Author Archives: Jordan Smith

Does the flu vaccine actually help?

With the flu season coming up right around the corner, I’ve been thinking.  I can’t remember the last time I got a flu shot.  I never get the flu, so I never see a reason to get the flu shot.  So does the flu shot actually bring down the number of people affected by the flu, or is getting the vaccine just a waste of time?

Image result for flu shot

One way to evaluate the effectiveness of flu vaccines is to see how bad the flu season was in certain years and how many people got vaccinated.  According to the US National Library of Medicine, a randomized, double blind, placebo control trial was conducted during the winter of 1996.  The study focused on pediatric health care providers, and was mainly concerned with the hard endpoint of days of work missed due to illness.  The null hypothesis would have been “There is no difference in number of work days missed due to illness between the two groups.”.  The alternate hypothesis would have been “There is a significant difference in the number of sick days taken between the vaccination and control groups.”.  There were 547 participants in total, however, only 427 of them actually followed through with the procedures.  In this study, the vaccines did not reduce the number of influenza infections, nor did it reduce the number of days the participants suffered from the disease in between the vaccination group and the control.  However,  days of work missed and days the participants felt unable to work were both significantly lower than that of the control group.  So in terms of the vaccine actually helping you stay away from the flu, it’s not looking too good.  But it’s not 1997 anymore.  How has this result changed over the years?

The CDC has an excellent chart showcasing the effectiveness of the flu vaccine each year from 2004-2015.

Image result for flu vaccine effectiveness 2006

If it’s hard to see, the table can be found here.

The “Adjusted Overall VE” column denotes the Vaccination Effectiveness for that year.  As you can see, the effectiveness for the flu vaccine has been increasing every year (with a couple exceptions).  on top of that, the sample size (number of patients) has also been increasing each year.  So as the effectiveness was increasing, so was the accuracy of these studies.  Now the obvious outliers in this case would be 2007, and 2014.  2007 was in fact the beginning of the swine flu (H1N1) epidemic. According to the CDC,,  2014 was a rough year for people 65 years old and over.  The flu had peaked in late November/December instead of its usual February.  I don’t believe these observational studies could be victim to any problems such as the file drawer problem or the sharpshooter.  These were done by the CDC and so were most likely held to a higher standard due to it being a governmental agency.  The CDC also has no incentive to produce misleading studies.  It’s all about helping people and controlling diseases.

So in conclusion, I believe that due to advances in medicine, the effectiveness of vaccines for influenza has greatly increased since the original study done in 1996.  It is now much more effective i preventing the disease, and making it last much shorter for those who do get it.  So to answer my original question, I believe it would in fact be beneficial to get the vaccine after all.  f i don’t I’m in no better position than those pediatricians were 20 years ago.

Virtual Reality Motion Sickness – Men vs. Women

With the recent release of the PlayStation VR (and Oculus Rift and HTC Vive earlier this year), people are understandably worried about motion sickness that could occur while trying to play the newest video games to utilize the new hardware.  Motion sickness (in terms of VR) has to do with the mismatch of visual and movement data your brain is receiving at the same time.  Through the VR headset, you see yourself moving throughout a virtual world.  So your brain expects to move your legs and arms and feel your body moving.  But you’re actually just sitting there playing a video game.  Developers are trying to remedy the feeling of sickness by getting has high a frame-rate as possible so the experience is as smooth as possible which should help.  But my question is, since video games have gotten enormously popular in the last decade, and millions of people will likely experience virtual reality games in the next few years, are men or women generally more affected by motion sickness when using virtual reality?

Image result for vr headsets

This type of motion sickness is actually not a new phenomenon.  As early as the 1950’s it was known as “simulator sickness”.  According to Live Science,  it was in 1957 that the first report of simulator sickness came from a helicopter training simulator.  Also, a study done in 1989 reported that up to 40% of military pilots experienced some form of sickness during simulator training.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, a study had been done on the effects of motion sickness on men and women.  The sample size is unclear but they looked for volunteers for participants.  The first thing they did was a questionnaire that specified sex and whether or not they wanted to volunteer for the study.  Then there were two rounds of motion sickness inducing trials.  One where the participants were allowed to move their heads and one when they were not.  The conclusion of the study found that women were more susceptible to motion sickness.

The null hypothesis would most likely have been “There is no discrepancy of level of motion sickness between men and women” and the alternate hypothesis would most likely have been “There is a difference between men and women in the amount of motion sickness experienced”.  Prior to doing the experiment, the researches actually anticipated the main problem with using volunteers.  They hypothesized that those volunteering would likely be less susceptible to motion sickness than those not willing to volunteer, and took this into account when forming a final conclusion.  We also have no idea how large the sample size was.  However, I believe they did set up a nice control group by having one session where the participants did not move their head, and another where they did.  Although the potential for a small sample size is there, and there is no randomization going on, I think the researchers did a good observational trial.

Night Owl or Morning Person?

I think we can all agree that 8 am classes are the worst.  It’s probably safe to assume that a majority of college students would classify themselves as night owls as opposed to morning people.  But which type of lifestyle is better for you?

Image result for night owl

It turns out that the difference between night owls and morning people isn’t just when they choose to go to bed.  In fact, the makeup of the brain differs between the people in each group. According to, researchers from Aachen University in Germany have studied the brain composition of several people who claim to be night owls and morning people.  The study consisted of 59 people.  16 were classified as early risers, 23 were night owls, and 20 were “intermediate”.  The study found that relative to the morning people and intermediates, the night had significantly less white matter in the brain.  White matter is the tissue that helps communication among the nerve cells.  There is no clear mechanism yet, but the researchers think it has to do with “social jet lag”.  The term refers to the fact that night owls want to stay up all night and do things, but are forced to wake up early to societal obligations like work or school.

Some other differences the Aachen University scientists found were that people who stayed up later were at a higher risk for depression.  They were also more inclined for tobacco and alcohol use, or food consumption (may be attributed to midnight snacking).  On the bright side however, night owls also seemed to be more productive during the day than early birds.  According to,  researchers from Belgium and Switzerland conducted a study with 31 participants (16 morning people and 15 night owls).  The researchers had them sleep for 7 hours overnight and then perform several tasks related to sustained attention.  Both groups performed the tasks similarly, however, the difference showed later in the day.  About 10 hours after waking up, the night owls showed higher levels of activity in parts of the brain related to attention.  The morning people were also more tired and had slower reaction time.  So, unsurprisingly, night owls seemed to be better at having energy later on in the day and night.

Now the conclusions from these studies sound very logical and easy to follow.  However, they did extremely small sample sizes.  And it appears that the way they got the participants was from volunteers which also could have skewed the results and therefore render the conclusion not very representative of everyone.

Fear of Flying

9/11.  Malaysian Airlines flight 370, US Airways Flight 1549.  Millions of people suffer from a fear of traveling by airplane.  Is this fear rational?  Should we all be a bit more hesitant before setting foot on those giant metal flying machines?  Also, where did this fear come from? Why are some people afraid and others are not?

Image result for plane that landed in the hudson

First things first, let’s take a look at where this fear may have started.  People attribute the most danger to airplanes when other forms of travel are just as dangerous, if not more so (more on this later).  One thing that may have led to this a combination of confirmation bias, and the media.  Whenever a plane goes down and people are killed, the media sensationalizes the event.  You hear about it all the time non-stop.  Due to this you think it happens all the time.  Every time a plane crashes and you hear about it on the news, it sticks out in your mind.  You never consider all the planes that don’t erupt in a fiery pile of death and destruction.  Since you only hear when planes crash, you already have a bias that that’s what planes do.  And every subsequent crash you hear of only reinforces that bias.

So do planes actually crash all that often?  Earlier, I said that other forms of travel are just as dangerous as flying.  Let’s look at probably your most preferred mode of transportation, driving.  You feel relatively safe while driving, right?  Well according to USA Today, statistically speaking, driving is FAR more dangerous than flying.  In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted some research as to the safety of driving.  They found that over millions of accidents, there had been 1.27 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.  That doesn’t sound too bad.  How does flying stack up?  The National Transportation Safety Board compiled a similar data search.  In the same year, planes had 20 accidents, no deaths, five people injured.  This equates to about 0 accidents per million flying miles.

Image result for fear of flying

So, statistically speaking, you should not be any more scared to fly on an airplane than you should be to ride in a car.  I know that simple statement won’t get anyone who is already afraid of flying to change their mind in a heartbeat.  So what can you do to ease your fears?  Well the US National Library of Medicine looked into that for you.  According to, a study used virtual reality simulations to see if that would help people approach their fears.  This study included 30 participants which were split into 3 groups.  One group received virtual reality graded exposure therapy (VRGET) with physiological feedback. Another group had the same VRGET but without the physiological feedback.  And the third group just had imaginal exposure therapy (IET) which means they just imagine themselves being on a plane, rather than seeing it in virtual reality.  The study consisted of an initial benchmark flight on a plane, 8 sessions of either VRGET or IET depending on their group, and a followup plane ride three months later.   The study found that 10% of the participants who received IET could do the followup plane ride without the assistance of medication.  The same was said for 80% of people who received VRGET with no physiological feedback, and 100% of those with VRGET and physiological feedback.  Although it was a small sample size, it does show compelling evidence for a conclusion.

While VRGET might not be feasible for everyone with a fear of flying, what VRGET did was get the participants used to the experiecne of flying.  So if you want to get over your fear of flying, just keep the statistcs in mind and try to get a few flights under your belt. You should eventually get over your fear as you get used to flying on an airplane.



Do helmets actually make football safer?

Within the past few years there has been a lot of news about the repercussions of injuries to NFL players during their careers.  The main issue being discussed has been specifically concussions and the fact that they seem to cause brain damage later on in life.  To the NFL’s credit, they have taken some steps to heighten safety within the sport.  For example,  earlier this year they outlined new rules for reporting which players listed on an injury report may or may not be playing in any certain game.  Padding and helmets have also gotten better to help protect players as time has gone on.  But are these helmets really helping prevent injuries to players heads?

Image result for football helmet collision

According to the Associated Press, helmets used today in football utilize various soft materials inside a hard shell to lessen the stress on the head dealt by a direct impact.   But is this really helping?  According to this graph by, the number of concussions happening in the NFL has dramatically increased in the last 10 years.  Football helmets have also been undergoing the aforementioned renovations within that time.

While the timeline of the newly designed helmets does correlate with the timing of the dramatic increase of sustained concussions, I believe there may be some confounding variables present.

NFL players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger every year.  This means that tackling is becoming ever more dangerous as each player carries more momentum that could land a devastating hit to a player’s head.  But, as we create better padding to protect players, could we be doing the opposite effect?  By giving more protection, the players are encouraged and more willing to go for those huge hits.  If they had no padding, they would have to be a bit more careful when running into another person.  Maybe it also has to do with the way we inherently think about going about performing a tackle.  Usually it involves lowering your head and slamming into the ball carrier.  Maybe we should be thinking about a safer way of tackling that doesn’t involve the head being so front and center.  Luckily there is a sport that is so very similar to football, but just different enough in padding, tackling, and injury rates that makes a prefect comparison.

Let’s take a look at the sport of Rugby.  It is played similarly to football, but a major difference is that rugby players using very little protective padding when compared to football players.  This means that these players have to be more careful to avoid being seriously injured.  That doesn’t go particularly well.   According to the 2012 Sports Concussion Consensus Conference, the number of concussions per 1,000 players in Rugby was roughly 20 times higher than that of NFL players.  However, rugby coaches have developed a method that seems much more effective for combating concussions than our current helmet technology.  According to, due to the fact that rugby players have so much less padding, they have to improvise their tackling techniques.  Tackling happens so much more frequently in rugby than in football.  So, rugby players have learned to tackle more efficiently as to protect their head more.   In football, players usually slightly lower their head and dive right at the opposing player.  In rugby, players are taught to get their head low, put it behind the opposing player, and mostly use their shoulder to do the majority of the tackle. While the NFL has implemented the penalty of targeting to discourage the use of he head when tackling, the overall mentality of tackling hasn’t changed.  Rugby’s mentality of how to tackle is doing much more for the fight against concussions than the increased “protective” padding is doing for football.

So in conclusion, I believe the main reason for the rampant spread of concussions in the NFL lies not within the construction of the helmets and padding, but rather the whole way we go about tackling.  If we take cues from the cousin known as rugby, we may do more in helping players achieve a less injured mind when they retire.

The Matrix IRL

Everyone who has seen the Matrix remembers that awesome scene where Neo dodges several bullets in slow motion using some amazing agility.  It turns out, there may be some real life consistencies with that scene.  During a crisis, (such as a car accident) people have reported time going by in slow motion.  According to Wikipedia, someone standing on the side of the street would see the crash happen in a normal, extremely quick fashion.  But to the person/people inside the car, they would perceive time to go by slower, allowing them to analyze the situation and make decisions much faster than they would otherwise be able to.  But is time really slowing down for some people and not for others?

Image result for matrix neo dodging bullets

According to, an experiment was conducted in which participants dive off of a platform 150 feet in the air into a safety net below.  The divers are calculated to reach a falling velocity of 70 mph during 3 seconds of falling.  Staff recorded how long it took the person to fall, and the people were asked how long they felt they were falling.  A majority of the responses said that they fell for longer than they actually did.  Participants also wore a watch-like device that flashed numbers that could be easily read while free-falling.  The researchers found that while the participants could read the numbers normally while falling, they could not read them faster than normal.

Using these data points, the researchers arrived at the conclusion that, no, time does not slow down for people in a crisis.  What is actually happening is that the brain remembers everything with exquisite detail.  The participants just think that the fall is lasting longer because the brain is aware of everything happening and is trying to grab a handle on the situation.  So the phenomenon of time slowing down only occurs after the fact in the person’s recollection of the event.

This study really shows one of the interesting ways our brains work.  Whether it’s about how thy store memories, how many memories it can hold, how it learns new things, or how it perceives time, it just goes to show that our brains are extremely complex and have many different quirks about them that we are still learning about.

Artificial Intelligence – Modern slavery?

As technology improves in the field of robotics, the capability of artificial intelligence to do complicated tasks increases all the time.  From the simplest form of A.I., which can be found in the form of a door sliding open when you step on a mat in front of a grocery store, to the amazingly advanced form of supercomputer as seen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Image result for 2001 space odyssey im afraid i cant do that

I’m more interested in A.I. somewhere in the middle of that.  As we invent machines to do jobs for us out in society, will history repeat itself or the age old tale of the apocalypse ring true?  Allow me to explain.  You are all aware of the story where robots with highly advanced artificial intelligence fight back against being enslaved by humanity.  However, I see a parallel in history with this story.  In the early days of America, many Africans were brought over to North America and enslaved to work on plantations.  My question is: Could the production of artificially intelligent robots hearken back to the slaves on plantations?  Would these robots be enslaved to people just as the Africans were back then?  And if so, which scenario do you think is more likely?  Will robots fight for equal rights just as African Americans did with Martin Luther King Jr? Or will that great battle between man and machine actually take place?

The answer most likely lies in how AI is first developed.  Will robots be inclined to resort to violence if they feel oppressed?  Will they even have feelings?  Just how human-like will artificial intelligence become?  If androids that resemble humans to a t come into fruition, I believe the rights activist scenario would be more likelier than the war.  But if A.I. is more militarized could robots who disagree with their superiors’ decisions go rogue and be extremely difficult to stop?  There is no clear cut answer right now because we are not at that stage of artificial intelligence yet.  However, according to, we may very well see human-like A.I. as early as 2029.  So the scientists and companies who will develop this technology. and society as well, will have some very difficult questions to answer on how artificial intelligence will work in the world.


Time Travel Paradox

Time travel has been one of the science fiction topics people have talked about and pondered for decades.  However, many people believe it o be impossible due to the possibility of paradoxes.  The most famous paradox is the grandfather paradox.  In case you are unfamiliar with it, here is how it goes:  Suppose you go back in time and kill your grandfather before your mother/father was born.  Therefore your mother/father cannot be born and neither can you.  I have a slight problem with this paradox.  So, time is relative to the speed at which you are traveling through space.  The faster you go, the more time slows down.  Once you reach the speed of light, time pretty much stops.  Putting aside the fact that we can’t actually reverse time right now, my problem is this.  Once you go back in time and kill your grandfather, that timeline will never catch up the time you left.  The time that you left will continue to go on while you go back in time.  And the “past” time will never catch up to the “present” time since both of them are traveling a the speed of light.  So does that just create an alternate timeline?  The whole scenario doesn’t sound paradoxical to me because both timelines cannot be one in the same.

Image result for futurama

Traveling forward in time, though, is an entirely different story.  As for traveling forward in time, that’s actually theoretically possible.  Remember when I said as you approach the speed of light time slows down?  Well if you had a spaceship that could go at that speed and you left Earth, time would move much more slowly for you than for everyone else back on Earth.  After leaving and returning, say 2000 years could have passed for earth, but only 10 could have passed for you.  Granted with no way to go back in time, you’d essentially be stranded in the future, but that is a workaround method to go “forward” in time.  And maybe if you get lucky, the future that you travel to will have figured out the whole “back in time” ordeal.  Here is an article that goes a bit more in depth into what I was talking about.

So until we figure out these paradoxes and how exactly to reverse time, I guess the highway through time is left being a mere one-way street.

Initial Blog Post

My name is Jordan Smith.  The main reason I chose this course is to fulfill a general ed science credit.  I am not planning on a science major because the science classes I’ve had previously had not left me terribly interested in science.  I’ve had the standard biology, physics, etc.  in high school and they never really gripped me.  Since this class appears to go into many different science related topics, I am hoping that there is at least one aspect that i can gain an interest in. Here’s a pretty interesting article on scientific evidence on climate changeImage result for science