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Tweet of the Week:
Chemjobber tweeted this, but credit has to go to Derek Lowe for writing it. I bow down before his superior writing skills. Who else could pull off a reference to camp horror movies in a post about 23AndMe and FDA?
— Chemjobber (@Chemjobber) November 27, 2013
Happy Turkey Day, chem-keteers. And remember, tryptophan doesn’t make you sleepy on Thanksgiving. Overeating does.
To the Network:
Cleantech Chemistry: M&G Paves the Way for Coke’s PlantBottle in China
The Watch Glass: The Cranberry Sensation and A tiny atomic generator and Remembering JFK and JFK, a death in the family and Science in the Romantic Age and RIP, Frederick Sanger and Goodyear Spectrometer and It’s elemental: Chlorine and Antenna and Protection for police officers
Tweet of the Week:
"Do you use (new fancy technique)?" "No, we use postdocs." #SfN13
— Annie Liu (@annieliu90) November 12, 2013
It’s a two-week post this time around. Thanks for bearing with me while I was away!
To the Network:
The Watch Glass: Gilbert N. Lewis and Global Warming 1995 and Psychoactive Drugs and Plastics Recycling and Helping the Returning Veteran and Happy Birthday, Marie Curie! and The Plastic Car and Radioactive Waste Disposal Methods Under Study and Japanese Nuclear Power and The Phantom Patient and Cobalt: It’s Elemental
Tweet of the Week:
Very impressive carved "cell" pumpkin w/organelles – looks like a cyclops from a distance pic.twitter.com/HkgUcCdRgb
— D. Jamison-McClung (@yggdrasil13751) October 30, 2013
This week’s roundup was written on Oct. 31, hence the Halloween mood. I’m away today and all of next week, back in the saddle on Nov. 11th. Overlord out.
The Safety Zone: Free chemical health and safety journal articles
Today’s guest post is from Tien Nguyen, an organic chemistry grad student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Tien is passionate about science outreach through the printed word, social media, and multimedia. On Twitter @mustlovescience and at her blog Must Love Science, she posts about timely chemistry topics and showcases the educational videos about chemistry that she helps create, including “The Fresh Bread of Bel-Air”. She is also a regular contributor to the RSC Catalysis Science & Technology Blog. Here she discusses a chapter of a new book that’s galvanized her views on science communication. Take it away, Tien!
In 2008, more than 200 people were poisoned by massive doses of selenium in liquid multivitamin supplements, Total Body Formula and Total Body Mega Formula. One of the victims was a telephone repairman named John Adams. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Adams experienced severe loss of hair, fingernails and toenails and fatigue. He eventually became too exhausted to work and was forced to retire.
Other symptoms of selenium poisoning include diarrhea, joint pain, cramps and blistering skin. The FDA found that on average each Total Body serving contained 40,800 micrograms instead of 200 micrograms as planned. Nearly 50,000 supplement related adverse health effects are reported each year. Most supplements, like the Total Body Formula multivitamins, have not undergone any safety testing nor were they required to by law.
That’s because almost 20 years ago, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, establishing that dietary supplements—vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars (materials from animal organs, glands or tissues) and metabolites—do not have to submit to FDA safety testing before being available to the public.
Referring to the Act’s passage, author Dan Hurley wrote, “So began an unprecedented experiment to test whether the unbridled use of vitamins and other supplements would help or hinder health, with the American public as the guinea pig.”
As long as a supplement is labelled as such and includes a disclaimer stating the lack of approval from the FDA, the bottle is cleared for supermarket shelves. If, after wide circulation, the supplement causes adverse health effects, like organ failure or death, the FDA can step in and pull it off the market.
Say what? Oh, you didn’t know supplements were totally exempt from pre-market safety regulations? Neither did 68 percent of Americans, according to a 2002 Harris poll.
Nor did I, until earlier this year when I reviewed Paul Offit’s new book, “Do you Believe in Magic: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.” He dedicates a chapter to the DSHEA, setting the stage with a quote from prominent philosopher Isaiah Berlin: “Liberty for the wolves is death for the lambs.” He illustrates how a carefully crafted marketing scheme, rooted in manipulation and backed by millions of dollars, could effectively harness public opinion. This kind of branding would make even Mad Men’s advertising king Don Draper wish he had thought of it.
Launched by vitamin industry executives, Offit explains how the campaign took a multi-pronged approach. First, Congress was inundated with letters. Vitamin industry interests sent in pre-printed letters and offered consumers discounts at thousands of health food stores in exchange for writing letters backing the Act. The letters had a unifying message, which was people wanted freedom to choose when it came to their supplements. The messaging was designed to stoke individualistic pride and incite distrust of government regulation.
The book recounts how supplement makers argued that deregulation would give the public access to the widest range of supplements, allowing the American people to decide for ourselves and our families if a supplement was worthy. But, as Offit points out, the Act ensures that supplement makers would not have to provide any safety or efficacy data for us to base that decision on.
According to Offit’s book, the vitamin industry also perpetuated the false dogma that their products are natural, and by default safe, while drugs are man-made and unsafe. This is a fallacy because many drugs are derived from natural sources and either way, any product’s safety can only be determined through testing.
The campaign’s most powerful line, “you have a right to your supplements and the FDA is trying to take one of your basic rights away,” was parroted by highly recognizable celebrities like Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek in television commercials, gaining widespread traction with the public. Offit describes how opponents of the Act, like Congressman Henry Waxman of California, were dealt with head-on, with hecklers paid to shout over him at public speaking events.
Supporters of the Act believed the FDA was uninterested in safety and just wanted to clear a path for the pharmaceutical industry to profit. Offit suggests that it was actually the vitamin industry that put aside public safety and had the most to gain financially from the legislation. Having successfully rebuffed regulation, the supplement industry pulled in $28 billion in 2007, up from $4 billion in 1994, a tidy return on investment. Since then, about 51,000 new supplements have flooded the market. Only about 170 of those have any documented safety tests.
After reading Offit’s book and many articles supporting his points, I believe the campaign to enact the DSHEA is a stark example of using misinformation to mold public opinion and ultimately influence legislation. Supplement makers realized this goal by investing serious amounts time, money and effort. The scientific community needs to counter these movements with investments of our own.
From translating studies that evaluate the safety and efficacy of certain supplements to clarifying legislative acts like this one, we have to make this information accessible to as many people as possible. Improving science literacy and public opinions of science can feel like an uphill battle, but with human lives at stake, it is one worth fighting.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to read a full review of “Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine”, please see the review from C&EN’s Nader Heidari in our Sept. 2 issue.
Who’s going to take home the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry? Will chemistry’s most coveted honor go to (GASP!) a biologist?
Is there any point to all this pre-Nobel speculation? Maybe not, but there’s no denying chemists enjoy taking part in the conversation.
That’s why we hope readers will tune in to C&EN’s first Google Hangout, “Countdown to the Chemistry Nobel!” this Thursday, October 3, at 3PM Eastern US time. For those new to Google Hangouts, they are video chats broadcast live on the web. You can watch from Google Plus or YouTube. After the chat is finished it is archived on YouTube for anyone to view.
Carmen Drahl and Lauren Wolf will speak with Neil Withers and Paul Bracher about the runup to this year’s prize, which will be announced Wednesday, October 9. What predictions are out there already and how reliable are they? Why did so few people predict that Dan Shechtman would win the Nobel Prize for quasicrystals? Watch for a discussion about these and other questions.
Follow the conversation, and ask questions to the speakers on Twitter using the hashtag #chemnobel.
UPDATE 10/2: I’m excited to announce another guest has joined the hangout: Simon Frantz.
Lauren Wolf is an associate editor at Chemical & Engineering News. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkwolf
Tweet of the Week:
— Jamie Vernon (@JLVernonPhD) September 27, 2013
To the Network:
Terra Sigillata: Bayer CropScience Hiring Ph.D. Analytical Chemist in RTP
Tweet of the Week:
OH: OMG, she LOVES biology. When she gets drunk, that's all she talks about.
— LeighKrietschBoerner (@LeighJKBoerner) September 20, 2013
To the network:
Cleantech Chemistry: Cool Planet Wraps Up $60 Million Funding Round
Fine Line: ChemOutsourcing: Day Two and ChemOutsourcing: Day One
Newscripts: XPRIZE Competition Poses Ocean Acidity Challenge and Amusing News Aliquots and From Unknown Bacteria To Biotechnology Breakthrough
The Safety Zone: Nanotechnology: Small science can come with big safety risks
The Watch Glass: Tiny Solder and Gas Masks for Three Year Olds and Women in Cleveland’s Chemistry Labs during WWII and The Orion Nebula and Detector Dogs for Forensic Chemistry
Tweet of the week:
— Erin Bolstad (@erinbolstad) September 10, 2013
What day of the week is it? Friday? My sleep pattern’s been off since I flew back from ACS Indy. I might have gotten very little shuteye while there, but I had a blast masquerading as a geography supercriminal and celebrating C&EN’s 90th with Alton Brown. (Incidentally, I owned quite a few My Little Pony’s in my day. I would totally incinerate those new ponies I see in Wal-Mart. Is there no respect for the 80s originals?)
Our writers on the network have been every bit as busy as I have- and some even busier. Have a look at the last two weeks’ posts for yourself:
C&EN Goes to the ACS Meeting Tumblr: Too many posts to count. But you should check them out.
Fine Line: The China Conundrum
Grand CENtral: Celebrating 90 Years of Chemistry News Coverage and Behind the Story: Cheryl Hogue on Chemists’ Environmental Awareness and Welcome Food Matters at Scientific American Blogs- Chemistry Represent!
Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots and Watch the Ig Nobel Prizes Here and Alan Alda At #ACSIndy: The Public’s Blind Date With Science and 90 Obscure Reasons to Celebrate and Amusing News Aliquots and In Print: Chemical Makeup Predicts Wealth, Mailing Poop
Terra Sigillata: Personal Reflections On A 9/11 Hero (repost)
The Safety Zone: When is an explosion really an explosion, take two and Hearing postponed for #DavidSnyder in UC Davis explosives case and Friday chemical safety round up and Chemical and laboratory safety at #ACSIndy
The Watch Glass: Oil Spill Cleanup and R&D’s Role in the War on Terror and Tempers Flare in China and Chemistry of the Indy 500 and ACS Indy, 1931 and Materials for Making Glass and Skiing without Snow and Postage Stamp Commemorates Percy Julian and Naming Elements and Examining a Bellows and Jet Chair