UCS has sponsored a competition here.
Archive for the ‘science and medicine’ Category
Posted by Charles II on May 17, 2013
Posted by Charles II on January 3, 2013
Posted by Charles II on December 23, 2012
Kathleen McLaughlin, The Guardian:
International health experts are warning of a mounting health crisis in parts of Africa because of an influx of counterfeit medicine from Asia that is playing havoc with the treatment of diseases such as malaria. Porous borders in Africa coupled with indifferent oversight in China are combining to turn the continent and its pressing health problems into a free-for-all for maverick manufacturers, some of whom are producing pills with no active ingredients at all.
Patrick Lukulay, vice president of the US Pharmacopeial Convention’s global health impact programmes, said it was no secret that the majority of dangerous medications came from China and India, as those countries had the world’s largest production bases for both active ingredients and finished drugs.
While India has stepped up oversight, “China is only now just catching on”, he added.
And more from McLaughlin:
There are fake malaria drugs, antibiotics and even emergency contraceptives. This in a country battling the world’s third highest birthrate, with five to six children per woman keeping the population mired in poverty. Some pills contain no active ingredients, some are partial strength and some the wrong formulation entirely.
“Let’s not exonerate other countries, by the way,” he added, noting that African factories had also been busted for making fakes.
I wish that I could say that the US is not headed in the same direction, but ever since the 1980s, quality standards have been under attack. Not all that long ago, I had a run-in with a flu vaccine that should have been impossible. And, while problems as egregious as those reported by McLaughlin are still rare in the US, other kinds of corner-cutting are common, as evidenced by the many scandals showing substandard clinical testing.
Posted by Charles II on December 5, 2012
A remarkable series of articles on brain chemistry and obesity has been opened to the public by the New York Academy of Sciences.
Kaiser et al. (U. Alabama) give an overview on a hypothesis that, given a perceived deficiency in food availability, the body either adds fat or slows metabolism in a way that lengthens life, depending on whether calories are actually available.
William Banks, VA looks at the role of leptin, a protein that diminishes the desire to eat. In obese people, leptin is, paradoxically, overabundant. This represents a resistance syndrome analogous to insulin resistance. One of the regulators of leptin transport into the brain is triglyceride. In starvation, triglyceride levels rise. Short term fasting increases facilitates leptin transport into the brain, but long-term fasting does the opposite. So fasting can play a positive role in helping to reduce hunger.
Renato Pasquali of Malpighi Hospital in Bologna looks at stress hormones and sex hormones: “stress activates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and the sympathoadrenal system” resulting in the rise of cortisol and catecholamines and an activation of blood pressure elevators like renin and its target, angiotensin. During chronic stress, cortisol elevates lipoprotein lipase, which stores fat especially in the abdomen (perhaps that explains the apple/pear dichotomy, with people with waist fat suffering greater health effects). The term allostatic load refers to the damage inflicted by adapting to adversity. In women, abdominal fat seems to be related to a rise in androgens (male hormones), while in men, to female hormones.
Lucassen et al (NIH and elsewhere) look at the relationship of sleep to obesity. Sleep has declined by over 1.5hr over the last 50 years. Slow wave sleep, which diminishes with age, is probably especially important, though it’s still not clear what’s correlation and what’s causation.
There’s plenty more here.
Posted by Charles II on September 21, 2012
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian:
In 2010, researchers from Harvard and Toronto found all the trials looking at five major classes of drug – antidepressants, ulcer drugs and so on – then measured two key features: were they positive, and were they funded by industry? They found more than 500 trials in total: 85% of the industry-funded studies were positive, but only 50% of the government-funded trials were. In 2007, researchers looked at every published trial that set out to explore the benefits of a statin. These cholesterol-lowering drugs reduce your risk of having a heart attack and are prescribed in very large quantities. This study found 192 trials in total, either comparing one statin against another, or comparing a statin against a different kind of treatment. They found that industry-funded trials were 20 times more likely to give results favouring the test drug.
These are frightening results, but they come from individual studies. So let’s consider systematic reviews into this area. In 2003, two were published. They took all the studies ever published that looked at whether industry funding is associated with pro-industry results, and both found that industry-funded trials were, overall, about four times more likely to report positive results. A further review in 2007 looked at the new studies in the intervening four years: it found 20 more pieces of work, and all but two showed that industry-sponsored trials were more likely to report flattering results.
Selective publication probably accounts for most of this. But Goldacre is too kind. When a researcher is faced with the prospect of not getting his work published if s/he finds a drug is ineffective, then there is direct pressure to find that the drug is effective. Sometimes, there’s outright intimidation of researchers.
You can read more about reboxetine here. The drug does not work. It produces side effects. It is on the market. Its manufacturers, Pfizer and Lundbeck never published the data that did not make the drug look good.
There’s more, but the message is clear. The drug approval process has been corrupted. The testing process needs to be taken out of the hands of the drug companies.
Posted by Charles II on July 17, 2012
STEPHEN KOHN: Yeah. What they did was they put spyware into the computers. We’re not sure how far it moved. We know it went into thumb drives. It went into their own property. And this spyware enabled them to do keystroke analysis, so they could get all the private passcodes of the scientists. So they could get into their—so they had the ability to get into their medical records, their financial records, their confidential Google-to-Google communications—all that capability, they had.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Charles II on May 19, 2012
Update: I want to bring the following sentence in the report linked below to attention:
The Obama administration has taken meaningful steps to address political interference in science.
I am not an Obama booster, but I think it’s important to keep some perspective. This sentence would not have been written about President McCain or, especially, Presi..gak Romney.
Francesca Grifo, Michael Halpern, and Peter Hansel, UCS:
Corrupting the Science
Corporations that stand to lose from the results of independent scientific inquiry have gone to great lengths to manipulate and control science and scientists by:
Terminating and suppressing research. Companies have controlled the dissemination of scientific information by ending or withholding results of research that they sponsor that would threaten their bottom line.
Intimidating or coercing scientists. Corporations bury scientific information by harassing scientists and their institutions into silence. Scientists have been threatened with litigation and the loss of their jobs, have had their research defunded, have been refused promotion or tenure, and have been transferred to non-research positions, leading to self-censorship and changes in research direction.
Manipulating study designs and research protocols. Corporations have employed flawed methodologies in testing and research—such as by changing the questions scientists are asking—that are biased toward predetermined results.
Ghostwriting scientific articles. Corporations corrupt the integrity of scientific journals by planting ghostwritten articles about their products.
Rather than submitting articles directly, companies\ recruit scientists or contract with research organizations to publish articles that obscure the
Publication bias. Corporations selectively publish positive results while underreporting negative results. While not directly corrupting science itself, these publishing and reporting biases skew the body of evidence.
To be fair, individual scientists do some skunky things, too. If a guy has a pet theory, he’s not likely to immediately publish results that contradict it. He’s more likely to ask for new experiments.
But of course, this is the difference between street crime and organized crime. Street criminals are a nuisance, but easily controlled at the local level. Organized crime has to be confronted with an organized response.
We need corporate science. Those guys study things that would otherwise never be studied, and they enrich science immeasurably–when the science is honest. The real problem is dishonesty, it permeates American society, it proliferates at the corporate level only because workers have limited career choices, and because there’s not much solidarity between scientists. Scientific careers flourish or wither based not on collaboration, but on destructive competition. So government oversight is not the entire answer. But it’s a very important component.
Posted by Charles II on March 19, 2012
Ina May Gaston claims to have been able to greatly reduce the rate of birth complications through natural birth methods. She notes that many maternal deaths areiatrogenic: in C-sections, the uterine artery can be nicked, for example. She says that she was able to avoid a C-section for her first 200 births. In the US, almost 1 in three births is by C-section!
As her story illustrates, those 60s hippies knew a thing or two.
Posted by Charles II on February 16, 2012
Elizabeth Lopatto, Bloomberg:
Scientists have created a robot made entirely from DNA that can be instructed to find diseased cells in the body and deliver a payload to kill or reprogram them, according to a study from Harvard University.
The robot was constructed by folding DNA strands into a shape that looks roughly like a clamshell. The researchers programmed the nano-sized device to open in the presence of leukemia and lymphoma cells in a laboratory dish, where they delivered immune system antibodies that caused the cells to self-destruct, according to a report in the journal Science.
Besides cancer, the robots may also benefit people with autoimmune disease, Douglas said. One day, the robots might be used to find immune cells wrongly attacking the body and reprogram them, he said.
As I read Bloomberg, the DNA is useful because it unzips when it comes in contact with a target. So, the technique is not unique to DNA. But DNA synthesis is well-established and easy to tailor to protein targets.
Posted by Charles II on February 10, 2012
Mike Taylor, London Independent:
These are the most uncertain times in living memory for academic publishing. After decades of bumping along with an antique publishing model, researchers have suddenly woken up and found that they are strong. More than 4700 have signed a pledge not to write, review or edit for Elsevier journals, in a movement that The Economist has called the Academic Spring. How did we get here? The immediate catalyst is the Research Works Act (RWA), an iniquitous piece of American legislation, currently a bill before Congress, that seeks to reclassify publicly funded research papers as “private-sector works” and block the US government from making them available to the taxpayers who paid for them. But the roots of discontent go far deeper.
This was the status quo as 2011 drew to an end: researchers uneasily accepting the world the publishers have imposed, and trying to get work done in a horribly suboptimal environment. And then into that status quo came the RWA: a bill of such wretchedly transparent self-interest that it catalysed researchers’ discontent. In effect the RWA was a declaration of war from the publishers, an explicit confession that it’s us against them, that talk of a partnership is just propaganda while their tanks roll down our streets.
What the publishers didn’t expect was that researchers would fight back. But in the face of such flagrant hostility, we had to, and we have. The Elsevier boycott has been described in some quarters as a petition. But it’s not. It’s a declaration of independence.
Occupy J. Clin. Vir.!
(To see what an octopus Elsevier is, here is the list of their journals. The ones that begin with the letter A)