Oh the humanity of it all! Back in November I had written about the decidedly weird chemophobia around Sodium Benzoate being promoted by Panera Bread, one of my favorite bakery and soup-salad places in the US. As I wrote, my wife and I love to eat there, but its anti-science, pro-pseudoscience stance on this issue was profoundly disappointing. Well, three-quarters of a year later, it turns out they are still assiduously at it.
This morning I came across an unsettling BuzzFeed report by Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28 on Twitter) on how climate change denialism is being peddled to school teachers in the US. Reports Zahra:
Teachers nationwide are being targeted in a campaign to spread bogus information about climate change…
Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March. The mailings were sent to more than 300,000 teachers, according to the group behind the campaign, the Heartland Institute.
This morning I chanced upon, via that inexhaustible font of newsly tidbits otherwise known as Twitter, this fresh Scientific American essay by veteran science writer Steve Mirsky expounding upon a commonplace phenomenon that has been a lasting mystery as well as, interestingly, a source of conversation around science —the strong smell in urine following the consumption of Asparagus, that well-loved, delectable vegetable of Le Printemps known to mankind since 3000 BCE.
A paper published last month in PLOS One by a group of investigators from the University of Verona in Italy states that Arnica montana Stimulates Extracellular Matrix Gene Expression in a Macrophage Cell Line Differentiated to Wound-Healing Phenotype. Given my abiding interest in pharmacognosy and ethnobotany, I was suitably intrigued because the extract derived from Arnica montana, a European flowering plant of the sunflower family, is likely to be biologically active due to the presence of certain sesquiterpene lactones (same class of substances as present in the plant-derived anti-malarial Artemisinin), the plant metabolite flavonoids (substances with some in vitro anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity), and derivatives of thymol (phenolic substance with antimicrobial action). Like many bioactive phytopharmaceutical substances, Helenalins, the sesquiterpene lactones and their fatty acyl esters in Arnica montana, are toxic in high concentrations, but have anti-inflammatory properties via its inhibition of the transcription factor NFkB.
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.
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.