L’Embarras Des Richesses: ScienceOnline2013 and ScienceWriters2012
Sep29

L’Embarras Des Richesses: ScienceOnline2013 and ScienceWriters2012

In this quiet moment on a rainy Saturday evening in North Carolina Piedmont, I lie here in awe of the breadth of creative talent and boundless enthusiasm that this place attracts. Tonight at 5:00 pm Eastern time, a couple hundred folks or so learned that they had not scored a slot in the lottery for the remaining spaces at ScienceOnline2013. I won’t be there this year either but I can certainly understand the disappointment. This simple idea of Bora Zivkovic along with Let’s-Get-Together-and-See-Where-This-Goes Guy, Anton Zuiker, has grown from a small gathering of likeminded online science enthusiasts to become the South-By-Southwest of science meetings, now under the exceptional leadership of Karyn Traphagen. I encourage everyone to stay on or sign up for the waitlist. Lots of plans change between now and late January so registration slots will most certainly open up. But in the meantime, you might consider another possibility that just happens to be available this year very near to the same GPS coordinates: ScienceWriters2012, the annual conference of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers. Scheduled for October 26-30, 2012, ScienceWriters2012 will be headquartered at the very same hotel with a program crafted by a broad group of science communicators that include a subset of ScienceOnline folks. (For the record, we’re called Science Communicators of North Carolina, or SCONC.). Here, look at the schedule yourself. There is one considerable difference between the NASW and ScienceOnline: NASW has a membership application process (and I only just became a member this past year). Students can probably still get in before the meeting registration deadline of October 10 by submitting their membership application now. That qualifies them for the $75 registration fee (and membership is only $35/year). Go to the bottom of the membership registration information page here and sign up for a free NASW account to begin the registration process. You’re permitted two years of student membership after which you must apply to be a full member. For us folks who are, um, in the years out of school, non-member registration for the meeting is $395 and member registration is now $195 (the early-bird deadline has passed). If you’re not currently a member but wish to become one, the process requires submission of five published clips (written for lay audiences over the last five years) and two sponsor nominations from current NASW members. I’m not sure if that can be accomplished in time for the meeting but you might inquire with the NASW Director’s Office (_director_at_nasw_org_ — you know what to do with the underscores). This will be my first NASW...

Read More
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...

Read More
Poisons and Policy: Arsenic and Aflatoxins
Sep20

Poisons and Policy: Arsenic and Aflatoxins

In the past 24 hours, do you recall hearing anything about arsenic in rice? If you’re in the United States, the answer is very likely, “yes!” A great many pixels were spilled yesterday when Consumer Reports and the US Food and Drug Administration released — almost simultaneously — analytical data on inorganic arsenic concentrations in 200 samples of commercial rice products, particularly those grown in the southern US. You can’t do any better in understanding this story than reading, “Arsenic and Rice. Yes, again,” on Deborah Blum’s Elemental blog at Wired Science Blogs. Professor Blum has been discussing arsenic in the diet for a few years, an interest she developed while composing her superb book, The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Science in Jazz Age New York. Deborah’s post puts in perspective the risks of inorganic (and organic) arsenic concentrations in food products such as rice relative to drinking water. Arsenic occurs in nature but exists in higher concentrations in water from areas where arsenical pesticides have been used in cotton farming or poultry deworming (the latter discussed in 2006 at NYTimes). While she closes in being critical of the FDA for lack of clear consumer guidance, let it suffice to say that no character in Blum’s book was killed by poisoning with rice from Louisiana. Pick your poison What caught my attention yesterday was a completely different report from the US FDA — actually a FDA ruling released by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Corn containing one of the most potent natural toxins and carcinogens — a class of compounds called aflatoxins — can be legally blended with other corn for use in animal feed.  A standing rule of the FDA, when invoked, allows farmers to blend corn containing up to 20 parts per billion of aflatoxins with corn containing lower concentrations (or none) of the toxin family. Here’s where 20 parts per billion falls in the FDA’s guidelines according to the Iowa Dept of Agriculture statement: The FDA has established guidelines for acceptable aflatoxin levels in corn based on its intended use.  Corn containing aflatoxin in concentrations of greater than 20 ppb cannot be used for human consumption and cannot be used for feed for dairy animals or for immature livestock of others species. Corn containing aflatoxin at 100 ppb or less can be used in breeding cattle and swine and mature poultry.  Corn with 200 ppb or less can be used with finishing swine greater than 100 lbs. in weight and corn with 300 ppb or less can be used in finishing beef cattle. Where is this aflatoxin coming from...

Read More
RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries
Sep09

RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries

Catching up on my reading this Sunday morning, I’m beaming with pride on the collective accomplishments and coverage of some old friends and colleagues. Kerstin Nordstrom, a AAAS Mass Media Fellow with the Raleigh News & Observer, had a nice story on 3 September about the work of Dr. Peter Stout at RTI International. You old-timers will know this non-profit entity as Research Triangle Institute, home to the discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin by Wall and Wani and colleagues. Kerstin, or Dr. Nordstrom I should say as she holds a PhD in physics, interviews RTI’s Dr. Peter Stout on the institute’s forensic analytical chemistry capabilities with regard to the “designer drug” industry. Yes, here we go again with my long-running commentary on the “synthetic marijuana,” “herbal incense,” “plant food,” and “bath salts” products that have recently taken a direct hit from “Operation Log Jam,” a coordinated, federal operation to shut down the industry. In my post on the federal takedown, I referred to a paper by Stout’s RTI colleagues where mass defect filtering was used to identify unknown analogs of known illegal compounds, particularly the JWH group of cannabimimetic naphthoylindoles (Anal. Chem., DOI:10.1021/ac300509h). (Addendum: That paper was also covered nicely in the 15 June C&EN by Erika Gebel.) Coincidentally, both Kerstin and Peter are dear to me – hence the following disclosures before singing the praises of the article: Peter earned his Ph.D. in molecular toxicology from Dr. Jim Ruth’s lab at my former home, the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy. My time at RTI’s Natural Products Laboratory (2002-2008) overlapped with Peter’s hiring. As an aside, I had not known Peter was hired until he saw a cart outside of my laboratory with my name and hunted me down, guessing there weren’t many Krolls in biochemical pharmacology. An equally lighthearted observation is that Peter has almost completely shaved his head as long as I’ve know him; I’m certain that’s a coincidence with his dissertation research project, “Mechanisms of Drug Disposition into Hair.” Disclosure #2: Kerstin is a fellow graduate of the 2011 Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop and serendipitously ended up here in the Triangle for her AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. What I like about the story is how both of them describe analytical techniques in relatively approachable language: Kerstin on HPLC: For liquid chromatography, an unknown chemical is pushed through a pipe. The pipe is filled with tiny silica particles – 1 to 10 micrometers in size – that attract some molecules and repel others. Each chemical has a different attraction, and so some, attracted to the grains, go slower than...

Read More