George Johnson | St. Louis Public Radio

George Johnson

George Johnson

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 19, 2008 - Like so many others, I have been addicted to the Beijing Olympics, watching every evening for the past 10 days. NBC has been unable to resist flashing the medal count every day, of course. It would be good not to focus on the medals, but for some ignoring medals must be very hard.

I am thinking particularly of Marion Jones. She won five medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Seven years later, on Sept. 8, 2007, she returned them to the IOC and six months after that entered Carswell Federal Prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 23, 2008 - Babies the world over live on milk, rich in proteins, fats and other nutrients. But now it appears this food can be deadly to the babies who are fed it. In China over the past few weeks, thousands of babies have become ill from the milk-based bottle formula they were fed, many of the babies critically ill.

As of this week, China's Ministry of Health reports that the number of infants in China's hospitals after ingesting tainted baby formula is 12,892, and that 39,965 more with less life-threatening symptoms are being treated at their homes.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 16, 2008 - No one seeing the ring of fat decorating my middle would take me for a runner. Only in my memory do I get up with the robins, lace on my running shoes, bounce out the front door and run the streets of University City for an hour before going to work. Now my 5 K runs are 30-year-old memories. Any mention I make of my running in a race only evokes screams of laughter from my daughters, and an arch look from my wife.

Memory is cruelest when it is accurate.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 9, 2008 - I can remember when I was a Boy Scout being instructed by my scout master that if I ever got lost in the woods without a compass, I should look to see what side of a tree had moss growing on it (the idea being, I suppose, that in the Northern Hemisphere the north side of a tree get the least sun, and that mosses favor this shade). That turns out to be a real lousy way to tell direction. What I should have been told, I learned last week, was to look for a grazing cow.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 2, 2008 - The Food and Drug Administration recently released a long-awaited draft report on the safety of a controversial chemical used to line the metal interior of canned foods and to make plastic bottles shatterproof. Called bisphenol A or simply BPA, the chemical has been banned from use in baby bottles in Canada, and legislation to restrict its use has been introduced in California, New Jersey and 10 other states.

Earth as seen from the moon
NASA

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 12, 2008 - One evening next week I am going to audition for a part in St. Louis Shakespeare's upcoming production of War of the Worlds (Don't ask me why a Shakespeare company is putting on a play based on a radio drama by H.G. Wells!), in which invaders from Mars attack Earth. With this sort of prospect buzzing in the back of my mind, I cannot help but note a lot of stories about Mars in the news lately.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I visited Korea for a week at the end of May, a speaker at a world conference on Peace and the Environment, and was surprised to find myself questioned by almost everyone I met about the dangers of American food. On walls everywhere in the city of Seoul are posters showing a cute little girl holding a candle and saying, “I don’t want to die from American beef.” On May 2, tens of thousands of protesters crowded downtown Seoul. The conference speaker before me, Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, was late, delayed by more street demonstrations.

I visited Korea for a week at the end of May, a speaker at a world conference on Peace and the Environment, and was surprised to find myself questioned by almost everyone I met about the dangers of American food. On walls everywhere in the city of Seoul are posters showing a cute little girl holding a candle and saying, “I don’t want to die from American beef.” On May 2, tens of thousands of protesters crowded downtown Seoul. The conference speaker before me, Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, was late, delayed by more street demonstrations.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Nowhere has the influence of environment on the expression of genetic traits led to more controversy than in studies of I.Q. scores. I.Q. is a controversial measure of general intelligence based on a written test that many feel to be biased toward white middle-class America. However well or poorly I.Q. scores measure intelligence, a person’s I.Q. score has been believed for some time to be determined largely by his or her genes.

How did science come to that conclusion?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Every mile you drive your car releases about a pound of CO2 into the air. How many miles do you drive in a year? Now think about the natural gas that heats your home, the electricity that lights it (mostly generated by the burning of fossil fuels). Your life is pumping an enormous amount of CO2 into earth's atmosphere.

A dilophosaurus model
Provided by the St. Louis Zoo | St. Louis Beacon archives

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the air full of spring, a perfect time for my wife and me to go to the Zoo and check out the new dinosaur exhibit. Set up in an enclosed area within The River's Edge, the temporary exhibit presents a dozen dynamic dinosaur models, scaled down to child size, that bend their necks and make interesting noises. Each model comes with a brief description of just what critter is being seen, and how big it really was when it was alive and lumbering about. Even at 9:30 a.m., the exhibit was alive with children, and it was a joy to watch them relate to these mini-dinos with such immediacy and glee.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Missouri House Education Committee is considering this session an outrageous bill that attacks Missouri education while claiming to improve it. Submitted by Republican Rep. Wayne Cooper of Camdenton as the "Missouri Science Education Act," HB 2554 purports to improve science teaching in Missouri by helping students develop critical thinking skills. Teachers would have to clearly identify what is "verified empirical data" and distinguish it from what is "theory, hypothesis, conjecture, speculation" and the like.

Copyright George Johnson | St. Louis Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: 50 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Although smoking has decreased in recent years, 24 percent of Missourians still light up.