Thursday, May 30, 2024

BIG Exclusives

Mask media – research is mixed but provides valuable lessons

They may seem like simple pieces of material, but masks are actually heavily researched and often sophisticated articles of personal protective equipment. In our previous examination of the science of masks https://big-media.ca/face-the-facts-diving-into-the-science-of-masks, we looked at the clear hierarchy of protection from standard masks: N95 respirators, surgical masks, and last, cloth masks. We covered a lot of ground, but there is much more data to bring into your next debate over the effectiveness of face...

Prisoner’s dilemma and vaccination

The last 18 months have felt like a prison sentence for many of us. Therefore, it seems appropriate that we look at how a famous problem in game theory known as prisoner’s dilemma might relate to our current challenges. Prisoner’s dilemmapresents a scenario in which the choice of action can bring about a result that is great for one prisoner and terrible for the other, reasonably good for both parties, or bad for both...

Examining the gender lens and the Women in Cleantech Challenge

The Women in Cleantech (WIC) Challenge is about to determine the $1-million winner of its three-year, six-female contestant challenge to produce sustainable, clean innovation solutions. The project ties together numerous important and topical issues: the environment and climate, sustainability and energy, inequality and diversity, nudging, social justice, and gender capitalism. Readers may wonder about the ramifications of applying a gender lens to the development of people and projects. What are the benefits and aims?...

Where did the flu go – and do we miss it?

While we were distracted by COVID-19, a strange thing happened: the flu disappeared. Just take a look at the striking chart below from the World Health Organization (WHO) showing global flu cases plummeting from normal levels in February 2020 to almost nothing by May 2020, and staying there for the rest of the year. Chart 1: Number of global influenza detections by subtype between November 2019 and December 2020. Source: WHO. Flu season has been an...

Predicting vaccination rates and outcomes for the Delta variant

In yet another signal that COVID-19 remains a dominant factor in our lives, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Heath Officer and adviser to the World Health Organization, said on August 12, 2021, that “a fourth wave is under way in Canada.” She reported that active cases in the country have doubled in the last two weeks to 13,000. How does this information fit into what we know about vaccine rates, herd immunity, and the reproductive...

The numbers game – conquering confusing card quizzes and investigating information theory

Several months ago, a friend posted on his Facebook page a math question that he had found on a geophysics blog. I love these kinds of quizzes and since I thought the answer was obvious, I jumped in with my answer. The problem was that my answer was wrong! Another friend of my friend set me straight. Here is the story of my humbling experience: It took some time to be convinced that I was...

Understanding vaccine effectiveness and breakthrough

A July 29, 2021, report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus may be as transmissible as chickenpox. The internal report, obtained and published by the Washington Post, claims that the variant is likely more severe, may be more transmissible by the vaccinated than expected, and advises that certain restrictions be reconsidered. The report also discusses the importance of understanding vaccine effectiveness (VE) and breakthrough...

Examining the effectiveness of restrictions and the path to COVID eradication

Canada – and variously, the world – is in the midst of a drive to vaccinate against the COVID-19 virus (COVID) and all of its variants. Eradication of the disease, it seems, will only be made possible when enough of the worldwide population is immunized, either through vaccination or through infection and survival of COVID. At that point, the world will have reached so-called herd immunity. Many parts of the world currently lack vaccine doses,...

Taking a critical look at the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’

We hear a lot these days about the importance of critical thinking. We are told we need to think critically in order to make sense of the complicated world around us, and to decide which of the many different claims, assertions, theories, and “facts” that constantly bombard us are real. Educators are charged with teaching their students critical thinking skills, not just lists of facts and figures. So what is critical thinking, and why is...

COVID calculations – applying statistics to COVID-19 testing

Probabilities are tricky things to wrap your head around, and they are often not entirely intuitive. When a media report says that a COVID-19 test is 80% accurate or a vaccine is 95% effective, how do we know if that is good news? How reliable are those numbers, and how do we put them in context? Because our intuition can fail us, we need to rely on mathematics. Face your fear (of math), and...