SFGate.com Mark Fiore wins Pulitzer for animated editorials

If you’ve never heard of Mark Fiore, you should. And will.
Mark Fiore of the San Francisco Chronicle was recognized today with the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.

For a distinguished cartoon or portfolio of cartoons characterized by originality, editorial effectiveness, quality of drawing and pictorial effect, in print or online or both, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
Awarded to Mark Fiore, self syndicated, for his animated cartoons appearing on SFGate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle Web site, where his biting wit, extensive research and ability to distill complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary.

The editorial cartooning award has been presented by the Pulitzer Foundation annually since 1922.
The Pulitzer page for Fiore’s prize includes the citation and his biography.
Although Walt Handelsman of Newsday won for this category in 2007 with his portfolio split between illustrations and animations, I believe that Fiore’s award is a first for a cartoonist who operates exclusively on the web and solely with animations instead of traditional, static illustrations.
Fiore’s entry of 15 animations from 2009 can be viewed at the Pulitzer site.
Moreover, Fiore is self-syndicated representing what is likely to become a model, for better or worse, of how large news organizations will skim the best talent without having to pay benefits or manage the high overhead costs of a bricks-and-mortar structure.
Furthermore, my purely data-free perception is that Fiore may be the first mainstream editorial cartoonist that young hipsters would actually recognize by name. Fiore appeals to middle-aging farts like me but also seems able to generate a buzz with those caffeine-crazed whippersnappers.
As a science blogger concerned about the costs of pharmaceuticals and health care delivery, I found Fiore to be especially sharp on the health insurance reform debate, particularly with his recurring characters, Dogboy and Mr. Dan.
The following animation appeared on March 24, 2010, so it wasn’t included in the Pulitzer judging. But it is one of the best that cuts to the quick between angry perceptions of the health care bill versus the facts.

Congratulations to Mr. Fiore for this unbelievably well-deserved award.

Another reason to reform employment-linked healthcare: the explosion in temporary employment

Free Agent Nation.jpgAn article by Paul Davidson in this morning’s USA Today reminded me of another reason why we need health care reform in the United States, or at least a move away from employment-linked health coverage: temporary employees may soon comprise 25% of the national workforce.

An encouraging jobs report Friday underscored the growing prominence of temporary workers who some experts predict could constitute up to a quarter of the workforce in a few years.
A big reason employers shed a far-less-than-expected 11,000 jobs last month is that temporary staffing agencies found slots for 52,000 additional workers, the most since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said.

Temp workers don’t draw full health benefits from most employers and must therefore seek high-cost personal policies or pray that their spouse has family health coverage.
At the universities and research institutes where I’ve worked over the last 25 years, there have always been strict limitations on temporary employment to terms of 6 months to one year, in part due to the tendency of employers to take advantage of the cost savings of a temporary or contract employee.
One positive outcome of so many people becoming temp employees is that opponents of health care reform might find themselves on the receiving end of health care insurance costs most often encountered by small businesses or traditional freelancers such as writers, industry consultants, restaurant workers, and musicians.
An abrupt transition from being a corporate beneficiary to a free agent is often what is needed for some to accept that a basic level of health care is a human right.

Naturopathy drug prescribing proposal in Ontario: Rx for a liability nightmare

Canadian flag.jpgTwo weeks ago, Canadian Skeptics United published on their Skeptic North site a piece by an Ontario pharmacist criticizing a proposal by the province to grant limited prescribing rights to naturopaths. The essay, which was reprinted in the National Post on Tuesday, outlines the intellectual and practical conundrum presented by allowing those with education that diverges from science-based practices to prescribe drugs.
The naturopath lobby has come out in force and appears to be relatively unopposed in the 54 comments that follow, primarily because the NP closes comments 24 hours after online posting. Therefore, those with a more rational and considered viewpoint based in facts have been locked out from commenting. This is quite disappointing to me personally and professionally because of the wildly emotional appeals, strawman arguments, and smears and attacks on the author himself without, of course, addressing his well-founded criticism of the prescribing proposal before the provincial government. At the Skeptic North post, the piece even drew a naturopath who equated the criticism of his/her field with the Nazis and Mussolini. However, ad hominem attacks, especially Godwin’s Law, are quite common when one’s stance is flawed.
Naturopathy, sometimes called naturopathic medicine, is an unusual and inconsistently regulated alternative medical practice that co-opts some evidence-based medicine, often in nutrition and natural product medicines, but also subscribes to “vitalism” (vis medicatrix naturae) and makes use of homeopathic remedies that defy the rules of physics and dose-response pharmacology.
Naturopathy is, however, a warm and fuzzy term, especially when equated with “natural medicine” and the fact that people with naturopathy degrees advertise themselves with the honorific of “Dr.” The increasing popularity of naturopathy is also supported by cultural influences. I’ve written before that many, uh, natural product enthusiasts have become interested in naturopathy following the relocation of musician Dave Matthews from Charlottesville, VA, to Seattle, WA, where his wife, Ashley Harper, earned a naturopathy degree at Bastyr University.
In addition to the description of the practice in the NP op-ed, an excellent review and critical analysis of naturopathy by Kimball C Atwood IV, MD, can be found at Medscape General Medicine. The abstract is as follows:

“Naturopathic medicine” is a recent manifestation of the field of naturopathy, a 19th-century health movement espousing “the healing power of nature.” “Naturopathic physicians” now claim to be primary care physicians proficient in the practice of both “conventional” and “natural” medicine. Their training, however, amounts to a small fraction of that of medical doctors who practice primary care. An examination of their literature, moreover, reveals that it is replete with pseudoscientific, ineffective, unethical, and potentially dangerous practices. Despite this, naturopaths have achieved legal and political recognition, including licensure in 13 states and appointments to the US Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee. This dichotomy can be explained in part by erroneous representations of naturopathy offered by academic medical centers and popular medical Web sites.

Like many alternative practices, naturopathy claims to harness the body’s own healing power as if differentiating that fact-based medicine does not also employ the body’s capacity to heal. The very same drugs that naturopaths wish to prescribe are those which can only work because they interact with targets in the body for which our endogenous compounds already act.
It seems to me that naturopathy adopts either science-based medicine or pseudoscience depending on the venue in which it serves the organization.

Continue reading

France World Cup player Lilian Thuram now fights racism

Lilian Thuram.jpgA bit off-topic of the blog but a science building on campus is hosting a discussion with Guadeloupe-born footballer, Lilian Thuram. He was considered to be one of the best players in Europe; his best-known accomplishment of his 15-year career playing defender with Monaco, Parma FC, Juventus, FC Barcelona and the French national team, is contributing to France winning the 1998 World Cup.
However, Thuram was forced into retirement in 2008 following a diagnosis of cardiac hypertrophy (ventricular, I assume, and pathological, not typical “athlete’s heart”). The same condition claimed Thuram’s brother while playing.
Thuram is here not to talk about soccer but rather racism. The auditorium is more packed than I have ever seen for a scientific talk.
Following his retirement, he established the Lilian Thuram Foundation to use education of young people as a strategy for combating racism in Europe. In politics, Thuram made headlines during the 2007 French elections by calling out the institutionalized racism of Nicolas Sarkozy.

“Sarkozy’s rhetoric isn’t quasi-racist, it is racist,” Thuram said in an interview with Spain’s El Mundo newspaper.
“He wants to create a ministry of immigration and national identity and that’s dangerous … When you start to divide people and see one group here, Muslims there, the blacks over there, you teach people to see others as different.”
Sarkozy has defended his plans for a ministry to protect France’s traditional values, saying France had a “gigantic problem” with integration.
“What is being integrated? My mother is French, my father is French. Why do I have to be ‘integrated’? Because I am black. You’d never ask if a white man was integrated,” Thuram was quoted as saying.
“France doesn’t have a problem with immigration, it has a problem with citizenship. Some French people don’t think other Frenchmen are French. If I stop playing football tomorrow and I go back to France, people won’t see me as a Frenchman, they’ll see me as an immigrant,” he said.

Thuram is using a translator but it’s great to see some of the students asking him questions in French.
Someone asks the obvious question: He doesn’t have to do this; he could just enjoy retirement. But what exactly does he think young people could do:

Study how injustices happen, pay attention to history and use it to teach/learn personal responsibility to make changes no matter your station in life. You don’t have to be a famous footballer to stand up against racism in your classroom and community.

Previously, Thuram had been under the impression that advances against racism in the US was due to increasing the teaching of African American history in our schools as part of a mandatory curriculum. Since visiting the last few days, he now realizes this is not the case.
Interesting point was made that when first generation of blacks came to France, they made little demands of government; it is only now that the next generation grows up in France that he feels there is at least some resistance even as those in power may institutionalize racism. If I understood the translator correctly, he notes that this may be what is happening in the US with Lations.
One student who is French and black feels that racism gets worse every time she goes back. Thuram says that his perception is that the pushback and demands of blacks (and Muslims) are drawing out racist behavior into the public.

Billionaires For Bush now against healthcare reform

Billionaires Against Healthcare 515px.jpg
Here’s the updated version of the group, Billionaires For Bush, doing their clever schtick prior to a healthcare town hall forum last evening in Durham, NC (Yes, they are standing in front of a Hummer H2).
A robust crowd of 850 people filled the B.N. Duke Auditorium on the campus of North Carolina Central University to hear from a panel led by Congressman David Price (D-NC4).
[N.B. – not well-known is that the Duke family purchased 25 acres of land to create the campus for this historically-black college four miles across town; hence, the university honored the gift by naming its central performance auditorium after the then-executor of the Duke Endowment.]
Over 100 people had to be turned away and there appeared to be only one skirmish that required police intervention.
The whole story and video report can be viewed here at WRAL-TV.
ibiblio pioneer and UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Paul Jones also provided timely and informative Twitter updates (@smalljones) while also coining the term, “Deather.”
One quick final note from the WRAL report: friend of ScienceOnline bloggers, Rep Brad Miller (D-NC13), has canceled his future public forums because of a death threat made to his office, choosing instead to meet with small groups of concerned citizens.

The Friday Fermentable: The Presidential Beer Summit Edition

I absolutely guarantee that the President wanted a fine, handcrafted American ale. But I am certain that the conservative press would’ve jumped this as an “elitist” choice as they did his campaign comments on arugula.
Instead, he chose Bud Light.
The President had a choice to promote the craft-brewing industry in the US – the most noble and patriotic of pursuits shared by our Founding Fathers.
Instead, craft brewers across the country – nay, perhaps the world – let forth a collective “D’oh” upon the announcement of the President’s watered-down choice.

Continue reading

95th Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre

I never will forget the look on the faces
Of the men and women that awful day,
When we stood around to preach their funerals,
And lay the corpses of the dead away.
We told the Colorado Governor to call the President,
Tell him to call off his National Guard,
But the National Guard belonged to the Governor,
So he didn’t try so very hard.

Woody Guthrie, Ludlow Massacre (1944)
I’ve written variations on this post a few times, for both Labor Day and the anniversary of a major turning point in US labor relations that was kept alive by historian Howard Zinn and others. I had planned to write this year’s remembrance from Ludlow itself as the American Association for Cancer Research meeting is being held in Denver. Other issues have kept me from the meeting but my heart is with Ludlow today. Energy security is a hot issue these days and the US is both blessed with coal and the corporations that will do anything to harvest it, including blowing off the tops of mountains in Appalachia. The answers are not simple ones. But today, I wish to recognize all unsung heroes, past and present, who have worked to provide coal for all manner of our comfort.
As Check Your Premises wrote last year, “Keep that in mind as you go about your work today- a century ago, you might have been killed by your own government for the benefits you now enjoy.”
Below is what I wrote last year.
Ludlow%20Family.jpgUS Senator Ken Salazar (D-Colo) has commemorated today’s 94th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre by introducing a bill (PDF) to designate the coalminers tent colony as a National Historic Landmark. Unless you are a descendant of a coalminer or a deep Woody Guthrie enthusiast, the only way most Americans know of the Ludlow Massacre is from Howard Zinn’s defining account in A People’s History of the United States.
The Pharmboy family maintains personal ties to the Ludlow area as detailed in my last Labor Day post but Salazar’s press release captures today’s anniversary concisely:

Continue reading

Center for American Progress’s “Science Progress” features yours truly

We’re really fortunate here at Terra Sigillata World Headquarters to have a strong, dedicated readership. But I’m always tickled when we attract new readers and attention to the views we express here.
Late yesterday I received a very nice e-mail from Andrew Plemmons Pratt, Managing Editor of Science Progress, a blog of the well-known liberal think tank, Center for American Progress.

Continue reading

What Harkin et al. don’t understand: NIH ICs are scientific, not advocacy, organizations

Chris Mooney just asked the question as to why sci/med bloggers are up in arms about Sen Tom Harkin’s recent complaints about the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the arm of NIH charged with funding studies to investigate the mechanisms and efficacy of modalities not currently considered mainstream medicine. I left a comment for Chris that ended up being a blog post so I’ll share it with Terra Sig readers here and expound a bit for good measure.
The problem is that Harkin has stated that the establishment is discriminating against alternative medicine and that it seems to him that NCCAM has been doing too much to disprove the efficacy of alternative therapies. [see excellent post by Dr David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine].
The story of Harkin’s amazing statements were first popularized last week by Majikthise journalist, Lindsay Beyerstein, daughter of the famous Simon Fraser Univ Prof Barry L Beyerstein whose article, Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work, I keep in my sidebar to the lower left. Lindsay notes:

Harkin used his clout on the Appropriations Committee in 1992 to create the National Office of Alternative Medicine. In 1998 he co-sponsored legislation with Republican Bill Frist to upgrade the national office to a national center.
Over a decade later, Harkin’s disappointed that the NCCAM’s research is failing to confirm his biases.
Harkin doesn’t seem to realize that by publicly pressuring an ostensibly independent research center to produce positive results, he’s undermining the credibility of the center he worked so hard to create. If even if NCCAM does come up with positive results, Harkin’s giving the scientific community an excuse to discount that research as tainted.

Continue reading

Evolution of Democracy

This guest post comes to us from a colleague and friend, Dr Michael Wolfe. Enjoy!
The simultaneous celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the births of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin today offers a special opportunity to reflect on the state of our democracy and the status of science in our society. That these two iconic figures were born on the exact same day is, of course, a coincidence. And yet, as often happens in life, a chance confluence of events can help us see connections that we might otherwise miss.
Today we lionize Lincoln as perhaps our greatest President, and his eloquent expression of our democratic ideals is embedded in our national psyche. In stark contrast, if Darwin’s concepts were to be put up for a democratic vote of confidence in American society today, we would likely find, as polls have shown, that nearly half do not believe in evolution. State boards of education still battle over its teaching, and the controversy over evolution is too often one of the driving factors in parents deciding not to enroll their children in public schools.
Why the resistance to Darwin and evolution? A major part of the problem is that science is viewed as essentially materialistic: it informs us about what nature is and how it works, but it cannot tell us why we are here and what we should value. Despite these limitations, scientific advances have allowed us remarkable control over our environment, so that we are not so much at the mercy of the elements and disease as our ancestors were. And science has provided us with perspective about where humanity fits in space and time.
Darwin’s gift was to provide us with this much needed perspective. The world’s species have been evolving over a very long period of time and share common ancestry. We are literally related to all other forms of life on the planet. And we know this now because it is clearly written in the code of our genes, important confirming evidence about which Darwin had no clue.

Continue reading