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Archive → September, 2010

On Criticism of ACS and C&EN

Why don’t scientists complain to the source when invited to do so? Today, we discuss a call from C&EN News Editor-in-Chief, Rudy Baum, actively soliciting criticism of the ACS magazine – a post that in two weeks has netted a whopping five comments.  It’s not blogophobia – chemists seem willing to comment at In the Pipeline (18 Apr, 11 Aug, 20 Aug) and Chemjobber (8 Sept). Baum routinely and freely publishes letters to the editor in C&EN that are highly critical of the mag and larger organization. But why won’t chemists and other critics provide feedback directly on his blog?

I put up a version of this post up a few days ago at my other blog, Take As Directed, on the new Public Library of Science (PLoS) network, PLoS Blogs. There, the post netted a total of one comment. That one was not from a chemist but rather from my respected library information scientist colleague, Christina Pikas, formerly with me at ScienceBlogs and now at the vibrant Scientopia blogger collective.

Before I was offered that slot at PLoS to write among a group of truly lofty science journalists, editors, book authors, and bloggers, I had made arrangement for my long-time blog, Terra Sigillata, to move here to CENtral Science. I’ve held forth extensively how deeply satisfying it is for me to be here with another group of lofty journalists and editors, many of whom hold PhDs in chemistry and chemistry-related sciences and/or degrees from some of the top science journalism programs in the US. I’ve been really fortunate in having this science writing hobby bring me into relationships with some remarkable people I’d probably never have interacted with in my myopic research area.

But back to science. When I was an undergrad in the early 80s, most of us paid the then-$10/year student ACS membership fee to get what we then called “C-and-E News” because it made us feel like real scientists, tapped into the big world of all the great opportunities chemistry-related education would bring us. This influence was central to my lifelong collaborations and friendships with chemists despite my turning to the dark side of biology.

When blogger friends learned I’d be writing at both CENtral Science and PLoS, many looked at me askance – or as much as one could online. So, uh, er, you’re associating yourself with the evangelical open-access movement while also working with one of the most longstanding and traditional science publishers???

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Flurry of FDA action against aromatase inhibitor supplements

A bodybuilder with Grade I gynecomastia (left) and after symptom resolution. Source: Dr. Mordcai Blau, Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I’m not a bodybuilder. That’s why I was taken aback earlier this year when I learned that men are taking aromatase inhibitors – and not for breast cancer.

This education came to me when I was asked by a network news program to comment on a litany of drugs and supplements found in the possession of self-proclaimed guru James Arthur Ray following the Sedona sweat lodge deaths at one of his “Spiritual Warrior” retreats. Among the bodybuilding supplements and testosterone replacement drugs authorities found in his possession was anastrozole (Arimidex), for which he had a valid prescription.

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The nine lives of grandmothers

My maternal grandmother, Tessie Dabeck (1906-2003). Cited in my Ph.D. dissertation for sending me cash that always arrived when I needed it most, she would be nonplussed at being featured on a blog.

I was following up on the writing of Don Troop at The Chronicle of Higher Education after he came by to comment on one of our posts that cited his work. Don had an excellent, frontpage article a couple of weeks ago interviewing scholars who cite running and other physical activity and exhaustion with creativity. (Here was our post.)

Yesterday, Don put up a post at his Tweed blog on the “lighter side of academe.”

The title? “New Semester Results in Huge Loss of Life Among Grandmothers.”

Go have a chuckle and scroll through the current thread of 37 comments on student excuses.

Feel free to add your own here below or over at Don’s.

Joint ACS/AACR meeting on biological chemistry of inflammation in cancer

A meeting notice arrived in my e-mail yesterday that is particularly timely during my first month as a CENtral Science blogger. The Chemistry in Cancer Research (CICR) working group of my primary scientific society, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), will be hosting a joint meeting with ACS in San Diego in early 2011:

A joint meeting between the AACR and the American Chemical Society
Chemistry in Cancer Research: The Biological Chemistry of Inflammation as a Cause of Cancer

January 30 – February 2, 2011
Grand Hyatt Manchester Hotel
San Diego, CA

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Bleachgate: UK and Kenyan press raising awareness of Miracle Mineral Solution

In July, the US FDA issued a warning to consumers about a dietary supplement product being sold worldwide under the name Miracle Mineral Solution or Supplement (MMS). Marketed as a cure for everything from HIV/AIDS and cancer to malaria and tuberculosis, the product is 28 percent sodium chlorite.  The consumer is instructed to mix the solution with a citrus juice, generating chlorine dioxide, and is encouraged to take 30 drops or more of the mixture. Worse, the consumer is told that if they begin vomiting, this is evidence that the product is “working.”

Martin Robbins, reporter for The Guardian, wrote last week about the story of “inventor” and promoter for the product, Jim Humble, in an article entitled, “The man who encourages the sick and dying to drink industrial bleach.” Therein, Martin also discusses the case of a teenage Crohn’s disease patient who was banned from a patient support forum for criticizing the remedy and trying to teach fellow patients about the truth behind the product.

Martin’s article has since gotten the attention of the Kenyan press as Humble claims to have tested the product in Malawi prisoners and up to 75,000 patients in Kenya and Uganda. Yesterday, a Sunday editorial from the Kenyan newspaper, The Nation, called for action from their Ministry of Health.

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Women in chemistry blogging – lookin’ good, CENtral Science

Earlier this week, Jenny Rohn posted a graph on her Mind the Gap blog followed by:

Celebrated science bloggers are male.


She specifically noted the male/female breakdown of the four newest blog networks – The Guardian, PLoS, Discover, and Wired – without considering ScienceBlogs, Science 2.0, Lab Spaces, Scientopia, or CENtral Science.

I can tell you from my years at ScienceBlogs that a large contingent of bloggers were always pushing for more diversity – not just with regard to gender but in national origin and ethnicity, race, sexual preference, current geographical location, as well as diversity across the realm of what we call, “science.”

In response, Martin Robbins at The Lay Scientist, a Guardian Science Blog, launched a Twitter crowd-sourcing experiment this week with the hashtag #wsb to compile a list of women science bloggers regardless of indie or network status.

But let’s take a look here at CENtral Science:

Melody Voith – Cleantech Chemistry
Leigh Krietsch Boerner – Just Another Electron Pusher
Lauren Wolf, Bethany Halford, Rachel Pepling – Newscripts
Alex Tullo (with Melody Voith) – The Chemical Notebook
Rudy M. Baum and A. Maureen Rouhi – The Editor’s Blog
Lisa Jarvis and Carmen Drahl – The Haystack
Jyllian Kemsley and Jeff Johnson – The Safety Zone

If you only count Melody once, CENtral Science was comprised of nine women and three men before this graying, bespectacled Y chromosome joined on August 24th. Nine-to-four would still look mighty good compared with other networks.

Why might this be? Remember that CENtral Science is primarily written by editors and staff writers for C&EN (Leigh and I are the freelancers). A great many are trained scientists with Ph.D.s but who have sought careers away from the bench. All are superb writers, several of whom I read for a few years before joining CENtral Science (such as Rachel Pepling’s treatise on phenobarbital in my all-time favorite C&EN issue (June 2005) on the world’s top pharmaceuticals which sits beside my blogging desk.

I find this leads to a very interesting second question: does the overrepresentation of women at CENtral Science reflect that women are more likely to choose “alternative” careers with their scientific training?

What’s the buzz?: Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, JWH-018

The topic of one of our most popular posts of all time has been the synthetic marijuana products containing JWH compounds, naphthoylindole cannabimimetics synthesized in the 1990s in the Clemson University laboratory of John Huffman. This post first appeared at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata on 9 Feb 2010 and gives you some background on the active components of K2, Spice, and other products.

ResearchBlogging.orgThis post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

My field of natural products pharmacology was founded by indigenous cultures who recognized that plants and fungi contain compounds that produce altered states of consciousness, leading to their most common use in religious ceremonies. While we may most often associate these naturally-occurring drugs with hallucinogens, the arguably most common natural product in use today is marijuana or Cannabis sativa. Indigenous to India and China, Cannabis has been the subject of increasing decriminalization worldwide due in part to its clinical, medicinal effects in multiple sclerosis, cancer, and AIDS.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen reports of a so-called “synthetic marijuana” being sold on the internet with stories most commonly coming from England and Germany and, in the US, from Kansas, Missouri, and Arizona. In fact, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports today that a bill has been brought before the Missouri House Public Safety Committee seeking to add this product to the state’s list of illegal drugs.

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Sharks don’t get cancer but do they get Salmonella poisoning???

This post appeared originally at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata on 18 May 2007. I’m putting it up today to accompany a superb post by University of Hawai’i graduate student and science writer, Christie Wilcox, at Observations of a Nerd.

Actually, sharks do get cancer but a 15-year-old book by William Lane led people to think otherwise, launching investigation of shark cartilage as a source of antiangiogenic, anticancer compounds. While there is one promising shark cartilage extract (Neovastat) in clinical trials for multiple myeloma, most oral preparations on health food store shelves aren’t stabilized and characterized well-enough to guarantee stability of antiangiogenic compounds.

But it gets worse with this news today from FDA’s MedWatch program that illustrates once again the safety problems of some dietary supplements – shark cartilage may just not work; it might also give you Salmonella poisoning:

NBTY and FDA informed consumers and healthcare professionals of a nationwide recall of 3 lots of Shark Cartilage Capsules the company manufactured in 2004 and distributed to consumers through mail and internet orders, and retail stores throughout the United States. The product was recalled because of possible contamination with Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis. Customers can return the product back to the place of purchase for a full refund. Read the press release for specific names and lot numbers of the recalled product.

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Physical exhaustion and scientific creativity

I’ve just received the print version of The Chronicle of Higher Education and just have to share this with those of you who read our weekend post about being tormented by lab directors who aren’t keen on non-science activities.

In this front page article, “Running Jogs the Academic Mind,” by Don Troop, several academicians hold forth on the value of physical activity, running in particular, as a means to trigger thinking about research problems.

Religious “pilgrims have long understood this,” says Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of history and constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania and an avid runner. “You have to exhaust the physical self first. You really have to get kind of empty, and then it all roars in.” Ms. Gordon says that every chapter of her new book, The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2010), contains an insight gained on one of her long runs.

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