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Sensational Science: The Death of Bin Laden and Space Medicine?
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Sensational Science: The Death of Bin Laden and Space Medicine?

Research is not the only area where headlines are blown out of proportion- take a look at the most recent global news story as an example.  This month I decided to focus this column on some falsehoods and rumors circulating about and around the killing of Osama bin Laden.  Of course, no Sensational Science column would be complete without at least one scientific story, so I’ve included one of my favorites headlines from the past month.

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The Gist: Special Forces dogs are outfitted with body armor, cameras, oxygen masks and get this- titanium teeth.

The “Study”: No, Navy SEAL Dogs Don’t Have Titanium Teeth

The Twist: The owner of a company that trains dogs for the military explains that if a dog- even a combat dog- has “titanium teeth” it would make them weak, structurally speaking. That is, having titanium teeth isn’t a battle field enhancement, but (more or less) a filling.

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The Gist: Obama and his top advisors watched a live helmet camera as special forces troops took out Osama.

The “Study”: Obama didn’t see bin Laden die

The Twist: CIA Director Leon Panetta explained (after the photo became one Flickr’s most viewed photos) that for 20-25 minutes the group didn’t know what was going on, and only knew Osama was killed after the code name “Geronimo” was used.

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The Gist: Students in a UCLA geography class pinned down Osama’s location to Abbottabad with 89.9% confidence.

The “Study”: Geographers Had Predicted Osama’s Possible Whereabouts

The Twist: The researchers did pick a city in Pakistan where they were pretty sure Osama was- but it wasn’t Abbottabad, it was Parachinar. The 89.9% confidence was actually 88.9% and was the confidence they had that Osama was in a 300km radius from his last known location in Tora Bora (a region that does, to be fair, include Abbottabad).

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The Gist: OK, this one doesn’t have to do with Osama, but the idea that medicine wouldn’t work in space really caught my attention.

The Study: Evaluation of Physical and Chemical Changes in Pharmaceuticals Flown on Space Missions

The Twist: It’s not that the medicine doesn’t work in space. Instead, because of the environment that the medicine is stored in the medicine “expires” faster. So, Tylenol will still help your space headache- as long as it’s fresh.

If you need more Osama science check out the great piece on DNA testing by @NerdyChristie.

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Nick Fahrenkopf is a Ph.D. candidate studying nanobiosciences- applying physics and engineering concepts and techniques to biological and medical problems. Outside of his research he enjoys curling, and resists the urge to dig too far into the science behind it. Always skeptical, he enjoys debunking email chains and digging deeper into popular science articles and blog posts. Follow his most random thoughts on science on Twitter.

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Need to catch up with other recent Sensational Science headlines?

Army Origami to Space Infections

Scientists Make Computers with Gold and DNA

Researchers Link Processed Foods to Lower IQ in Kids

Science Proves Keeping a Diary Makes You Smarter

Facebook Stalking can Actually Kill You

Alcohol More Harmful than Heroin

Mexican Beer Dermatitis: Booze Plus Lime can Cause Nasty Rash

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Seen any other sensational science headlines recently?

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3 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. cakeome

    wrote on May 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    it's pretty scary to imagine what papers will be like in the future since it appears there's no requirement to stick to actual facts anymore. if they have to keep making headlines more "sensational" to hold their audiences, i can only imagine how crazy it will get.

  2. Kerry

    wrote on May 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    If your feet smell like Limburger, you've got much bigger problems than mosquitoes…

  3. Sensational Science: Why It’s a Great Time to be in Science

    wrote on June 22, 2011 at 9:16 am

    […] The Death of Bin Laden and Space Medicine? […]

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