Monday, February 27, 2006

Pro-Test: supporting animal testing

A new campaign by Oxford students makes the case for scientific progress and medical research

In recent months, medical research and animal testing has become an increasingly inflammatory topic in Oxford, England. The media interest has so far been in student fears and grievances, and the violent methods and intimidation of the animal rights protesters.

All acts of violence on the part of animal rights protesters should be denounced, and there are laws in place for this. Yet SPEAK, the non-violent animal rights group, is fully within its right to protest and make its case, however noisily.

There is little merit in being drawn into a debate about the methods of animal rights groups. This shifts the attention away from the key issues, which concern science, and our understanding of the role played by medical research in the advancement of human knowledge and welfare. Animal experimentation is an integral and necessary component of such research, and should be defended for these reasons.

With this in mind, a 16-year-old student set up Pro-Test, with the idea of defending the construction of the new Oxford animal facility. Pro-Test began with a small-scale counter-demonstration on 28 January 2006 with the slogan 'Support Progress: Build the Oxford Animal Lab'. In reaction to the positive response from Oxford students, local business owners and other people on the day, a website was launched: Today, Pro-Test consists of a group of students who are concerned above all with the promotion of science, medical research, reasoned debate, and human welfare. The goal of Pro-Test is to make the case for animal testing. It is generally well known that vaccines, antibiotics, transplant surgeries, medical devices such as pacemakers, and other developments would not be here today if animal testing had not been used. But animal rights activists want to stop all current and future animal testing.

Challenging this through a defence of scientific experimentation should not be just the particular concern of Oxford students, or of scientists. It is an issue that concerns society as a whole, and goes to the heart of how we understand ourselves, and what vision we have of humanity and the capacity for bettering human welfare through the pursuit of scientific research. Life as we know it would not be possible without experimenting on animals.

Animal rights activists often demonise scientists, pretending that they are sadists who enjoy torturing animals just for the sake of it. There are countless examples of the lengths to which scientists go to minimise the suffering of animals. But the simple point is that scientists are not sadists: they act in the way that they see fit, according to principles that they share with the rest of us.

Animal research takes place not because of the laziness of scientists, or because it is just the cheapest option foisted on to scientists by pharmaceutical companies that put profits before anything else. They take place because they are a necessary component of scientific research. At the early stages of biomedical research, alternatives to animal testing exist, which is why the majority of research devoted to finding new treatments is done through chemical, biochemical, biological and pharmacological assays involving DNA, RNA, proteins, and mammalian cells.

But in the end, drugs must be tested in an animal model in order to see the effects of a compound in the entire body, not just in a cellular environment. Testing drugs in animals before doing so in humans helps researchers find potential toxic side effects, as well as understand the metabolism of drug compounds and consequent effects seen throughout the body. This cannot be replicated in cellular assays.

As in all fields of human activity, errors have been made. Animal rights activists use isolated cases as reasons for stopping animal testing. In fact, looking more closely at such cases suggests the opposite conclusion: not less but more testing.

A famous example often cited by animal rights groups is thalidomide. Thalidomide was introduced in 1956 and marketed as a sedative. Within several years, its use had spread around the world and women began taking it to help combat the nausea associated with pregnancy. In 1961, several physicians linked thalidomide with birth defects they observed in cases of female patients who had been taking it. Very quickly, these results were confirmed worldwide, and thalidomide was taken off the market.

Thalidomide did initially pass safety tests in animals because the proper tests - namely, testing thalidomide in pregnant animals - were not performed. If a thorough battery of tests had been performed in animals, the birth defects would have been detected. Animal rights groups confuse an error resulting from an absence of testing with one resulting from conducting tests on animals. They claim, quite erroneously, that thalidomide did not cause birth defects in animals, only humans. Once the drug was pulled off the market, additional tests in animals were done, and it was found that mice, rats, hamsters, marmosets and baboons all suffered similar effects as observed in humans....

In contemporary debate, animal rights groups dominate the agenda. Those who oppose animal rights groups often concede on the principle, and argue only with the methods of animal rights activists. Yet the only way to challenge the climate of fear that currently surrounds the debate on animal testing is to win the argument. Confidence in the strength of their ideas will give people the will to stand up to the threats and intimidation. This can only come through a defence of animal research as a necessary component of scientific experimentation.

Pro-Test stands by the belief that the value of human life is such that these drugs should be tested on animals before they are tested on any human beings.

More here

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Women clone a prostate! "An all-woman team of Australian scientists has achieved a breakthrough for the world's males, by creating the first "man-made" prostate. The team from Melbourne's Monash Institute of Medical Research (MIMR) - comprising scientists Prue Cowin, Professor Gail Risbridger and Dr Renea Taylor - are claiming a world first by growing a human prostate in a mouse using embryonic stem cells. The medical breakthrough came after three years of research, backed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and Australian financial company Perpetual, which between them provided $1 million funding. Professor Risbridger said the discovery would have a significant impact on research into cancer of the prostate, the walnut-shaped gland that surrounds the urethra at the neck of the male bladder. "We will have the opportunity to study the transition of healthy prostate tissue to cancer," Prof Risbridger said".

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Or how to ensure that kids pig out on everything fattening once they escape parental control

A student slides a tray toward the cafeteria cash register with a healthy selection: a pint of milk, green beans, whipped sweet potatoes and chicken nuggets - baked, not fried. But then he adds a fudge brownie. When he punches in his code for the prepaid account his parents set up, a warning sounds: "This student has a food restriction." Back goes the brownie as the cashier reminds him that his parents have declared all desserts off-limits.

This could be a common occurrence at Houston schools when the district becomes one of the largest in the nation with a cafeteria automation system that lets parents dictate -and track - what their kids get. Primero Food Service Solutions, developed by Houston-based Cybersoft Technologies, allows parents to set up prepaid lunch accounts so children don't have to carry money, said Ray Barger, Cybersoft's director of sales and marketing. It also shows the cashier any food allergies or parent-set diet restrictions for his or her account, and the student is not allowed to buy an offending item.

Parents also can go online to track their child's eating habits and make changes. "If parents want Johnny to eat chips one day a week, they can go in and make changes to allow them to buy a bag of chips on, say, Fridays," said Terry Abbott, spokesman for Houston Independent School District, the nation's seventh-largest with more than 250,000 students.

Robin Green, whose 14-year-old son, Jerry, is in seventh grade in the Houston district, said she would probably sign up for the new voluntary monitoring system once it's implemented within the next year. Green was concerned that parents from low-income families without access to computers would not be able to participate, but Abbott said parents can go to their school and work with cafeteria representatives.

Barger said his company's system already is being used in schools in Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan and Tennessee, as well as other Texas cities. Several other companies have similar cafeteria monitoring programs at other schools.

Prepaid cafeteria accounts have been around for five to 10 years, but programs that allow parents to say what their kids can or can't eat are a more recent development, said Erik Peterson, spokesman for the Washington-based School Nutrition Association. His organization did not have exact figures on how many school districts use such programs.....

Karen Cullen, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, cautioned that the system is good only if it sparks communication between parents and their children on healthy food choices. "Kids need to be able to make healthy choices," Cullen said. "Parents can't be in charge. Children need some freedom."

More here

Unsafe safety experts: "Twenty-one people were rescued after becoming trapped when they fell nine feet as a floor collapsed during a health and safety meeting at a firm. A Greater Manchester Fire Service spokesman said a mezzanine floor collapsed at Findel Education in Hyde Buildings, Ashton Road, Hyde. ... The meeting began at about 1000 GMT on Tuesday with the 21 safety officers sitting around a large wooden conference table. Staff in the ground floor office underneath noticed the ceiling moving and ran out of the room seconds before it collapsed. More health and safety officers arrived later from Tameside Borough Council to investigate the cause of the incident."

Cocaine is good for you: "Coca leaf has more nutritional value than milk and should replace it in school lunches, Bolivia's new Foreign Minister has suggested. "Our children need calcium, and the coca leaf has more calcium than milk," David Choquehuanca said. In past interviews, Mr Choquehuanca said he stopped reading books when he discovered his Aymara heritage, and claimed to get his knowledge from reading the wrinkles of his ancestors. "Our children need phosphorous, and the coca leaf has more phosphorous than fish," he said. "Perhaps instead of milk in school lunches, we should be giving coca leaf to our children." Mr Choquehuanca said his information on the nutritional value of the coca leaf came from studies by the Bolivian Health Ministry and Harvard University."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Spoonful of sugar may keep cancer away: "Sugar cane might soon do more than sweeten your tea - researchers insist it might stop you getting cancer. The millions of cane stalks sprouting from Queensland paddocks could provide health-enhancing products such as nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, according to scientists. The Co-operative Research Centre for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology is delving into the chemical and biological makeup of sugar cane to try to uncover value adding opportunities. The project, led by Associate Professor David Leach from Southern Cross University and Dr Michael O'Shea from sugar industry research group BSES, is already showing results. Both scientists are convinced the humble cane plant is a potential gold mine that could be exploited for value-added products. They have discovered high levels of active compounds with potential use for manufacture of valuable products such as antioxidants and other supplements for the prevention or management of disease. "We have recently identified cancer inhibiting extracts with positive activity against human prostate and breast cancer cell lines," Dr O'Shea said."

Fatties are happy: "Scientists in Bristol in south-west England have discovered that fat people are more cheerful than their thin peers... Nor is this a reworking of the slightly less ancient study that found that people with notable self-control, people who weren't "appetitive", were more likely to be depressed. The usefulness of this survey was opaque. It appeared to demonstrate that hedonists were happier than puritans. Nobody needs a scientist to tell them that. They just need to study the works of Chaucer. Or Dickens. Or most TV soaps. The people enjoying themselves are the fat, jolly ones. The people who worry about how they look, and what people think of them, and what God might think, and whether drinking too much mead will turn out to be a signal that they are bound for hell - those people don't enjoy themselves so much. In fact, the new research is quite new. It merely asked whether fat people kill themselves. Are they prone to depression or anxiety? The answers were all no. Not only are you less depressed when overweight, it works in proportion. The fatter you get, the less likely you are to commit suicide".

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A good sex life begins at 50: "It used to be that reaching his half-century made a man feel old - not any more. Today's 50-something has a twinkle in his eye and a more enjoyable sex life than a 40-year-old. In fact, he even rates himself with the young generation, claiming satisfaction almost equal to a 20-year-old. Researchers who questioned more than 1000 men found, while sex drive reduced with age, the 50-pluses enjoy themselves more than men in their 40s and a lot more than the least satisfied group, men in their 30s. The research suggested 50-somethings may be more comfortable with their sex lives because they no longer have to worry about the pressures of building a career or looking after young children and can concentrate on having fun."

Another fear for food faddists: Sprouts can be dangerous too "Small children are among more than 100 West Australians who have fallen ill with salmonella poisoning after eating sprouts sold in supermarkets. Contaminated alfalfa sprouts, mung beans, bean shoots and other sprout products have been sold in Action, Coles and Woolworths supermarkets since November, resulting in 110 reported cases of food poisoning. A Health Department investigation led to the sprout products being pulled from supermarket shelves on Friday. The department believes animal waste is a likely reason for salmonella in the sprouts, which were germinated in South Australia. South Australia was the source of a deadly listeria outbreak last year after hospital patients ate contaminated packaged meats. West Australian Health Department communicable disease control director Paul Van Buynder urged people to discard any Parilla Fresh sprouts products. He said it was rare for the particular strain of salmonella to result in death and said no one had been admitted to hospital after eating the sprouts".

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Swedish Hells Angels feeling 'depressed': "The Stockholm chapter of the biker gang Hell's Angels is being investigated for fraud after police found 70 per cent of members were certified as depressed by the same doctor and were getting state sickness benefits. "It seems to be depressing being a member of this club," Christer Nilsson, deputy head of Stockholm police's criminal investigation department, told newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Biker gangs like the Hell's Angels and their deadly rivals the Bandidos have a history of violent crime in Scandinavia including shootouts and bomb attacks, but have also branched out into benefit and tax frauds in recent years, police say. Sweden has estimated that as much as a fifth of the workforce is on long-term sick leave or early retirement due to sickness, often put down to "burn-out""

The druggies will love this! "The US Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that the US Government cannot stop a small religious sect using hallucinogenic tea from Brazil that devotees says brings them closer to God. The court decided that US freedom of religion legislation trumped US government claims that hoasca was a dangerous, mind altering substance, which could be diverted to recreational users. The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, decided the Government failed to show a compelling interest in barring the "sacramental use of hoasca" by the church, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (UDV). The ruling was delivered by an 8-0 ruling.... UDV rituals involve sipping hoasca tea, made from the roots of two indigenous Amazonian plants, in communion. The case arose in 1999 when US customs officers intercepted a shipment of brewed hoasca liquid from Brazil. Hoasca contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, which is a banned substance in the US."

Madsen Pirie says that British food has improved way out of sight in recent years and he attributes it to McDonalds! How incorrect can you get?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Alzheimer's "faster in educated" "Alzheimer's disease progresses more rapidly in highly educated people, research suggests. It is thought high levels of education may ward off Alzheimer's by helping the brain better tolerate damaging changes. But the latest study, involving 312 Alzheimer's patients, suggests once accumulated damage reaches a critical level, decline is relatively swift. The study, by New York's Columbia University, features in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. The researchers monitored 312 people aged 65 and older who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's for five years. Each patient underwent a battery of tests to assess their neurological function. Overall mental agility declined every year among all the patients. But each additional year of education equated to an additional 0.3% deterioration per year."

The Latest French Grovel

Now we have discriminatory soup:

"French authorities have begun closing down soup kitchens run by anti-immigrant groups that serve pork because the practice is offensive to Muslims, who cannot eat pork. In Strasbourg and Nice, food handouts have been banned because they could lead to "public disorder." "Schemes with racial subtexts must be denounced," Mayor Fabienne Keller said.... The scene has been repeated all over France in recent weeks after complaints that right-wing groups have been serving "racist" food. The groups giving out the soup say it is nothing more than traditional French cuisine. They say that hundreds of homeless people will go hungry".


Why French people cannot give away what they want to whomever they want seems incomprehensible to me but I am not a babyish Muslim who is perpetually offended.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


What's good and bad for you is all a matter of opinion -- the science is all up in the air -- but you would never know it from listening to the ostensible "do-gooders". And some of the things that they allow -- such as milk -- are high in calories anyway!

The 12- and 13-year-olds dug candies out of their pockets and backpacks, devouring them as appetizers, desserts, or substitutes for lunch in the Boston middle school cafeteria. One girl squeezed Xtra Sour Goo Candy from a pink tube and licked the drops of strawberry-flavored sugar from her palm. She sprayed another sour candy from a pump into her mouth, while a classmate sucked a giant diamond-shaped candy in a plastic ring on her hand.

The children attend Mildred Avenue Middle School, which has banned soda and junk food from its one vending machine and instead stocks it with low-fat yogurt, cheddar cheese cubes, and calcium-infused orange juice. With its candy-chomping pupils and its healthy vending machine, the Mattapan school models the problem as well as a possible solution for improving children's nutrition, an issue the state Senate is to tackle today. The Senate plans to debate whether to limit the sale of high-calorie snacks and sugar-laden soft drinks in school vending machines.

The bill, which comes amid similar efforts by school systems across the nation, is likely to pass the Senate, but it would need approval from the House and Governor Mitt Romney. Its prospects are unclear in the House, where a more stringent bill has been under consideration. A spokesman for Romney was noncommittal yesterday on the measure.

Like Mildred Avenue in Dorchester, dozens of schools across the Bay State -- including some in Natick, Framingham, Billerica, and Marlborough -- offer vending machines stocked exclusively with healthy choices. But a lunchtime visit to Mildred Avenue yesterday showed that school officials and lawmakers cannot control what students eat by changing what is sold in vending machines. Children bring candy and other snacks from home or buy them on their way to school. And they don't think the proposed law would change their eating habits. ''Sometimes, we have headaches and we need sugar in our heads," said Yarmisha Cofield, a Mildred Avenue seventh-grader who ate the $1.29 tube of sour candy and only picked at her school lunch of fried chicken. Her friend Europe Thomas, 12, had spent $2 on a bag of chocolates at a convenience store and ate them before lunch. An unfinished tray of chicken, peaches, and chocolate milk sat before her. ''I'm not in the mood for it," Thomas said.

Senate leaders say their bill is designed more to educate pupils from a young age about healthy eating habits than to outlaw junk food. ''We think we need to move in a phased approach and not come down with a hammer right away," said Senator Richard T. Moore, chairman of the Joint Health Care Financing Committee and an Uxbridge Democrat.

Child obesity can lead to diabetes, asthma, and heart disease and affect students' capacity to learn, Senate President Robert E. Travaglini said yesterday during a meeting with reporters to unveil the proposal. The bill, following guidelines recommended by the American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola and Pepsi, would ban soft drinks from vending machines in elementary schools. The machines would be allowed to sell only water, 100 percent fruit juices, and low-fat or nonfat milk during the school day. Middle schools would be allowed to sell sports drinks, low-calorie juice drinks, and zero-calorie sodas. High schools could stock their vending machines with soda as long as healthy alternatives are available in at least equal quantity. Schools would also have to limit the calories in vending machine snacks. The House bill goes further by banning all soda and sports drinks during school hours at all three school levels and by regulating the fats, sugars, and carbohydrates -- in addition to calories -- of snacks sold in school vending machines.

Senate leaders cast their bill as a compromise, saying they wanted to balance the need to improve childhood nutrition with concerns from school systems and the food and beverage industry about losing revenue from vending machines. Representative Peter Koutoujian, a Waltham Democrat who sponsored the House measure, said he is disappointed that his bill is being overshadowed by the Senate compromise. Sue Burchill, the nurse at Mildred Avenue School, said the Senate bill does not go far enough and a comprehensive vending machine junk food and soda ban is necessary precisely because students sneak in candy and chips from home. ''They are not capable of making good choices at this age, so you have to do it for them," she said.

Sixth-grader Oscar Villanova, 12, bought orange juice and cheddar cheese sticks from the school vending machine to supplement his lunch of chicken, apple, and milk. He said he would have preferred chips.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Another shiny-eyed dream: "Eating food like soy beans and linseed that naturally contain oestrogen-like compounds helps prevent prostate cancer, a researcher in charge of a new Swedish study on the subject says. "We looked at men who ate a lot of soy beans, beans, linseed and berries, and the men who ate a lot of these things were less at risk of getting prostate cancer," researcher Maria Hedelin at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm told AFP today. Her research team has, over the past two years, questioned 1499 men diagnosed with prostate cancer about their eating habits and other habits then compared their answers to a poll of 1130 healthy Swedish men. Their conclusion, published today in the medical review Cancer Causes and Control, was that men who ate foods high in so-called phytoestrogens, or chemical compounds that act like oestrogen in the body, were 26 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer. "The theory is that these phytoestrogens can protect against prostate cancer through their hormonal effect, through slowing the male hormones that appear to entail a risk of prostate cancer. They offer a better hormonal balance," Ms Hedelin said."

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Britain's canteen ladies are on the point of rebellion and they are blaming celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, whose high-profile campaign to provide better school dinners has left them with a lot more work for no more money. Oliver's huge-rating series Jamie's School Dinners provoked a national debate last year with his Feed Me Better campaign. Amid a blaze of publicity, the television chef visited Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street, where he delivered a petition with more than 270,000 signatures calling for more money to be spent on school lunches. Mr Blair announced that his Government would provide an extra pound stg. 280million ($663million) to lift the average expenditure on a school meal from 37pence in some areas to at least 60p across the board.

However, school canteen staff in London, Cheshire and Nottinghamshire say the money has been allocated to ingredients rather than wages, despite the extra hours staff are being required to work to improve the quality of school food. They are threatening mass walkouts if their wages and conditions are not improved. "Have you any idea how long it takes to peel fresh carrots for 700 children?" Transport and General Workers Union representative Cathy Stewart told The Observer newspaper. "Or cook meat pies to feed 300 or bake seven cakes? Our workload has soared. The dinner ladies are under tremendous pressure ... to deliver top-notch nosh but at rock-bottom pay."

Staff at 21 schools in Ms Stewart's Hackney region in east London will vote on whether to take industrial action to press for more pay. Canteen ladies in Newcastle, in the north of England, have already won a multi-million-pound pay claim. Canteen staff in some areas earn as little as pound stg. 9000 a year. "The Government says they are putting more money in but we are not seeing it in facilities or wages," Ms Stewart said. "All we want is fair pay. I would like to say to (Education Secretary) Ruth Kelly, come and spend a full day in a school kitchen in Hackney and see how hard this job really is."

Ms Kelly said more money had been provided to schools specifically for canteens and their staff. "We are investing pound stg. 220million specifically to help schools and local education authorities transform school meals through training and increased hours for cooks, equipment and a minimum spend on ingredients," she said.

Canteen staff are also angry at the public's impression that it needed Oliver to get them to lift their game. Ms Stewart said she and her members had been trying to improve the quality of ingredients long before the TV chef took up the cause. "We do not need Jamie Oliver to teach us how to cook," she said.


"Natural" medicine could kill you: "A herb commonly used to treat symptoms of menopause should carry labels warning that it may cause liver damage. The Therapeutic Goods Administration says black cohosh may have caused 47 cases of liver damage worldwide, including nine in Australia. Four Australians required hospital treatment after using the herb, with two requiring a liver transplant. The TGA has ordered companies to add a label stating that the herb may harm the liver and should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Tony Lewis, executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia, urged manufacturers to comply."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Penis enlargements a 'waste of time': "Thanks to the incessant spam, it's become the most hyped of all operations but researchers said that most men who have had penis enlargement surgery are not satisfied with the results. "For patients with psychological concern about the size of the penis - particularly if it is normal size - there is little point in offering them surgery because it makes no difference," said Nim Christopher, a urologist at St Peter's Andrology Centre in London. Dr Christopher and his colleagues, who questioned 42 men who had the surgery, found the dissatisfaction rate was very high. Often the men requested another surgical procedure. "The average increase in length is 1.3 cm which isn't very much and the dissatisfaction rate was in excess of 70 per cent," said Christopher. He added that spam e-mails advertising penis enlargement surgery were inaccurate and gave men unrealistic expectations".

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


But they will continue to act as if nothing has happened

Article by Jeff Jacoby

I don't usually follow nutrition stories, but it was hard to miss last week's shocker about low-fat diets. Like many papers, The Boston Globe put it on Page 1, high above the fold: "Study finds no major benefits of low-fat diet." The study, a project of the National Institutes of Health, had taken eight years, cost $415 million, and involved nearly 49,000 older women, 40 percent of whom were assigned to a diet that kept their intake of calories from fat significantly below that of the other 60 percent. Researchers had expected to confirm what earlier studies and conventional medical wisdom had long suggested -- that consuming less fat is good for your health.

What they learned instead was that the women who dutifully cut back on fried foods, ice cream, and pizza ended up no better off than the women who ate whatever they wanted. The two groups developed breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks, and strokes at the same rates. Millions of Americans have been trying for years to reduce the fat in their diet -- eating bread without butter, salads without dressing, chicken without skin -- and now the largest study of the subject ever conducted says it has all been for naught. You could have had those fries after all.

And so once again we are reminded, as The New York Times sighed in an editorial on Thursday, that "the more we learn about nutrition, the less we seem to know." Does oat bran reduce cholesterol? Can dietary fiber prevent colon cancer? Are high doses of Vitamin E good for your heart? Once, the experts said yes. Then the experts said no. It sometimes seems that for every study that makes a nutritional claim, another study inevitably makes an equal and opposite claim.

Researchers can't even agree on whether eating less fat is the way to lose weight. Some insist that obesity is caused by ingesting too much fat, making a low-fat diet the key to shedding pounds. Others claim that reducing fat leads to overconsumption of carbohydrates -- and that it's carbs, not fat, that make people gain weight. Which theory did the massive new study confirm? Neither. Apparently there is still no clear-cut answer -- not even for $415 million.

But clear-cut answers are just what so many Americans want, and what so many of them think science ought to be able to provide. There is a seemingly inexhaustible willingness to believe that the voice of science is the voice of truth -- impartial, incorruptible, and unambiguous. It isn't, of course. Scientists are no less vulnerable to error or bias or ego than the rest of the human race. Scientists too can blunder or act from ulterior motives or convince themselves of things that aren't so. And yet on the whole they enjoy a level of deference and public trust that people in most other fields can only envy.

Which is probably not a good thing. Scientific pronouncements should be subjected to the same level of healthy skepticism as the promises of politicians or the claims of advertisers -- or the views of newspaper columnists. With the best of intentions (and otherwise), scientists sometimes peddle claptrap. Just because a statement begins with "A new study shows . . ." or "Researchers have found . . ." doesn't mean that what follows is true. "We in the scientific community often give strong advice based on flimsy evidence," Berkeley statistician David Freedman said last week in a comment on the low-fat diet study. "That's why we have to do experiments." And why the rest of us have to remember that contradiction, confusion, and changing opinions have always been a part of the scientific process.

One day after last week's low-fat story, the New England Journal of Medicine was out with a study concluding that saw palmetto extract, an herbal product, has no effect on the symptoms caused by an enlarged prostate. Earlier studies had found just the opposite, and more than 2 million American men take saw palmetto for their prostate condition. So does it work or doesn't it? Whichever answer you choose, there's a study to back it up.

In Newsweek last month, Dr. Harvey Simon of the Harvard Medical School recanted a view he had preached for years: that the only way to benefit from exercise was through intense aerobic activity, complete with pounding heart and rivers of sweat. Now, citing the latest research, he says he was dead wrong, and that gentle, no-sweat exercise -- even walking or gardening -- is also highly effective.

From cardiac health to climate change, it's worth keeping in mind that what the experts say today they may not be saying tomorrow. As that noted scientist Emily Litella used to put it in the old "Saturday Night Live" skits: Never mind.

Good one! Millions of kids being fed drugs that cause heart attacks: "In a surprise move, an advisory panel urged the FDA to place strong warnings on all stimulant drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because of a potential risk of heart attacks, strokes, and sudden death. The experts voted unanimously, with one abstention, to recommend that FDA include "medication guides" with all stimulant ADHD drugs -- Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin -- warning patients about the potential heart risks. The panel also voted 8 to 7, with one abstention, to urge the FDA to place strong "black box" warnings on all of the drugs' labels and advertisements. The warning should alert doctors and patients the drugs increase heart rate and blood pressure, and that researchers are unsure about the real-world consequences of those changes, some panelists said".

Monday, February 13, 2006

A second childhood is healthy! "Researchers at the Santa Claus Sports Institute in Lapland have found groups of elderly Finns significantly improved their health and wellbeing by simply playing on swings, bouncing on seesaws and leaping around climbing frames. A team at Rovaniemi Polytechnic studied a group of 40 people, aged between 65 and 81, and found significant improvements in their balance, speed and co-ordination after three months of larking about on the climbing frames and play equipment".

Sex romps can keep you feeling great: "It can help to reduce stress, soothe pain, cure insomnia, lower the risk of a heart attack and, as if that wasn't enough, make your hair shine and your wrinkles vanish. "Forget about jogging round the block or struggling with sit-ups," says the UK National Health Service patients' helpline, NHS Direct. The key for healthy living is, in fact, "a good bout of sexercise". Undertaking "regular romps" will bring a plethora of health rewards, from staying fit and burning calories to combating cancer, says the website. "Orgasms even release painkillers into the bloodstream, helping keep mild illnesses like colds and aches and pains at bay, and produce extra oestrogen and testosterone hormones," the site says. "These hormones will keep your bones and muscles healthy, leaving you feeling fabulous inside and out."

Saturday, February 11, 2006


British food correctness at work

Stormy waters lie ahead for Captain Birds Eye. The fish finger company is being forced to find a new berth.
Unilever, the parent company, is jumping ship, blaming frozen food's bad image for the decision to sell one of its most famous brands. Despite the good captain's "nutrition mission" on television commercials, and a 60 million pound overhall of the range last year, Birds Eye has struggled to reverse growing perceptions of frozen food as unhealthy and outdated. "It's modern and it's healthy," Trevor Gorin, a Unilever spokesman, said, "but it's hard to turn people's ideas around. The popularity of chilled food has been a big problem, too. The decision to sell was not an easy one, but we can't afford to be sentimental."

Birds Eye, founded by the American biologist Clarence Birdseye in 1922, is one of the iconic brands on supermarket shelves, selling more than 515 million fish fingers a year. More than 1.7 million people a day eat the company's peas. Its advertising figurehead, Captain Birds Eye, has become a household name since he appeared in 1967. He was even honoured with an obituary note in The Times during a temporary demise "after long exposure" in 1974. The white-bearded sailor made a comeback in 2002 after an attempt to replace him with a younger, stubble-clad impostor provoked protests from his fans.

Now the captain and the Birds Eye workforce, who include 900 staff at a frozen vegetable site in Lowestoft, Suffolk, and hundreds more at the fish plant in Hull, must wait until the company is sold before their future is decided. Unilever hopes to complete the sale by the end of the year. Birds Eye's Grimsby factory, where fish fingers had been made since their invention in 1955, closed a year ago with the loss of 620 jobs. Heinz and Findus have also put their frozen food divisions up for sale in recent months.

Reacting to yesterday's announcement, a spokesman for the Transport and General Workers' Union said: "Our members face an uncertain and unsettling future. We are very disappointed that Unilever has chosen to sell." Unilever said that it was also selling most of its European frozen food brand, Iglo, which with Birds Eye has an annual turnover of about 1.5 billion pounds. It will retain control of Iglo in Italy, where the market is performing better, as well as the ice-cream brand Walls.

Patrick Cescau, group chief executive, said that the decision to sell "has been a tough call. It has been a successful business for us over many years. However . . . in recent years growth has been harder to come by." Potential buyers for Birds Eye include the private equity group Capvest, which bought part of Findus this month.


Friday, February 10, 2006


Panic: 'Red meat cancer risk clue found,' says BBC News reporting on a new study which suggests a mechanism by which eating beef, pork and other red meat might increase the risk of bowel cancer. A small group of volunteers were fed three different diets: one in high in meat but low in fibre; high meat and high fibre; and no meat. Those in the high meat, low fibre group had significantly greater damage to the DNA in their colon than the other groups. The researchers, from the Dunn Human Nutrition Group and the Open University, suggest that N-nitrosocompounds, substances formed in the gut after consuming red meat, may be responsible.

This study follows a report published in 2005 that suggested that those who ate red meat twice a day were a third more likely to develop bowel cancer than those who ate red meat less than once a week. Cancer of the bowel causes 16,000 deaths in the UK each year.

Don't panic: This new study is only suggestive of a possible cause for why red meat might cause cancer. The link is far from proven, and if there is an increased risk it would appear to be small.

The study obliged volunteers to eat 420g of red meat each day for two weeks. That is an unusually large quantity of meat - roughly equivalent to eating four quarterpounders a day. Moreover, the small number of subjects involved and the short timescale suggest more work is required.

Even if this mechanism suggested was to be confirmed, the risks are still small. The 2005 study found that the annual risk of bowel cancer at the age of 50 for the high meat consumption group was 0.17 per cent, compared to 0.12 per cent for the low meat consumption group. Either way, bowel cancer is not a major threat for most people. While such figures translate into large numbers at a population level, they are fairly meaningless as a guide to individual behaviour.

Other factors are important, particularly age - 80 per cent of bowel cancers occur in people over the age of 60 - and survival rates have improved a lot in the last few years. So, chances are you can carry on scoffing the bacon sandwiches and beefburgers, and still live to a ripe old age.


Disease linked with teenage kissing: "Intimate kissing with multiple partners almost quadruples a teenager's risk of developing meningitis, research has suggested. Young children and adolescents face the greatest risks of meningococcal disease, which can cause serious disability and death. Now researchers have found that, in teenagers, kissing is a major factor is helping the disease spread. Rates of meningitis - which is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord - increased significantly in England and the US in the 1990s. The introduction of the meningitis C vaccine in the UK has helped numbers drop, but other forms of the infection remain a major problem. The latest research, published in the British Medical Journal, examined possible risk factors in youngsters aged 15 to 19 who were admitted to hospital with meningococcal disease in six regions of England between January 1999 and June 2000."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Money drives us crazy: it's official: "Late at night, in a basement laboratory at Stanford University, Brian Knutson made a startling discovery: our brains lust after money, just like they crave sex. It was May 2004, and Knutson, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the California university, was sending student volunteers through a high-power imaging machine called an MRI. Deep inside each subject's head, electrical currents danced through a bundle of neurons about the size and shape of a peanut. Blood was rushing to the brain's pleasure centre as students executed mock stock and bond trades. On Knutson's screen, this region of the brain, the core of human desire, flashed canary yellow. The pleasure of orgasm, the high from cocaine, the rush of buying Google at $US450 a share - the same neural network governs all three, Knutson, 38, concluded. What's more, our primal pleasure circuits can, and often do, override our seat of reason, the brain's frontal cortex, the professor says. In other words, stocks, like sex, sometimes drive us crazy".

More booze means LESS crime! "Violent crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales fell by 11% at the end of last year in spite of a liberalisation of licensing laws, according to new figures. The Home Office has said figures for the last three months of 2005 show an 11% overall drop in violent crime, with a 21% drop in serious violent crime, compared with the same period in 2004. The figures include a six-week period when the police were given 2.5 million pounds to target alcohol-related crime. New licensing laws came into force in November to allow for extended drinking hours, amid warnings of increased alcohol-related disorder.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How disappointing to the food faddists! "A diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in fat may be seen as the panacea for all ills, but research questions its effectiveness in tackling some of the deadliest diseases in women. Three studies, as part of the Women's Health Initiative study in the United States and involving 50,000 post-menopausal women, indicate that eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and low-fat foods does not reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and breast and bowel cancers. The women, who were tracked for more than eight years, showed little evidence of greater disease protection from cutting back on fat - despite theories of the dramatic impact that this can have on health".

'Banned' Aphrodisiac Soda To Be Sold In Stores: "A new soda promising to sexually arouse the person drinking it will soon be available in stores nationwide, according to a Local 6 News report. The drink, called Turn On, is made with guarana, ginseng and caffeine. The soda was banned in France and Denmark, but makers insist it is safe and works as an aphrodisiac. People who have tested the soda said it tastes like cherry soda. "We watched a film and then afterwards I felt like my senses were more like turned on, like I could feel more, I felt more on my skin," a tester said. Doctors have already warned that the drink is not for everyone. Children, pregnant women and people with high blood pressure and diabetes should avoid the drink, according to the report".

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Painkiller now bad for you: "The anti-inflammatory drug Ibuprofen, commonly sold as Nurofen, should be banned from supermarket sales because it may be unsuitable for up to one in five people, according to new research. Pharmacist Gregory Peterson, of the University of Tasmania, has warned that sales of the popular drug, which has been widely available since 2003, should be monitored because of links to an increased risk of miscarriage, gastrointestinal problems, heart attacks and asthma. "When you add up all the people for whom ibuprofen may not be suitable -- for example, those with asthma, gastric ulcer, pregnancy, cardiac disease -- it means ibuprofen may not be suitable for one in five adult Australians," Professor Peterson writes in this month's edition of the Australian Journal of Pharmacy. "The ibuprofen manufacturers and self-medication advocates argue that all these warnings appear on the pack. They point out -- rightly -- that ibuprofen has a positive safety profile when used as directed in patients without contraindications.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Drug side effects 'mimic dementia': Common drugs used to treat depression, Parkinson's disease and allergies can produce side effects that can be mistaken for early dementia, scientists said today. They said doctors should be aware the drugs, known as anticholinergics, can cause confusion, memory loss and disorientation and question patients about medication they are taking before prescribing drugs for early dementia. "A large number of elderly people are taking medications that can mimic early dementia and are likely to be classed as having early dementia," Karen Ritchie, of the Hospital La Colombiere in Montpellier, France, said."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Take a Hike, Nick Kristof

Post lifted from The Locker Room

Adding to my annoyances this morning is Nick Kristof's column in today's NYTimes. It's behind the wall of sleep, but I was able to read it here (no guarantees how long it will be available).

Kristof thinks we're all too fat and that this is a public health crisis. He says higher cigarette taxes and mandatory seatbelt laws have done more to improve the health of Americans in the last decade than anything doctors or pharmaceutical companies have done.

He then suggests such prescriptions as:

  • Ban soda, potato chips and other unhealthy snacks from American schools, and discourage them in the workplace.

  • Sell cigarettes only in pharmacies and raise cigarette taxes.

  • Tax junk foods.

  • Promote jogging and biking. Since we pay for all the consequences of
    inactivity (like those heart bypasses), we should encourage exercise.
    We should build more bicycle paths and turn more streets over to
    bikers, skaters and pedestrians - starting with Sixth Avenue in

  • Distribute fruits and veggies to certain low-income people, as Maine does in FarmShare, a potent antipoverty program.

  • Expand P.E.

  • Design better stairways.

Only the better stairways idea is free of government involvement. Expanded P.E. is one of twenty programs NYTimes columnists have suggested for schools in the past year (together with showing BMI on report cards, encouraging girls to go into math and science, helping boys behave better in class, etc.). The others go back to the moral free-riding of paternalistic liberalism.

If obesity is so bad (and in most cases it isn't), allow health insurance companies to charge bigger people more money.
If physical activity is good, allow health insurance companies to provide different and cheaper policies for more active people. The president's likely call tonight for large Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) might be a first step, so too might John Shadegg's proposal for a national health insurance market.

Now lack of sun can cause schizophrenia: "Women thinking of becoming pregnant have been urged to ensure they are getting enough vitamin D, as findings suggest deficiency in pregnancy may cause the baby to develop schizophrenia in later life. The results, unveiled at a conference in Sydney yesterday, suggests vitamin D - previously associated mainly with building strong bones and preventing rickets - may have a far wider role than experts thought. Vitamin D is made in the skin when exposed to sunlight. Some foods - mainly oily fish and some fortified milk and dairy products - also contain the nutrient, which can also be taken in dietary supplements. Lead researcher Darryl Eyles, of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, said that because the latest results were based on work on rats, a link between vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia in humans remained to be proved. "However, there are compelling indicators that women considering becoming pregnant should ensure they have moderate exposure to sunlight, or supplement their diets with vitamin D-fortified dairy products before they conceive," he said. "It is becoming clearer that low developmental vitamin D is a candidate risk factor for later onset neuropsychotic disease (such as schizophrenia) and degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis. This research clearly has emerging implications for public health interventions."

A sheepish Prince: "The Prince of Wales did not feel in the least sheepish about donning a black tie, leaving his wife at home and going to the inaugural dinner of his new club at the Ritz last night. Ever the friend of the struggling farmer, the Prince has become patron of the Mutton Renaissance Club, a body dedicated to restoring elderly sheep meat to its rightful place on the national menu. You can probably guess what they had to eat. John Williams, head chef at the Ritz, conjured up Trilogy of Mutton Prince of Wales, three ways of cooking two-year old Ovis aries using meat from the Prince's own farm at Highgrove and from producers in mid-Wales and Cumbria. A sheep is regarded as a lamb until it is about 10 months old. It then becomes a hoggett, and at the age of 2 its flesh becomes mutton. Most of us can take or leave mutton, the meat of old England until it was usurped by roast beef in the 18th century. The Prince takes it, even telling a group of schoolchildren this week that it was his favourite food".

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Now booze gives you cancer: "Another study in the medical journal The Lancet Oncology found that consumption of alcohol was linked to cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast. The findings came on top of research by the World Health Organisation which estimated the number of deaths caused by alcohol worldwide at more than 1.8 million. However The Lancet article recommended people should drink in moderation rather than avoid alcohol altogether. Although total avoidance was optimum for cancer control, it could not be recommended for public health in general because of the potential protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption against cardiovascular disease".

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dorian Grey lives! Your face reflects your life: "Your face really is your fortune. If you are married, of a higher social class and have fewer than four children, then you probably look younger than you actually are. By contrast, significant weight loss, a fall in social status and being a lonely singleton can add years to a person's appearance. A new study has quantified the impact that a combination of lifestyle, medical history and diet have on how your looks age. The findings show a youthful face is an accurate indicator of good health. "It is a lot more dangerous looking one year older than being one year older," said Dr Kaare Christensen, of the Danish Twin Registry, who led the study, to be published in the journal Age and Ageing. "If you are not depressed, not lonely, not a smoker and not too skinny, you are basically doing well," she said. By contrast, looking old for one's age was linked to increased mortality. Marriage is more beneficial for a woman, knocking almost two years from her apparent age, but only one year from a man's appearance".