Please purchase Unscientific America at your local, independent bookstore

UnsciAmerica book-cover.jpgChris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum have released a new book entitled, Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future. Mr Mooney and Ms Kirshenbaum also co-author the blog, The Intersection, a Discover Magazine online.
I was fortunate to receive a review copy from the publisher but must admit, sheepishly, that the book has sat unread beside my home office desk because of other responsibilities. The advance paperwork says it is to be released officially on 20 July. So, my plan is to get to it this weekend and get some magnitude of a review written.
During my relative absence from the blogosphere, a few tweets I’ve seen have led me to believe that there has been some manner of rigorous debate and rancor regarding the content of this book. This makes me even more excited to get to reading.
Given the level of controversy, there may be some wishing to purchase the book in order to contribute to this lively discourse in a well-informed manner. Particularly as the weekend approaches, I wish to make an appeal to those of who will purchase this work:
Please buy it at your local independent bookstore.
As my local bookstore notes on their blog: you contribute to the local economy, you contribute to local culture, and you reduce your impact on the environment.

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“Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)” is not a single “thing”

I just had a chance to check in on a triad of posts by Prof Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science (1, 2, 3) on the ethical issues of the conduct of studies, particularly clinical trials, supported by the US NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
For background, NCCAM was originally established for political, not scientific reasons, as the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine in October 1991. It received a token budget of $2 million at the time. They still only get $120-ish million; modest by NIH standards as compared, say, with the 2007 NCI budget of about $4.8 billion. But that $120-125 million is pretty significant in that it could fund about 60 independent researchers and their laboratory groups for five full years.
How was alternative medicine defined then? Primarily as folk and cultural modalities not incorporated into conventional Western medicine but used and promoted for disease treatment or prevention without statistically-defined efficacy and safety. The net was cast very wide, from “energy therapies” that defy the basic tenets of physics to herbal medicines that have given rise to 25% of prescription medicines.
Hence, CAM is not one modality. It is a term used to describe a wide spectrum of health-promoting approaches that have not been evaluated previously under rigorous, controlled basic or clinical science standards.
CAM is a terrible term. It is NOT medicine. Modalities proven to work are medicine. Modalities that don’t work are not medicine. There is no complement to medicine. Medicine is medicine. There is no integrative medicine, either. Medicine already takes advantage of all modalities: surgical, pharmacological, radiological, physical, psychological, nutritional – if a clear benefit can be offered to a patient that outweighs the risk.
So-called integrative medicine gurus have adopted proven, preventive medicine techniques – diet, exercise, meditation, yoga – and have used them 1) to justify that “CAM” works and 2) that the efficacy of these approaches justifies study and implementation of approaches that have absolutely no scientific basis.
Oh yeah, often with substantive personal financial benefit.

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Sex, Science, and Stem Cells: has anyone read it?

I was surfing around the DNC site last night and came upon this nice addendum to yesterday’s post: a series of videos about the Denver area narrated by a proud native and six-term Congresswoman Diana Degette (D-CO, 1st).
I was reminded while going through 5280 magazine that Rep. Degette had written a book about the war on science by the Republicans called, “Sex, Science, and Stem Cells: Inside the Right-Wing Assault on Reason.” (Actually the book was “co-written” with Daniel Paisner, the amazingly prolific and self-effacing “author, ghost-writer, reasonably nice buy.”).
I’m a little short on reading time, much less blogging time, so I’d be interested to know if anyone has read Degette’s book and how it might compare to Chris Mooney’s, “The Republican War on Science.”

Escalating lunacy

It’s a lovely crescent moon this evening up here in the Northern Hemisphere so I can’t blame the latest unbelievable and irrational happenings on a full moon (which would be unscientific, of course). Okay, maybe sunspots?
First, the Bush administration was proposing draft legislation to grant medical professionals the right to withhold care, prescriptions, etc., based upon religious beliefs or other objections by reclassifying birth control pills and IUDs as “abortion.” PalMD covered this among others, but reminded me of several of my old posts on my objections to pharmacists refusing to fill legitimate prescriptions for emergency contraception and such:

Pharmacists, emergency contraception, and the responsibilities of a profession

Pharmacist “conscientious objection”: a pharmacist’s right or professional negligence?
Then I get an e-mail Sunday from the Foundation for Biomedical Research about the firebombing the homes of two UC-Santa Cruz researchers with a “Molotov cocktail on steroids.”:

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Scientists running for political office

Effective science communication and science advocacy in the public arena has been much discussed in the science blogosphere. But is ranting on science and medical blogs the most effective way to promote science, especially in the United States?
I’ve had some discussions with other scientists, including blog colleague PhysioProf, who submit that the best way for scientists to advocate for science policy is to become politicians themselves. To this end, I read with great interest this morning of an AP story written last night by Seth Borenstein, “A Crash Course in True Political Science”:

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Die, you gravy-sucking pigs*

. . .that’s the message from Dr Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, to heroin and morphine users whose lives might be saved in the overdose situation by public distribution of “overdose rescue kits” comprised of a $9.50 nasal spray containing Narcan.
Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, an antagonist (blocker) of these drugs at μ opioid receptors. When an overdose of opioid drugs binds to these receptors in the respiratory control center of a primitive part of our brain, one stops breathing, a situation that pathologists say is “incompatible with life.” Naloxone is ineffective when taken orally because it is metabolized too quickly and, even if it wasn’t, wouldn’t reach the brain in time to compete with heroin/morphine binding to these receptors. But when administered in a nasal spray, Narcan 1) bypasses metabolism by the liver and 2) gets to the brain much more rapidly.
Since being distributed in 16 communities the overdose-rescue kits have saved 2600 lives, nearly the number of people who perished in the combined terrorist attacks of 11 Sept 2001.
James Hrynyshyn at the Island of Doubt reminds us that this story, currently making the rounds of the blogosphere, first aired on NPR on 2 Jan. This story was originally brought to my attention by Dr Tom Levenson who writes the excellent blog, The Inverse Square (there’s a reason he is a MIT full professor of science writing and author of several books). I believe that Mark Kleiman of The Reality-Based Community is responsible for starting this latest round of complete and utter disbelief of the hypocritical “compassionate conservatives” currently occupying positions of power over US public health policy.
The money quotes from Dr Madras are as follows:

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Presidential debate focused on science & technology

Yes! A Call for a Presidential Debate on Science & Technology.”
Imagine a presidential debate focused solely on issues of science and technology as they relate to medicine, international competitiveness, terrorism, public health, embryonic stem cell research, bioethics of genotyping and other molecular diagnostics, research policy/funding and job creation, or minimization of health disparities, among others.

Science Debate 2008 is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens. The signatories to our “Call for a Presidential Debate on Science & Technology” include Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, presidents of universities, congresspersons of both major political parties, business leaders, religious leaders, former presidential science advisors, the editors of America’s major science journals, writers, and the current and several past presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among many others.

And now count me among the many others – in fact, take a gander at this tremendous list of science bloggers, known as the Blogger Coalition.
The impact of science and technology is not just for scientists and researchers. This point seems so obvious but science too often takes a backseat to the marital issues and religious affiliations of presidential candidates. The press is so taken by endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey but probably wouldn’t wink an eye if Harold Varmus supported a candidate.
We have seen what happens when science and technology is brushed aside by a presidential administration, or worse, how scientific facts have been distorted to push agendas and industry-favoring policies. The US cannot afford another eight years of scientific ignorance. Regardless of whether the next president is a Republican or Democrat, the country needs a leader who understands science and technology and seeks the expertise of those knowledgeable enough to advise the administration on scientific issues that have broad impact on Americans and the rest of the world.
One of the best ways to learn about the stance of candidates and compare and contrast the importance they place on science is to hear it from the horses’ mouths.
That’s why we are registering our support for A Call for a Presidential Debate on Science & Technology. Stay tuned here and elsewhere on ScienceBlogs, especially Sheril Kirschenbaum and Chris Mooney at The Intersection.

Release of Tripoli 6 / Benghazi 6!

I woke this morning to BBC reporting that the six Bulgarian nurses and doctor charged erroneously with transmitting HIV to over 400 Libyan children have been released and are safely home in Bulgaria.
Orac and Revere here at ScienceBlogs covered the upholding of death sentences against the six that opened the procedural door to their release.
It appears that the wife of new French prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Cecilia, played an important role over the last 48 hrs in negotiating the terms of release together with other EU officials. The terms are only just beginning to emerge, but it appears that the Libyan High Judicial Council made its decision after the equivalent of $1 million was pledged to families of each of the 438 children affected with HIV at the Benghazi hospital. (“An EU official told the BBC that the payout was made from the Gaddafi Foundation, a charity overseen by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam.”)
However, commentators on BBC Radio this morning questioned the wisdom of the EU reopening diplomatic ties with a nation that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of its critics in Libya and elsewhere. This discussion will no doubt expand in the coming days.
Many thanks are due to Revere at Effect Measure for raising awareness of this case with a great many science bloggers. The high-profile support of Nature’s Declan Butler is also deserving of great praise. It will be interesting to learn what others think of the impact of the scientific press and blogosphere in contributing to international attention to this case.
Thankfully, justice has played out and the scientific facts have won. However, nothing will diminish the pain and suffering experienced by our international medical colleagues over the last eight years whose original admission of guilt was secured by methods of torture.

Plan B OTC approval – no guts, no glory

The wimpy approval of OTC status today for Plan B emergency contraception only for women 18 and older has me nonplussed.
I’ve been disgusted by the intrusion of politics into science and medicine on this issue for quite some time.
As some Terra Sig readers know, a major network news outlet keeps the real Dr Pharmboy on their experts list for commentary on pharmacotherapy issues but my exact comments rarely make it on-air. Perhaps these will be inflammatory enough to get a call to be on this time, and then you’ll all know who I am. (No, I am not Dr Raymond Woosley, but I wish I were.)
So here are my comments, verbatim, so that someone at least benefits from my bile-spewing:

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An acceptable quid pro quo on Plan B?

Interesting timing: former US National Cancer Institute director and current acting FDA commish Dr Andrew von Eschenbach is about to go before the Senate tomorrow regarding his nomination for the permanent position. You know that he was going to get reamed over FDA’s delay of over-the-counter approval for the Plan B emergency contraceptive, despite all scientific reasons to move forward.
Well, the Associated Press is now reporting that:

The Food and Drug Administration notified manufacturer Barr Laboratories Inc. Monday that it wanted to meet within seven days to define new steps the company must take in its three-year battle to sell the pill, called Plan B, without a prescription to at least some women.
The morning-after pill is a high dose of regular birth control that, taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89%.
Contraceptive advocates and doctors groups say easier access to a pill now available by prescription only could halve the nation’s three million annual unintended pregnancies, and FDA’s own scientists say the pills are safe. In December 2003, the agency’s independent scientific advisers overwhelmingly backed nonprescription sales for all ages.

You may recall that this episode has been one of the most egregious examples of political interference in the scientific process in the United States. The resignation last fall of FDA assistant commisioner for women’s health, Dr Susan Wood, and her subsequent whirlwind lecture tour of US academic medical centers has left egg on the face of the FDA and the Bush administration.
Dr von Eschenbach is a well-known supporter of the Bush family dating back to his time at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His leadership of NCI has been highly politicized and some cancer researchers feel that he sold a bill of goods to Congress and left frontline scientists holding the bag of his unrealistic claims to reduce the pain and suffering due to cancer by 2015. Beyond the Plan B issue, there is significant opposition to von Eschenbach leading FDA.
So, is today’s reopening of discussions with the manufacturer of Plan B a strategic maneuver to pacify the opposition to von Eschenbach’s nomination and confirmation? Or does he, a physician-scientist, finally see the writing on the wall that women’s health is not an issue to be toyed with?
Regardless, I strongly support the move forward to potentially open up over-the-counter access to Plan B for any woman who has reached menarche. And regardless of the outcome of the current Plan B deliberations, I hope that the Senate will be vigilant and look closely and critically at von Eschenbach’s qualifications and motivations for leading the embattled FDA.