On Monday, President Obama made his annual rounds at the White House Science Fair. The event is a breeding ground for adorable interactions with kid-nerds (See 2012's marshmallow-shooting air cannon), but his chat yesterday with five cape-wearing Girl Scouts from Oklahoma was especially magical.
The 6-year-olds from Tulsa's Girl Scout Troup 411 were the youngest inventors selected to present at this year's fair. Inspired by conversations with a librarian and one of the girls' grandmas, they built a mechanical Lego contraption that can turn pages, to help patients with mobility issues read books.
The group of first graders and kindergartners explain to Obama that the device is a "prototype" that they came up with in a "brainstorming session." One of the girls asks Obama if he's ever had his own brainstorming session.
"I have had a couple brainstorming sessions," replies an amused Obama. "But I didn't come up with anything this good!"
Another girls asks what he came up with:
"I mean, I came up with things like, you know, health care. It turned out ok, but it started off with some prototypes," the president says.
And then they all go in for a group hug. GOLD.
Suzanne Dodson, the coach of the Lego team and the mom of one of the scouts, told Tulsa World that she's glad the girls are getting such positive attention for their project: "It really is a problem with girls, when they get to middle school, they lose confidence in their own ability to succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)" she said. "Having this experience at young age really gives them a confidence boost."
Four years ago, vaccine-skeptical German biologist Stefan Lanka posed a challenge on his website: Prove to him that measles is, in fact, a virus. To the first person who could do that, he promised a whopping 100 thousand Euros (about $106,000).
Despite loads of long-standing medical evidence proving the existence of the measles virus, Lanka believes that measles is a psychosomatic disease that results from trauma. "People become ill after traumatic separations," he told a German newspaper.
German doctor David Barden took him up on the challenge. Barden gathered six separate studies showing that measles is indeed a virus. Lanka dismissed his findings.
But today, a district court in southern Germany found that Barden's evidence provides sufficient proof to have satisfied Lanka's challenge. Which means Lanka now has to cough up the promised cash.
This issue has taken on new urgency due to a measles epidemic in Berlin that began in October. Health officials announced last Friday that 111 new cases had been reported in the previous week, bringing the total number to 724. The majority of those affected are unvaccinated; last month an 18-month-old died of the disease.
In Silicon Valley, a group of mostly white, mostly male twentysomethings have built a multibillion-dollar empire of sharing apps: shared housing (AirBnB), shared cars (Uber), shared dog-sitting (DogVacay)…you get the idea. But the so-called "sharing economy" doesn'tactuallyshare equally with everyone. One fake app wants to change that.
WellDeserved is an app that helps you "monetize" your privilege—be it racial, gender-based, or socioeconomic—by sharing it (temporarily, of course) with other people. The fictional app was the winning entry at last month's Comedy Hack Day in San Francisco, where creative agency Cultivated Wit challenged contestants to come up with a comedic app idea and pitch it to judges, all in 48 hours.
The app's promo video will make you laugh and cry: A Google employee sells his free Google lunch to a guest for $10, a dude charges a black man $5 to hail a cab on his behalf, and another guy walks a woman home so she won't get catcalled, asking himself, "Why don't I walk with them, spare them the harassment, and charge 'em like five bucks?"
The creators' (fake) plan for making the (fake) app work is summed up perfectly: "Our business plan is that VCs will just give us money. Because this is San Francisco, and we have an idea."
As of February 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has counted 121 reported measles cases this year in 17 states and Washington DC. Of those, 103 (85 percent) are linked to the outbreak that began at Disneyland in December. And the cause of this resurgence of a disease that until recently was considered licked in the United States? All evidence points to parents refusing to vaccinate their children.
At least some of those parents, though, are happy to inoculate their children with anti-vaccine sentiment. There's a whole ouevre of anti-vax fiction for kids, and some of it takes a pretty, well, creative approach—zombies! shape-shifting aliens!—to advancing ideas about the danger of vaccination. Some of the books include claims about links between vaccines and autism that have been repeatedly and conclusively proven false by science.
Here are a handful of examples, rated on a scale of 1 to 5 syringes (5 being the most explicitly anti-science):
Summary: A little girl named Tina learns that her best friend Melanie is out of school with the measles. Melanie is vaccinated, but Tina's parents decided not to vaccinate her after her little brother "was very sick" from his shots. Tina's mother assures her daughter that measles make the body stronger, and they go to Melanie's house so Tina can get the measles, too. Another (vaccinated) classmate ends up catching measles from Melanie, who eventually recovers, but Tina doesn't contract the disease, because "she eats lots of fresh, raw food, and also because she plays in the sunshine daily and drinks plenty of water."
Excerpt: "Tina heard Jared tell Travis, the boy beside him, that he wouldn't get the measles because he had been vaccinated. Travis said that he wasn't vaccinated, but didn't mind, until Jared then told him angrily, 'Well, you're going to die if you don't get vaccinated.' Travis thought about this for a minute and said to Jared, 'Well I know that isn't true because I haven't had any vaccinations and I am still alive.' Jared didn't know what to say to that!"
Summary: The federal government mass-produces a swine flu vaccine that turns recipients into zombies. A 911 dispatcher who has foregone the vaccine must find a way to save himself and his two kids. Escaping to Mexico might be their only chance.
Excerpt: "They're not dead though. They look it. But they're not. Their bodies will continue to decay, but they'll keep going, keep coming after you, keep eating until they just can't do it anymore. They get all dumb, and forget how to do things, but not how to eat. They remember that. And how to run. My God, they're fast. So, so fast."
"Who forgets things?
"Who?" he laughed. "All of them. Everyone who got the vaccination."
"What vaccination?" I asked.
"For the flu. Aren't you listening to me?"
The Vicious Case of the Viral Vaccine (2013): Mae, the daughter of a research nurse, believes the new Universal Flu Vaccine is safe, but her classmate Clinton isn't so sure. As protests against the vaccine heat up, Selectra Volt, Dudette from the Future—a time-traveler—sends them on a mission to go back in time and see how vaccines were developed. On their journey, they visit the likes of Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk, creator of the polio vaccine. They must return to the present in time to uncover a plot against the new flu vaccine.
Excerpt: "That vaccine could make people really sick," Clinton burst out.
Mae clutched her current events report and looked out at the class. "It won't. My mother worked on this vaccine. and it's safe. Only crazy people think it isn't."
Summary: A son develops autism after getting the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine. The father then discovers that in addition to causing autism, the MMR vaccine is part of a plot by shape-shifting aliens to destroy the human race.
Extra: Author Raymond Gallup is the president of the Autism Autoimmunity Project. In 2002, he wrote a letter on the anti-vax site VaccinationNews responding to a Time magazine story headlined "The Secrets of Autism." In the letter, he alludes to some of the sinister themes of his book, claiming that "the medical community and government health officials avoid the vaccine/autism link of the MMR vaccine."
Summary: This "interactive family book" is written by Kathleen Dunkelberger, a registered nurse. It's a collection of illustrated stories that go through the history of vaccines, their ingredients, potential dangers and side effects (including autism), government connections to the pharmaceutical industry, and more.
Excerpt: "Babies and kids don't always need shots. Many doctors and nurses know this now, but there are still some who will try to give these shots to all people of all ages. They sometimes try to give them to children in school. These shots are called vaccinations (vax-sin-nay-shuns). Vaccinations can be given as a shot, a liquid to take in your mouth, or as a spray mist up your nose."
In the past month, towns across Pennsylvania have been scrambling to scrap their gun laws. Clairton, Allentown, and West Mifflin have rescinded rules banning guns in city parks or requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons. Other localities, like Reading and College township, have announced plans to imminently repeal all laws regulating firearms.
Some of the city councilmembers and officials behind the repeals are doing so grudgingly. "It's not something I ever intended to do," one Munhall councilman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after the town decided to undo a local gun law. Homestead's mayor called the entire thing "absolutely ridiculous." "We're basically being forced to repeal these laws at gunpoint," Doylestown's council president wrote on his Facebook page. "Every local gun law must go!"
The statewide shakeup is the result of a law that morphed from a sleepy anti-theft bill into a blatant attempt to roll back gun control across the Keystone State. In January 2013, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced House Bill 80, a bipartisan measure to create penalties for stealing scrap metals. It passed the state House handily and headed to the state Senate. But last October, the bill took a detour: With Republican Gov. Tom Corbett facing a tight reelection race, GOP lawmakers tacked a stalled four-year-old gun bill onto HB 80 in the final hours of the legislative session. The bill passed by a wide margin. A few days later, Corbett signed the bill before a room ofgun lobbyists and activists at a sportsmen's club. Nobody mentioned scrap metals. "By signing this, we are helping protect the rights of hunters and other sportsmen and sportswomen," said Corbett.