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??? Uh, yeah.  Call me Marv Thorneberry, the New York Mets not-so-great who became one of Miller Lite beer’s earliest spokespersons. During a television commercial where bar patrons were fighting over the “tastes great”...

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Flurry of FDA action against aromatase inhibitor supplements
Sep27

Flurry of FDA action against aromatase inhibitor supplements

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. Strategies to increase testosterone in men – indirectly or with direct testosterone supplementation – run the risk of causing feminizing side effects. The goal in these settings is to prevent gynecomastia and testicular atrophy by preventing testosterone from being aromatized to 17β-estradiol or androstenedione from being converted to estrone. So, no, my pharmacist friends: the rash of aromatase inhibitor prescriptions you’re filling for men does not indicate an epidemic of male breast cancer – normally only 0.8% of breast cancer cases. Earlier this month, I noticed that the US FDA announced a series of “voluntary product recalls” from supplement manufacturers whose products contained an aromatase inhibitor, 1,4,6-androstatrien-3,17-dione, or ATD. The compound has also been cited under the names 6-etioallochol-1,4-diene-3,17-dione, 1,4,6 etioallocholan-dione, or 3,17-keto-etiochol-triene. Due to the unusual regulation of dietary supplements in the US, when such products contain an undeclared drug or other agent not classified as a dietary ingredient, FDA usually encourages companies to recall their product and issue a warning to consumers. Five such warnings came out between September 13 and 16, leading FDA to issue a summary warning on September 20. The full text and links to the five warnings can be found here but this is the general issue in FDA’s language: ISSUE: Products marketed as dietary supplements contain aromatase inhibitors, commonly known as “ATD.” Adverse events associated with the use of aromatase inhibitors could include the following: decreased rate of bone maturation and growth, decreased sperm production, infertility, aggressive behavior, adrenal insufficiency, kidney failure, and liver dysfunction. Consumers with liver, kidney, adrenal, or prostate abnormalities are at higher risk for developing adverse events. BACKGROUND: The FDA concludes that products containing aromatase inhibitors have a reasonable probability of resulting in permanent impairment of a body structure or function in at risk consumers. FDA has notified manufacturers that these products do not meet the definition of a dietary ingredient and therefore the product is in violation of provisions of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The FDA alerts cover the following...

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The nine lives of grandmothers
Sep22

The nine lives of grandmothers

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...

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Joint ACS/AACR meeting on biological chemistry of inflammation in cancer
Sep21

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 CHAIRPERSON: Peter C. Dedon, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA Early registration deadline: Monday, November 1 Abstract submission and award application deadline: Wednesday, December 1 Chemistry plays a critical role in research on cancer diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. The AACR created the Chemistry in Cancer Research Working Group (CICR) to increase the profile of chemists within the Association and to strengthen their role in setting its research agenda. You are invited to submit an abstract and register for this important conference, which is the third joint meeting between CICR and the American Chemical Society. As with the previous two joint conferences, it will continue to address the role of chemistry in cancer research with a specific focus on inflammation. Short presentations from abstracts submitted by early-career investigators are a key part of the program, as they energize and inform younger investigators of the many applications of chemistry to problems in cancer research. Also, the conference will feature a professional advancement session. Session topics include: • infection, inflammation, and cancer; • chemical mediators of inflammation; • biomarkers of inflammation; and, • chemoprevention and drug development. For more information, view the program. We hope to see you in San Diego early next year. I really like the emphasis on early-career investigators and the overall promotion of chemistry among cancer researchers. Not to generalize (but I will), industrial cancer researchers seem to have an immense respect for their chemistry colleagues but many of my academic colleagues seem not have the same attitude. The fact that AACR and ACS have entered this partnership is a good example for all and I hope that academic cancer researchers especially take advantage of this unique opportunity. I know that it will be a great sacrifice to endure the January/February weather in San Diego but I encourage you to make an...

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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. Chemists are no doubt familiar with the litany of highly-reactive substances that have been promoted over the years as cures – intravenous hydrogen peroxide comes to mind. I remind students and the public that, yes, anything will kill cancer cells in culture but that does not mean it should be used in people. And while cancer chemotherapeutic drugs are among the most toxic substances used in the name of medicine, they have been subjected to extensive testing and are used in treatment regimens carefully designed based on tumor type and staging – an approach that predates today’s fascination with the concept of personalized medicine. That a market exists for the sale of industrial bleach as a remedy reminds me that chemistry education and critical thinking skills remain a challenge in modern society. More lengthy coverage and links as they develop can be found at my...

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