I love the café/bakery eatery chain Panera Bread. Ever since I was introduced to them in 2003, my wife and I have frequented this establishment in many different cities of the US, finding with delight that our trust in their food quality and quantity has not been misplaced. We love their menu items, soups and sandwiches – even some of their seasonal salad offerings (and that’s saying something, because neither of us is a very salad-y person). My wife is particularly keen on their Chai Tea Latté. Their bakery is excellent, not to mention the delicious breads they make, which can be bought separately. So imagine my consternation, when on a recent visit, I discovered that they appear to be peddling some weapons-grade bullshit about chemicals and additives in food.
A quick post today, inspired by a fabulous essay by the redoubtable science communicator duo, Tara Haelle and Dr. Emily Willingham, on the possibilities and pitfalls of genetic testing and personal genomics in the Undark Magazine. It spawned a few, relatively random musings on this topic, admittedly a topic I have not hithertofore explored much. I wrote my thoughts as a comment after the magazine essay, but I don’t know if or when it would appear. So here they are, as a blog post.
A recently published paper, with the outcomes of a collaborative European Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) undertaken in Germany and Ukraine, is making waves amongst jubilant homeopaths as yet another evidence supporting their long-held belief in the clinical effectiveness of homeopathy. Naturally, this 2016 paper in the Journal Global Pediatric Health by van Haselen et al. piqued my curiosity and I dove in to see what the hullabaloo was all about.
I am immensely, indescribably sad to learn this morning via an emailed missive from Spektrum der Wissenschaft (the German publishers behind our SciLogs.com platform) that they are going to shutter this platform down in September, the ostensible reason being that they “weren’t able to find investors for this platform” – the bane of any private endeavor. Some of you, my fellow Scilogs bloggers, may have known this already, but I certainly didn’t. More fool me.
Feel like a sneeze or cough coming on? Cover it in a cloth or tissue paper, or even your sleeves, and wash your hands, admonishes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and for good reasons, too! Microbial pathogenic agents of a variety of respiratory illnesses, both viral [ranging from the common cold (rhinovirus); influenza (orthomyxovirus); parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and human metapneumovirus (all paramyxoviruses); severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-Coronavirus)] as well as bacterial [such as those responsible for pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae), whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), and tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)] are often transmitted by cough, sneeze, and/or unclean hands/palms carrying these germs on their surfaces.
It all started with a silly article that had landed in my inbox on Friday morning via the platform called ‘Medium’. The lede of the article in the Pacific Standard magazine by Elena Gooray asked: How do you beat a curse? It caught my eye even in the middle of an eye-roll. I wish it hadn’t. Because inevitably I caught the sub-lede: A practiced Santa Barbara psychic weighs in on Lil B’s so far effective curse against basketball superstar Kevin Durant. And my hackles were raised.
Growing up in the Eastern part of India, I was subject to a most peculiar cultural phenomenon known as “ThanDa lege jaabe” (ঠাণ্ডা লেগে যাবে in the vernacular, translated as: You’ll catch a cold). This odd concept, most beloved of the mothers in that region and handed down generations after generations, would teach them that any vagary of the sub-tropical weather — sun, rain, autumnal zephyrs, wet and foggy riparian winters, and everything in between — was liable to cause acute upper respiratory tract infections (uRTIs), characterized by runny nose, cough and sneeze, perhaps even progressing to pharyngitis, laryngitis or tracheobronchitis. And the most feared symptom was elevated body temperature, or fever.
Currently one of the most common disease-causing bacterium in the world, Acinetobacter baumannii, for sure, is a nasty bug — an emerging nosocomial (hospital-associated) pathogen, being increasingly observed in serious conditions requiring intensive care (including ventilator-associated pneumonia, sepsis, meningitis, wound infection and urinary tract infection). Unfortunately for patients, particularly immune-suppressed ones, this bug is now known to be extensively drug resistant (XDR; resistant to most antibiotics including carbapenems, with the exception of two drugs of last resort, colistin and tigecycline), with a smaller proportion resistant to even these two (known as pan-drug resistant, PDR, which are therefore virtually untreatable with the current crop of FDA-approved medications).
Science communicators are no strangers to spin in the reporting of scientific studies, especially in Press Releases. This is a favorite tactic of aficionados and researchers alike in the so-called ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ (CAM), which includes acupuncture — a pre-scientific therapeutic modality originating in ancient China with roots in medical astrology and ignorance of human anatomy and physiology. I have earlier written several times on an issue that I continue to find rather perplexing: when it comes to publishing studies on CAM research, the usually-high publication standards of the premier open access journal PLOS ONE appear to be ignored, in the context of both primary research and systemic, quantitative and analytical reviews.
The Forbes magazine has an impressive line-up of columnists; I follow many of those who write on the sciences and healthcare-related topics. One of them is Dr. David Kroll, a pharmacologist by profession and passionate, long-time science communicator. His column yesterday had especial interest for me; in it, David took the example of Dr. Derek Lowe—a pharmaceutical industry scientist who’s also a prolific and erudite blogger—who was apparently his inspiration for starting his own blog, and mentioned an intriguing thing Dr. Lowe had said during a Question and Answer session with Karen Weintraub for STAT News (quoting from David’s column including original links, below):