“Food That Doesn’t Contain Any Chemicals” – Guardian Science
Nov24

“Food That Doesn’t Contain Any Chemicals” – Guardian Science

[See addendum at end of post] The Guardian? Say it ain’t so! Ever wonder why the public has an irrational fear of anything labeled, “chemical”? Well. . . The book section of Guardian Science has been running a contest since 19th November to win six books shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2012. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker The Information by James Gleick My Beautiful Genome by Lone Frank Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe Lofty books, though I must admit to not having gotten to any yet (I’m currently stuck on Sid Mukherjee’s Pulitzer prize-winning tome, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer). To enter the contest, one need only answer four “science” questions (and, sadly, be a UK resident.). Let’s take a lookie-see at one of those questions: A mega-tip-of-the-hat the London nanochemist Suze @FunSizeSuze and Oxford’s Nessa Carson @SuperScienceGrl for alerting me to this travesty via Twitter. As Suze tweeted: Most surprising to me is that this contest has been up since Monday and will run through 29th November. That’s another five days to attract ridicule. On one hand, I jest. But this is one serious example of why the public has chemophobia. We know several superb science journalists at The Guardian so I’m certain that the book editor(s) didn’t run this quiz past them. But to let such a question go live online? To win six science books shortlisted for a major award? I hope that The Guardian will quickly remove this question and/or print a correction.   Addendum: After seeing a recent tweet from @guardianscience about their “(slightly tricksy) competition,” I suspect that the question is meant to be one in which no answer is the correct answer. If so, they’ve done a lovely job in getting the social mediasphere to talk about the contest. I still object to using this as a trick since it feeds chemophobia among some, but I can also see that value in using it for a science book...

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Making People Hate Chemistry on Halloween
Oct31

Making People Hate Chemistry on Halloween

Thanks to a tip from ChemBark et al., here is the most “insanely irresponsible” promotion of hazardous chemistry demos that I’ve seen. Written by Gizmodo Contributing Editor Eric Limer, the post draws from books by author William Gurstelle (Backyard Ballistics, Absinthe & Flamethrowers). On one hand, Gurstelle has done much to promote scientific curiosity among the public. That’s a good thing. Plus, Gurstelle has safety glasses in his promo picture. But Limer takes some of Gurstelle’s ideas out of context and suggests that they be used to scare or harm others. Thankfully, many commenters have gone over to Gizmodo to register their disapproval but the post remains up. I understand from his profile and website that Limer lives in an area hit by Hurricane Sandy but I encourage him to take down his hurtful post as soon as is feasible. Quirky is fun and interesting and people can find this information elsewhere with a little work. But promoting it at a major geek site is a Bad...

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Behind the Wood Shed with the ACS
Sep27

Behind the Wood Shed with the ACS

Forgive me for sporting my crankypants today but I had originally intended to be in Islamorada right now, snorkeling and kayaking. Between the PharmKid hurting her wrist in nature camp (4 weeks in a cast) and my 4 weeks in an ankle brace, the PharmFamily took advantage of the wise purchase of trip insurance and stayed home to nurse our wounds. So, I’m not in much of a happy mood with two of this week’s developments with the American Chemical Society, one of which revisits a longstanding argument over the organization’s pricing of its scholarly journals. If you haven’t heard, yesterday’s clusterfluster was with regard to the library of the State University of New York at Potsdam (SUNY Potsdam) choosing to forego the purchase of ACS journals this year. Here’s the post from the Attempting Elegance blog of SUNY Potsdam Director of Libraries, Jenica P. Rogers, MLIS, and an accompanying article by Jennifer Howard at The Chronicle of Higher Education. From Jenica’s self-described tl;dr summary: SUNY Potsdam will not be subscribing to an American Chemical Society online journal package for 2013. We will instead be using a combination of the Royal Society of Chemistry content, ACS single title subscriptions, the ACS backfile, and ScienceDirect from Elsevier** to meet our chemical information needs. We’re doing this because the ACS pricing model is unsustainable for our institution and we were unable to find common ground with the sales team from the ACS. Instead, we explored other options and exercised them. You could do the same if you find yourself in a position similar to ours as ACS standardizes their pricing, and maybe together we can make enough choices to make our voices heard in meaningful ways. The news is not so much that journal pricing by ACS tends to favor the deeper pockets of institutions larger than SUNY Potsdam. It’s a volume of use issue in a package pricing model. Instead, the response of Glenn Ruskin of the ACS Office of Public Affairs is what made news. A round-up: “This statement will be retracted, right?” and, “Glenn Ruskin clarifies his statement,” from the pulse of the chemistry employment market, Chemjobber; “ACS to Bloggers: Shove It,” by C&EN advisory board member, Chembark; “Are blogs journalism? Um, no. But they are a journalism medium,” from one of my general faves, Emily Willingham “The American Chemical Society: Paving paradise to put up a parking lot,” from the confessing science librarian, John Dupuis (others: please drop me a note in the comments if I missed yours)   In the Chronicle article, Mr. Ruskin is quoted as choosing not to engage with Ms. Rogers on her blog...

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De-caffeinating pills? Say it ain’t so, Think Geek
May18

De-caffeinating pills? Say it ain’t so, Think Geek

Let me state unequivocally at the outset: I LOVE Think Geek. This purveyor of hip nerdgear – “Stuff for Smart Masses” – has saved me every Christmas, the occasional birthday, and brought me great personal pleasure with their clever offerings. But most important to me about Think Geek is that I know when giving a gift from them, I am giving someone solid science. A mini Van de Graaff generator. A USB plasma ball. And when my office visitors encounter my LED binary clock, I’m asked, “What the heck is that?” My next two purchases are likely to be the Pet’s Eye View Digital Camera for the PharmBeagle and the DIY Guitar Pick Punch for me (even though you could buy 80 top-quality guitar picks for the same price). But I will not be buying Rutaesomn® Sleep Aid – De-caffeinating Chill Pills. The product is billed as being a pill that speeds metabolism of caffeine from your day-long coffee and energy drink binges. Take it 2-4 hours before you want to go to sleep, “helps get rid of caffeine in your body keeping you awake.” Well, what is it exactly? Rutaesomn® is an herbal extract from Evodia rutaecarpa that is also known in Chinese traditional medicine as Wu Zhu Yu where it’s used for alleged weight-loss activity. The biologically-active chemical in the herb is called rutaecarpine. So, what does this have to do with caffeine? Well, rutacarpine influences the activity of our major caffeine-metabolizing enzyme called CYP1A2. This is one of a family of over 50 such enzymes that allow us to handle drugs and chemicals we’ve encountered throughout our evolution, including even chemicals that haven’t yet been made. These CYPs, or cytochrome P450 enzymes, could be thought of as the catalytic converters of the body. You’ll find them mostly in the liver and kidney but almost every cell of your body has some small amount. Most of the time they change chemicals into their less active forms (though there are important exceptions where they make drugs more active or even carcinogenic). Usually, the CYP clips off or modifies a part of the chemical to make it more water-soluble and, therefore, more easily excreted in the urine. This is how CYP1A2 works to metabolize and inactivate the stimulant activity of caffeine. But if you do a little reading, you’ll learn that rutaecarpine is an inhibitor of CYP1A2. Wait a minute. Doesn’t that mean that rutaecarpine would increase the length of caffeine action in the body? Wouldn’t taking rutacarpine keep you awake longer after a caffeine binge? Well, yes, if it’s taken in a high enough dose. But here’s what...

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Bayer Aspirin?
Feb18

Bayer Aspirin?

I tend not to write about political issues here – that’s why I keep my other, more personal blog. But I couldn’t listen to this week’s invocation of a semi-synthetic natural product pharmaceutical without weighing in. Foster Friess’ Bayer aspirin comment on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell, for which he has now sort of apologized, is here for those who may not have heard it – from ThinkProgress.org: Asked if he worried that Santorum’s Puritanical views on sex and social issues could hurt the candidate in the general election, Friess offered a more home-spun family planning scheme: FRIESS: On this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s so inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly. Andrew Rosenthal at The New York Times has more commentary and the complete context of the quote which he notes, “defies summary.”   Many, many pixels have been spilled by my blogging colleagues on the heartless, misogynistic, insensitivity of such a joke being made about an issue central to the civil rights of women. I could go on about this – and I’d venture to hypothesize that my female colleagues at C&EN with whom I share this blog real estate would like to strangle Friess. It’s exactly these types of “jokes” that create the unfriendly environment of many laboratories and departments toward our women trainees and colleagues. But my question here at CENtral Science relates to the issue of Friess specifically mentioning Bayer aspirin (The Wonder Drug – yes, at wonderdrug.com) and not just, “an aspirin.” How does a company handle the issue of their product name being used in such an offensive manner? I’ve noticed that some media outlets have chosen to use, “Baer aspirin,” either for commercial reasons or because they just had a poor copy editor. From a corporate standpoint, my guess is that Bayer would just let this one pass its way out of the news cycle. But it certainly makes me wonder if Bayer PR and marketing people are convulsing in a conference room somewhere....

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