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Vicks VapoRub PR Fail

I have to say that this whole episode is worth seeing editor and medical journalist, Ivan Oransky, MD, in a snuggie.

I can’t match the facts: Dr. Oransky reveals a promo-pak he received from the PR firm representing Vicks VapoRub contains about $400 of merchandise and purchase credits, but NO BLOODY VAPORUB!!!

Ethics and all aside, I’m quite disappointed that the PR firm charged with promoting this traditional folk brand would act against the basic ethical tenets of the Public Relations Society of America. As Ivan notes, it’s okay for PR firms to provide a small amount of complimentary product for review purposes but despite the lavish swag, there’s no product in his promo-pak!

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Synthetic marijuana interview by Dirk Hanson, The Chemical Carousel

Five stars on Amazon, also available for your Kindle!

A hearty welcome to readers arriving via referrals from Dr. Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks and Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. We’ve been writing about synthetic marijuana science and regulation for almost two years and have been impressed by the widespread interest. For more information, click here for a handy compilation of our writing on the subject.


I’m always tickled to death to be asked to talk about natural products pharmacology and chemistry whether anyone wants to hear about it or not.

So, when I was approached for an interview by science writer and author, Dirk Hanson, I couldn’t help but say, “YES!”

Dirk is perhaps best known as author of the outstanding book on substance dependence, The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. I’ve come to know him through the blogosphere at his blog, The Addiction Inbox. As readers here know, working in natural products invariably brings one to the topic of drugs of abuse since many such compounds are used recreationally for their activity in the central nervous system.

Dirk has also been doing a terrific job as writer and editor for a new webzine directed toward the recovery community called The Fix (“Addiction and Recovery, Straight Up”). He’s been wonderfully kind to list us here at Terra Sig on their bloglist as a source of nonjudgmental, scientifically-based information on substances of potential abuse.

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1st Anniversary at CENtral Science!

Thank you for your support! Now, tell me about YOU in the comments below. Photo Credit: DJ Kroll/Terra Sigillata

Many thanks to all of you, Dear Readers and C&EN editors and staff, I have been writing here for one year.

Last August 24th, we moved the Terra Sigillata blog here after its purgatory in indie WordPress land following four years at ScienceBlogs. The announcement came at the a ACS Medicinal Chemistry Lunch-and-Learn session on pharmaceutical and chemistry blogging led by Carmen Drahl at last year’s Boston meeting. the setting seemed appropriate for the launch because I was on the panel with two of my own blogging idols, Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline and Ed Silverman of Pharmalot.

In my inaugural post here last year, The Right Chemistry, I expressed my sincere thanks to Carmen and C&EN Online Editor Rachel Pepling for taking in this wayward blogger. Although I am technically a biologist, I have appreciated since my undergrad days that chemistry was central to moving forward in this field. As a pharmacologist whose previous pseudonym acknowledged Journal of Biological Chemistry founder, John Jacob Abel, I have always appreciated that my field would not be here without the efforts of synthetic chemists.

So, I hope that in the past year I have brought you a biologist’s view of – and reverence for – the discipline of chemistry.

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Top 10 most-read posts of July

David's Top 10 Reasons You Read This Blog in July. Credit: Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons

Being a scientist and writer of a science blog, one can’t help being mesmerized by the statistics behind one’s readership. Over the last five years I’ve been quite surprised to see what posts garner a large number of readers and comments and which ones don’t (more often those that take a lot of time to write).

As posts gain traction among Google search returns on popular topics, you’ll often see old posts continuing to be among the most-read for months after writing.

So here are some data for you as well as a nice list of posts that you may have missed first time around:

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Naturally Toxic Crowdsourcing

Among a typically mad summer of academic activities, I am nervously trying to finish a chapter on naturally-occurring toxins for a drug metabolism book. Indeed, this entire chapter will be a science-based rebuttal to the timeworn but misled statement, “Natural is safe.”

So far, I’ve focused on naturally-occurring toxins that are metabolically activated by the liver such as the aflatoxins from Aspergillus spp. and pyrrolizidine alkaloids from a litany of herbal medicines such as comfrey and teas such as Jamaican bush tea made from Senecio. These two classes of compounds are acutely toxic to the liver because they are metabolized to highly-reactive nucleophiles. With long-term exposure, both classes are liver carcinogens.

From TW Kensler et al., Translational strategies for cancer prevention in the liver. Nature Reviews Cancer 3: 321-329 (2003).

I’ve also talked a bit about α-amanitin, the RNA polymerase II poision from Amanita phalloides and other Amanita species. Here, I mentioned the treatment of such poisoning with extracts of milk thistle in an intravenous form available in Europe. This 2009 case in California is a great example.

But let me ask you: what naturally-occurring toxins would you like to know about?

They don’t necessarily have to be metabolically activated. Some interesting aspects about their absorption, distribution, or excretion are a plus. For example, I feel compelled to cover E. coli toxins, particularly those due to the recent O104:H4 outbreak, as most recently discussed by Superbug writer, Maryn McKenna. But I want to be sure that I’m not missing anything.

The crowdsourced suggestions of the hivemind are greatly appreciated below.

News & Observer tweet-up: my newspaper groks it

Rocking the yellow with print and TV journalist, social media maven, @Cree PIO, and all-around awesomesauce, Ginny Skalski (@GinnySkal). Credit: David Kroll/CENtral Science

For those of you social media butterflies, how does your local newspaper interact with you?

Call me a dinosaur but I love my local newspaper. We at Terra Sig World Headquarters still get the dead-tree version on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and you’ll occasionally see me blog here and elsewhere about pharma stories I first learn from the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina. Part of the reason is because it is the main newspaper of the Research Triangle region. (The Durham Herald-Sun is another, with about 1/5th the circulation, and few people know that almost all of Research Triangle Park is located within Durham County.) I like the smell and feel of a newspaper and I immensely respect those of my friends who write for the paper.

As much as I get excited on days when we get over 500 visitors here, the N&O has a print circulation of 134,470 daily and 190,514 on Sunday. But in these latest numbers from May, a new print/web metric was reported by the auditing firm who compiles these numbers. The N&O reaches a combined number of 797,346 unduplicated readers as determined from the last seven days of print and last 30 days of the online version. Like most papers around the world, the online readership far outnumbers those who access the paper in print.

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SciAm blog network follow-up

Last week, we welcomed the new Scientific American blog network to the ether and stimulated a bit of a discussion on the seeming paucity of chemistry bloggers among the 39 new blogs.

Despite the madness of managing the blog launch, Bora Zivkovic stopped by to comment:

Ha! Thank you. All the good chemistry bloggers are here on CENtral Science!

I did struggle about it. People with chemistry background whose blogs I like (and think they fit in my network vision) tend not to blog about chemistry much. Or are taken by other networks, or unwilling to join one. But majority of chemistry bloggers write for each other, very inside baseball I cannot understand, thus not really fitting my vision (or SciAm focus on broad audiences).

But with two bloggers with background, and one with foreground (plus some of our editors), I hope we can cover chemistry sufficiently, at least for the time being. If a fantastic new chemistry bloggers emerges, please let me know…

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Welcome Scientific American Blog Network!

There’s some big news in the blogosphere this morning from Blogfather and Scientific American Blog Editor, Bora Zivkovic, and Scientific American Editor-in-Chief, Mariette DiChristina.

We have an exciting announcement to make this morning. Our new blog network has launched!

To our existing line-up of eight blogs you are all familiar with, we have added another 39. There are now six editorial blogs, six personal blogs written by our editors and staff, and 42 independent bloggers who will write on our platform starting today.

Bookmark the new Blogs Homepage and read the official press release.

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina, has written a welcome post, explaining what the network means to Scientific American.

And I have written an introductory post in which I introduce all the blogs and bloggers on our brand- new network.

This is a stellar lineup of bloggers. Give them a hearty welcome in the comments of their introductory posts, and keep coming back to read their amazing writing.

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Go. Dream. Read.

I thought I’d get a real blogpost up before getting on a plane to Chicago today. Alas, not.

In the meantime, have you been reading the Just Another Electron Pusher blog across the masthead here at CENtral Science?

You must. Seriously.

Since Leigh Krietsch Boerner left us for greener pastures, Christine Herman and Glen Ernst have been destroying it like a boss.

Go do this dream exercise as Christine suggests. And do play the video to learn about white blood cells – and see her dance!

Then, go congratulate Glen on his rescue from an involuntary hiatus.

Then, tonight, sit down with a glass of wine and read Christine’s profile of Kawal Tandon, a wine industry chemist.

And a hearty “well-done” to our benevolent overlord and C&EN Online Editor, Rachel Pepling, at the home office for putting together these two, fabulous writers to capture life in chemistry from graduate student to formerly-unemployed mid-career chemist.

On being a teenager with high-powered science & medicine parents

Yes, folks, today we have a major exclusive – what I believe is the first interview with Monica Berg, daughter of outgoing National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Director, Jeremy Berg, PhD, and breast cancer imaging expert, Wendie Berg, MD, PhD.

A little background: we wrote about Dr. Berg back in April after he had received a 2011 American Chemical Society Public Service Award in a ceremony on Capitol Hill (C&EN article here). The gentleman that he is, he wrote to thank me and we had a bit of a discussion about the family’s pending move to Pittsburgh. Wendie was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh and Jeremy was named associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning for their School of Health Sciences.

As detailed in this very nice University of Pittsburgh Medical Center press release from December 2010:

In moving to Pittsburgh, Dr. Berg is supporting the professional aspirations of his wife, Wendie A. Berg, M.D., Ph.D., an influential imaging expert who led a major clinical trial investigating the roles of ultrasound and MRI as adjuncts to mammography in breast cancer screening. She will join the Department of Radiology, School of Medicine, as a professor in March 2011.

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