Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

by David Almandsmith

The season for colds is upon us. [Hack, hack, a-CHOO] On average, adults average 2 to 4 colds a year and kids 6 to 10. Billions of dollars of lost productivity every year can be attributed to the common cold. So why isn’t there a cold vaccine? Because there are at least 160 varieties of rhinovirus, the ‘bug’ that causes colds. We can always hope for some future medical breakthrough. For those of us over 60, we get fewer colds since our immune systems have learned to deal with most of the rhinovirus varieties. In the meantime i follow time-trusted advice: if you do the right things to get rid of a cold, you’ll be over it in a week; otherwise it’s bound to last 7 days.

Fortunately, i’ve avoided the flu ‘bug’ for a couple of decades. Good thing. The last bout made me so miserable that i wondered whether survival was even possible. I got my annual flu shot a few days ago. Last flu season in the U.S., there were 180 children who did not survive the flu. You can do something about this: If you know someone with young children, perhaps you could encourage them to vaccinate against the flu – every year. If they are concerned about “possible negative consequences,” don’t argue with them. Studies show that arguing often makes the person ‘dig in their heels’ and become further convinced they are right. Instead, encourage them to tell you how they came to that conclusion – show them a little empathy – then gently let them know how you came to your conclusions (evidence-based studies, etc.). Then change the subject. Give them a few days – and perhaps a link to legitimate studies. Of course, the same goes for immunizations against measles, mumps, rubella, flat earth, etc.

There are incredibly more tools available for biology research than when i was a physiology grad student. As a result, biological research is happening away from institutional settings. This “biohacking” is similar to research in universities but much of it focuses on attempts to enhance intelligence or extend lifespan. One group went a step further and created a genome sequence that would hack the software of a gene sequencing machine!

The field of synthetic biology focuses on the “design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes.” Now that is some serious hacking. A global conference on synthetic biology takes place this week in San Francisco.

And wouldn’t ya know it, your Facebook profile info might have been hacked into this last week. Your passwords and payment information were NOT affected. But hackers could have gone into all of your apps where you agreed to use your Facebook account for logging in. Ungood. There is advice online for steps you should take.

This week’s choices (but don’t limit yourself; check the whole Bay Area Science Calendar):

  1. Photovoltaic Restoration of Sight in Retinal Degeneration – Tuesday 4:30PM, Stanford
  2. Biohackers, Open Science & Community Labs (Counter Culture Labs) – Thursday 7:30PM, Oakland
  3. Ladies Do Launch: Space for Women – Saturday 1PM, Oakland

Bonus: Aero Workshop: Distance Gliders – Sunday 2PM, San Carlos, pre-registration required

Every year since 1909, a scientist is chosen to give the prestigious Hitchcock Lectures at UC Berkeley. Recent lecturers include Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Nina Jablonski, Neil Shubin, and Sylvia Earle. Dr. Eugenie Scott, chair of the Bay Area Skeptics, has been chosen to give this year’s Hitchcock lectures. They are open to the public at UC’s International House, 2299 Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley.


Wishing you a great week,
David Almandsmith
Board member, Bay Area Skeptics


“A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.”
Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971) American Poet.

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