographic Channel’s Dog Whisperer , the only resource you’ll need for raising a happy, healthy dog. For the millions of people every year who consider bringing a puppy into their lives–as well as those who have already brought a dog home–Cesar Millan, the preeminent dog behavior expert, says, “Yes, […]

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Black Legion – A Codex: Chaos Space Marines Supplement – Games Workshop

The Black Legion are among the most hated foes of the Imperium, vile traitors and fearsome warriors responsible for ten thousand years of terror and murder. About this Book: This Codex: Chaos Space Marines Supplement charts the history of the Legion, along with their Warmaster Abaddon, who stands poised to lead them to victory over the Imperium. Also inside […]

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Inside of a Dog – Alexandra Horowitz

The bestselling book that asks what dogs know and how they think, now in paperback. The answers will surprise and delight you as Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist, explains how dogs perceive their daily worlds, each other, and that other quirky animal, the human. Horowitz introduces the reader to dogs’ perceptual and cognitive abilities and then draw […]

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Trident K9 Warriors – Michael Ritland & Gary Brozek

As Seen on “60 Minutes”! As a Navy SEAL during a combat deployment in Iraq, Mike Ritland saw a military working dog in action and instantly knew he’d found his true calling. Ritland started his own company training and supplying dogs for the SEAL teams, U.S. Government, and Department of Defense. He knew that fewer than 1 percent of […]

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Green Levies May Well be ‘Crap’. The Way to Deal with Carbon is to Bury It

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Fracking won’t fix the climate

Fracking won’t fix the climate

WCN 24/7

The claim that natural gas is saving the climate is revealed as hot air.

Perhaps you’ve heard the claim that the natural-gas boom made possible by fracking is reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The logic underpinning this claim is that natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal, and hydraulic fracturing has produced a surfeit of cheap natural gas. Ergo, fracking is helping power plants switch from coal to natural gas, helping the climate along the way.

But that’s only half the story.

A Stanford-led study, which was produced with input from 50 academic, government, and private-sector experts, concludes that natural gas is having only “modest impacts” on carbon dioxide emissions.

Yes, natural gas is helping to dig a grave for coal. It’s the lesser of two fossil-fuel evils. But natural gas’s low price is also slowing down the country’s shift toward climate-friendly solar and wind power. From the Stanford report [PDF]:

Shale development has relatively modest impacts on carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, particularly after 2020. Since 2006, electricity generation has become less carbon intensive as its natural gas share increased from 16 to 24 percent and its coal share decreased from 52 to 41 percent. Over future years, this trend towards reducing emissions becomes less pronounced as natural gas begins to displace nuclear and renewable energy that would have been used otherwise in new powerplants under reference case conditions.

Meanwhile, the study concludes that fracking is helping to slightly expand America’s economy — but not nearly to the extent that the industry would like us to think:

Shale development also boosts the economy by $70 billion annually over the next several decades. Although this amount appears large, it represents a relatively modest 0.46 percent of the US economy. Today total natural gas expenditures represent about one percent of GDP within this country.

Joe Romm of ClimateProgress points out that the International Energy Agency recently warned that the low price of natural gas is also hampering efforts to improve energy efficiency, which is bad news for greenhouse gas emissions.

“From a climate perspective, then, the shale gas revolution is essentially irrelevant,” argues Romm, “and arguably a massive diversion of resources and money that could have gone into deploying carbon-free sources.”

Changing the game?: Emissions and market implications of new natural gas supplies, Energy Modeling Forum, Stanford University
Major Study Projects No Long-Term Climate Benefit From Shale Gas Revolution, ClimateProgress

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

Find this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Business & Technology


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Fracking won’t fix the climate

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Your Guide to Finding the Perfect Houseplant

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Your Guide to Finding the Perfect Houseplant

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Advertising Didn’t Have Much Effect on the 2012 Election

Mother Jones

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Over at the Monkey Cage, Michael Franz has an interesting postmortem on the effect of TV advertising during the 2012 presidential election. He uses a clever design that takes advantage of the fact that ads in battleground states sometimes bleed over the border into non-battleground states, producing a random set of non-battleground voters who are exposed to large numbers of ads.

Franz’s bottom line is simple: advertising didn’t have much effect in 2012. The maximum effect—that is, the effect of swapping the market with the biggest Democratic ad advantage to the one with the biggest Republican ad advantage—is about 1 percentage point of the vote share. The effect is bigger if you look solely at ads in the final two months, but not a lot bigger. And this is the biggest possible effect. In more likely scenarios, where one side or the other out-advertised the other by a fairly normal amount, the effect is a few tenths of a percentage point.

This doesn’t mean ads don’t matter. What it means is that (a) they largely cancel each other out, and (b) there’s probably a saturation point above which they have diminishing returns. It’s also likely that ads have less impact in an election featuring a well-known incumbent (ads were apparently more effective in 2008 than in either 2004 or 2012). Nonetheless, this fits with other data suggesting that 2012 was a very fundamentals-driven election. Obama’s superior organization might have made a difference at the margins, but only a small difference. This cake was pretty much fully baked before the Republican Party even agreed on a nominee.

POSTSCRIPT: As clever as this study design is, I do wonder if it’s possible that battleground-state voters respond differently to ads than non-battleground-state voters. Perhaps there’s an interaction between ads and all the other stuff going on in battleground states that makes them more effective than in other places?

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Advertising Didn’t Have Much Effect on the 2012 Election

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Spring Allergy Relief & Easy Ways to Save the Rainforest

Anne Revenge


15 Ways to Use Artichokes

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Spring Allergy Relief & Easy Ways to Save the Rainforest

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Cuccinelli Wants a Rehearing on Virginia’s Anti-Sodomy Law

Mother Jones

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Last month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond deemed a Virginia anti-sodomy law unconstitutional. The provision, part of the state’s “Crimes Against Nature” law, has been moot since the 2003 US Supreme Court decision overruled state laws barring consensual gay sex. The law also bars consensual straight anal and oral sex as well, lest ye heteros think Cuccinelli isn’t also worried about your sex life.

But that apparently doesn’t matter to Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who is asking the court to reconsider, reports the Washington Blade:

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli has filed a petition with the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond asking the full 15-judge court to reconsider a decision by a three-judge panel last month that overturned the state’s sodomy law.
The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 on March 12 that a section of Virginia’s “Crimes Against Nature” statute that outlaws sodomy between consenting adults, gay or straight, is unconstitutional based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2003 known as Lawrence v. Texas.
A clerk with the 4th Circuit appeals court said a representative of the Virginia Attorney General’s office filed the petition on Cuccinelli’s behalf on March 26. The petition requests what is known as an en banc hearing before the full 15 judges to reconsider the earlier ruling by the three-judge panel.

Mother Jones confirmed that Cuccinelli had filed the request with the court as well. Given that the Supreme Court has already ruled that gay sex is OK and moved on to the question of gay marriage, I wouldn’t expect his appeal to go very far.


Cuccinelli Wants a Rehearing on Virginia’s Anti-Sodomy Law

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Tar Sands Blockade wins sponsorship deal from Kryptonite bike locks

Tar Sands Blockade wins sponsorship deal from Kryptonite bike locks

Disturbed by the recent tar-sands spills in Minnesota and Arkansas, Kryptonite lock company has decided to step up its efforts to protect the planet.

Today, the company offered corporate sponsorship to any of the Keystone XL pipeline protesters who raised the bar by chaining themselves to tar-sands equipment over the last year. (Needless to say, they’ve been burning through a lot of locks.)

Laura Borealis

“The people at Kryptonite have a pure passion for creating the best security in the world. And that includes creating security for the planet,” the company said in a statement. “We recognized the blockaders for their creative use of our product, and we wanted to encourage more of their important work. Plus, Kryptonite’s reinforced, anodyzed steel design resists removal 50 percent longer than competitors and is guaranteed to frustrate law enforcement.”

They may seem like odd bedfellows, but Kryptonite’s products have already helped activists disrupt energy conferences and slow down pipeline construction.

The blockade reported that they were happy to have the power of so many locks behind them. Unconcerned about backlash over a corporate sponsor, the blockade emphasized the greater good. “Kryptonite U-locks protect our bikes from being re-liberated on city streets every day — why shouldn’t they protect our planet too?” activists said in a statement.

“We will use the master’s tools to lock down the master’s house.”

No word yet on whether the makers behind Gorilla Glue might consider making a similar donation.

Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for



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Tar Sands Blockade wins sponsorship deal from Kryptonite bike locks

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Pesticide makers want you to save the bees

Pesticide makers want you to save the bees

BayerBee killer.

Not only do manufacturers of bee-killing pesticides still insist that their products should be sold — now they are saying that everybody else needs to be doing more to help save the bees.

Syngenta and Bayer say that their poisonous products do not kill bees, despite a bevy of evidence suggesting otherwise. (The complex problem of colony collapse disorder, in which the pesticides are heavily implicated, is getting worse, by the way — not better.) Their neonicotinoid-based pesticides may soon be outlawed soon by the European Commission, and beekeepers and activists are suing the EPA as they push for a similar ban here.

But the chemical companies want us to know that they care deeply about these pollinators. And they have kind-heartedly published a plan they think could help the rest of us boost bee populations.

After all, if neonicotinoids are banned, they say, then we may never truly understand how they affect bees. Imagine living without that kind of knowledge.

From Reuters:

Syngenta and Bayer, which say harmful effects of the pesticides on bees are unproven and that a ban would deal a blow to the EU economy, proposed a plan that includes the creation of more flowering field margins to provide habitats for bees.

They also proposed a field monitoring program to detect the neonicotinoids pesticides blamed for the decline of honeybees, measures to limit the exposure of bees to the products and more research into the impact of parasites and viruses.

“This comprehensive plan will bring valuable insights into the area of bee health, whereas a ban on neonicotinoids would simply close the door to understanding the problem,” Syngenta Chief Operating Officer John Atkin said in a statement.

All you organic gardeners and pollinator lovers, consider yourselves called out: Pesticide-producing corporations say you need to do more to help save the bees that they are killing. Consider volunteering for a bee monitoring program or something.

John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who


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Pesticide makers want you to save the bees

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