James Downie

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Flu Vaccines
June 16, 2011

University of Florida football  fans everywhere are downcast today at the news that former quarterback Danny Wuerffel has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system. The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the all-time great college quarterbacks, leading the Gators to 4 SEC championships in 4 years, and the 1996 national championship. His NFL career was less successful, however--just 10 starts and 2100 passing yards over 6 seasons--and he retired from the game in 2002.

Total Eclipse of the Odyssey
June 15, 2011

As of the writing of this post, the first lunar eclipse of 2011 is underway, visible on at least part of every continent except North America. (Homo sapiens stuck in North America can view pictures and feeds of the eclipse on a number of websites, including Google's homepage.) It's the longest lunar eclipse since 2000. Like many other natural wonders, for centuries most people believed lunar eclipses to be heaven-sent omens, sometimes even changing the course of wars.

Hacking For Fun More Than Profit
June 14, 2011

The hacking group Lulz Security has made a mockery of internet security this past month, hacking into and stealing data from a number of company and government networks, including Fox, the United States Senate, and an FBI affiliate. Just today, the group has hit the servers of a gaming magazine and three hugely popular online games.

The GOP Primary Debate Is Thoroughly Unimportant
June 13, 2011

Tonight, seven Republican candidates will take part in the first New Hampshire primary debate of the 2012 campaign. Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul will do rhetorical battle from 8 to 10 p.m. at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

The Sun Hates Satellites
June 08, 2011

Earlier today, the Sun (aka el sol, Helios, or "that big bright thing that makes other stuff turn funny colors after you look away from it") stunned scientists with its latest solar flare. More specifically, the solar flare, despite only being of medium intensity, sent perhaps the largest amount of solar material into space ever recorded. "A mushroom of cooled plasma popped like a pimple," wrote National Geographic, sending plasma spraying upwards, before the material settled back over approximately half the surface area of the sun.

EXCLUSIVE: New Forensic Details About Weinergate Photo
June 01, 2011

As the Anthony Weiner Twitter whodunit trundles on into almost a full week, it remains unclear where the now-infamous photo came from. To help shed some light on this, I contacted Hany Farid, a renowned expert in forensic photographic image analysis.

Cell Phones and Cancer: What Studies Say
May 31, 2011

"Cell phones may cause cancer," news organizations around the world shouted today, after the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that cell phones are "possibly carcinogenic to humans." (Many people found out about the news while checking their cell phones. In other news, incidents of irony soared to record highs today.) More specifically, the IARC found "limited" evidence of a relationship between cell phone use and cases of glioma and acoustic neuroma, two types of brain cancer.

Where's the Air Conditioning?
May 31, 2011

With a heat wave rolling across the country, it comes as little surprise that "portable air conditioners" is currently trending on Google. After a relatively cool spring in many parts of the country, Memorial Day weekend saw temperatures into the 90s in many parts of the southern and eastern United States. No heat-related deaths have been reported yet, but cities are already reviewing their plans to deal with the heat. One of the more controversial aspects of heat waves, sadly, is that certain parts of cities see higher mortality rates than others.

Weak One
May 28, 2011

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his candidacy for president on Monday, just a week after fellow presidential contender Newt Gingrich managed to torpedo his own nascent campaign within a matter of days. Could Pawlenty avoid the same fate?

The Costs of Measles Vaccines
May 27, 2011

Yesterday, health officials in Charlottesville, Virginia, confirmed the existence of a small measles outbreak in the area. The Charlottesville-Albemarle Health Department says that an area woman who contracted the disease in India has passed it along to at least two people, and more may have been exposed. This is the first measles outbreak in the Charlottesville area in over twenty years. More worryingly, this outbreak brings the number of cases in the US so far this year to more than 120.