It is very difficult to communicate science and technology clearly.
A few weeks ago I was describing the remarkable ability of a friend to connect with people in technical and non-technical fields and allow communications to flow in both directions. Trust me - this is very rare. I said she was a "great impedance match" illustrating my own inability to connect.1
Public science and technology communication is very important and getting more important all the time. Sadly most members of Congress are scientifically illiterate and the same can be said for many segments of the population where choices need to be made. A few people work at communicating with varying degrees of success - among them are public relations people in higher education. I know a few - some are terrifically good at what they do but others put out problematic information.
Recently I've run across several posts on a study that apparently said Oreos are addictive as cocaine. A rather strong statement to say the least. A bit of searching turned up the source - a press release of a piece of unpublished non-peer reviewed study from a small college in Connecticut. A bit of searching shows it is all over the web as well as in the mainstream media - hundreds of references.
That people like Oreos and will eat more than a few shouldn't come as a surprise. It takes a great deal of energy to be human - to support our big brains, the way we reproduce and take care of our young, our muscle structure, and the fact that we've managed to live through some incredibly challenging times. For thousands of years our diets supplied very little fat and sugar. Both are high energy foods and we tend to crave them to pack on a bit of extra weight to take us through bad times.
Humans tend towards packing fat. Even a supermodel has much more body fat than any of our ape relatives.
We are still evolving, but regular access to steady supply of food has only been the norm for, at best, a few hundred years.2 It turns out we don't have a mechanism to use less energy during times when we have a surplus of food so we put on weight, but don't shed it. A rachet of sorts.
Fat and sugar are tempting - we're wired to love them and it made great sense for us to scarf them up during those rare times when we had the opportunity. This isn't an addiction. Perhaps a more reasonable question is why does cocaine light up the same part of the brain that turns on when we're getting pleasure from food?
Even if the study was good, the PR communication failed as the comparison suggested is wrong. Worse is the fact that most of the reporting I've seen failed to note that what the PR describes is wrong.
You have to take press releases and their re-interpretation by media outlets with a grain of salt - particularly if the news is outside your area of expertise. Even excellent science and technogly work is often miscommunicated.
Speaking of communication, several people wrote about a David Pogue piece on Nova on speed. I didn't see it, but it seems he visited a lab that studies running. He's a slow sprinter, but was given a few tips that gave him a dramatic improvement.
Human performance in sport as well as normal walking is an area of interest. I'm mostly interested in efficiency in walking and running, but also jumping and hitting in volleyball.3 You might think that something as simple as walking or running is a well understood and solved problem, but that isn't true. There has been a good deal of theoretical work that attempts to model observed performance, but until recently very detailed observations have been difficult.4
Running is currently understood at a deeper level than walking. Among other things the time it takes to reposition your leg is probably about the same as Usain Bolt requires. Where he excels is his ability to strike the ground with an enormous amount of force - a key to high speed. Some good models are being developed and we're probably within a few years of relationships that are highly predictive. At this time it appears that very little input information may be required to drive the models.
You may be able to say something about how people run - and perhaps how they walk - based on a few very simple measurements from cheap sensors. Sensors that could go into your shoe and talk to your smartphone. Current instrumented running shoes are not measuring the right parameters and we don't have the right relationships yet, but there is hope we will.
Ah - the Internet of ThingsTM:-)
In this case I think it will mostly be an internet ground fog rather than a connection to the cloud. Much can be done locally, although connecting to others with serious expertise may be useful at times. In addition to helping out amateur and professional runners there is hope, assuming walking can be cracked, that people can be helped as they age. There is an incredible amount of potential upside here and you can get a sense by looking at the sponsors of this sort of research.
Much more complex sports like soccer and volleyball are going to be much more difficult, but I'm confident progress for quantifying human motion and understanding it at a much deeper level will be made.
1 An engineer or a physicist sees an impedance match as something that maximizes the power transfers between two devices. It can allow an unimpeded flow of signal. Anyone else, it was pointed out, may see it in terms of the definition of impede and just get confused.
2 Not to mention the billion people who don't have enough food now - even though we raise more than enough on the planet to feed everyone. I'm nearly finished with a great book on human diseases that are largely artifacts of the mismatch between how we live and the fact that we haven't evolved fast enough to minimize them. Obesity, Type-II diabetes, back problems, breast cancer and so on. Highly recommended and not a diet book.
The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel Liberman
3 A good friend was a pro beach volleyball player - one thing leads to another. I spent some time looking at the physics of volleyball flight and the kinesiology of the sport. At first just to learn a bit more about what she did and I could do, but then a few really interesting problems turned up.
4 It takes about a half million dollars of lab gear including very high speed photography to sort out some of the models and build better ones. Only a few labs have such equipment, but the influx of money into track events is beginning to make a difference. The same thing happened in swimming earlier. Although that is a technically challenging problem, much of it had been solved by people who worry about the flow of fluids around objects like airplanes and boats.
Expect to see the barefoot vs shoe question solved as well as the type of shoe. The problem of double amputee efficiency running on lightweight blades has been solved (guess what? - they are unfair)
An attempt at Tatale - a sort of plantain pancake from West Africa. I've had these in restaurants and they can be wonderful. This is a modification of a recipe that works well, but experiment as you see fit. I clearly have no idea about what is/isn't authentic or what to serve them with (usually a bean dish in my case), but they can be very good.
° 2 very ripe plantains
° 1/2 c cornmeal
° 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic
° 1/2 tsp sea salt
° 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
° chopped scallion - green and white parts
° 1 tbl parsley
° 1 tsp cayenne pepper (however much you want for a bit of heat .. you could use a wicked hot sauce if you wanted)
° Puree the plantains
° in a bowl mix the corneal, garlic, ginger, salt and cayenne to the plantain goo. Stir in the scallion and parsley
° heat a heavy skillet (cast iron for example) with a bit of canola oil to medium high (I probably use 2 or 3 tbl)
° plop in about a half cup of the goo at a time (I form them into thick pancake shapes) and cook until golden brown - maybe 5 or 6 minutes. Turn as required.