I hate energy drinks (though I am an avid coffee drinker) so I love the humor in this, and the message isn’t bad.


I loved this book by Michael Pollan and I hope the two hour documentary can live up to the same standard.  From the previews I’ve seen and videos on the PBS website it looks like it will combine some amazing photography, science and the history of plants domination over us. It is an interesting way to look at our relationship to plants and one that is fascinating in our “human-centric view” of the way the world works.

The documentary will take on the survival strategies of the tulip, apple, marijuana and potato and how these survival strategies have exploited our biological desires in order to become a cultivated crop. The same way that pollinators such as bees and butterflies are used to spread pollen these plants have used humans to be spread across the globe in a bid for as much cultivated space as possible.

From the few people I’ve talked to who have received preview copies of the program it will be spectacular and live up to the standards of PBS documentaries (which I love). Be sure to check our local listings and give this a watch, it is sure to teach you something and inspire you to look at the world through different lenses.


A report has come out detailing that more than 70 people have come down with the mumps in NY and NJ. 

If only we had a vaccine to stop these outbreaks!  Oh wait, we do and started using the first incarnation of the vaccine in 1950. Currently Merck produces the Mumpsvax product for use in the US. Now I’ll note that a large percentage (75%) of the people who came down with the disease have been reported to have been fully immunized, but I suspect that the antibody response has waned since getting the vaccine as a young child. Most victims have been 10-15 years old and the age range of the infectd has been from 1 to 40.

The child who originally came down with the mumps was attending a summer camp in Britain where vaccine rates are so low that many diseases have been once again declared endemic (most notably the measles). This started in the 90’s with Andrew Wakefield trying his best to fudge the science and blame the MMR vaccine for autism. Though his numbers have been shown to be manipulated, multiple studies have not found an association between the two, and Wakefield’s competing interests have been outed there still is a large sentiment in portions of the country that resist getting vaccinated.  This leads to outbreaks like this.

The reactions to the soft drink tax that has been bandied about are about what I expected.  Half telling about the good it could do for American diets and waistbands while filling state tax coffers while the other half are asking if this is too 1984ish where Big Brother is watching down on our perceived well-being. No surprises really and there have been some highly nuanced discussions about the merits and fears of the possible tax. It is worth noting that this tax has not been proposed by healthcare legislation (it shows up nowhere in the forming healthcare bill), the President, or any official legislative body. This is simply an idea that has some heavyweights in the medical community supporting it and the President has said it is an issue that may be worth considering.

While in New York you can see some of the funniest signs, one that says “you’re too stupid to make good personal decisions about food and beverages,” which would be a good indictment of this tax if it weren’t true. The issue isn’t really whether people are smart enough or not to make these decisions (in practice we’ve shown not to be) but rather that there is a powerful lobby and marketing campaign behind the soft drink industry that can cause confusion over health issues. And truly a large percentage of our population is not smart enough to make healthy decisions, how many kids can resist the pull of sweets especially in the face of heavily marketed products?

On the other hand there really is no concrete evidence that a tax on soft drinks will lower the obesity rate.  Two states that have levied heavy taxes on soft drinks are Arkansas and West Virginia, which happen to fall at #3 and #10 on the most obese states in the union.  Does this tell us the tax doesn’t work?  No, considering the other major factors of weight (full range of diet and exercise) there is no way to isolate the effects of a soft drink tax without serious study, so don’t believe the cannard that this simple presentation is all you need to know about the situation.

In fact, about 40 states have very minimal taxes on soft drinks, not enough of one that makes a choice difference but one that does add a bit to state tax revenue.  In fact, looking at the history of state taxes on soft drinks it seems that North Carolina repealed their tax program which was the state Arkansas based their soft drink tax on.

Overall this is a sticky issue.  Do soft drinks fall into a category like cigarettes and alcohol? I don’t know that it is an apples to apples comparison as young people don’t have access to those products but can go buy a soft drink without their parents consent at one of the multitude of places they are sold.  Most likely the prices of soft drinks are very elastic with this age group but it’s possible that even younger kids, to those who aren’t used to the ‘at least one coke a day’ routine this could make a difference as they could spend their money on something else.  My bet is that the “something else” would be unhealthy snack food and calorie loaded fast food so it is a matter of pass the buck.

Honestly I don’t know how much the government cares about curbing the purchase of soft drinks as much as generating tax revenue off of their purchase.  I think they realize that if consumers are priced out of soft drink purchase they will simply spend that money on other food and beverage choices that are just as unhealthy and found at the same locations.  This won’t affect health or obesity but if the tax is set at a golden level it could generate a significant amount of tax revenue.

What do you think of the idea of taxing soft drinks? Will it curb soft drink consumption? If so, will other unhealthy foods and drinks see an increase in consumption? Will the tax generated revenue be enough to hold up struggling health care policies? Please comment and let me know what you think!

Maybe we’re taking this a little too far…

H/T to WhiteCoat

In what can be considered a minor victory for medicine and public health Dr. Christine Daniel was brought up on fraud charges.  Daniel pushed crazy remedies on those who were in the most desperate phase of life.  Facing life-threatening cancers these patients were looking for any answers they could get and Daniel was willing to provide them with very expensive advice.  Too bad none of that advice was based on any sort of science or evidence based medicine and ended any chance that these people had of living.

Take Minna Shakespeare, who contacted Daniel in December 2002 after seeing her on TBN’s “Praise the Lord” TV program espousing the effectiveness of her herbal treatment.  Daniel told Shakespeare to stop her chemotherapy “because it doesn’t work” and to pay her $13,000 for her herbal cancer treatment.  Shakespeare told Daniel she didn’t feel that the treatment was working so Daniel told her to go back on the chemotherapy.  But I thought that chemotherapy was ineffective Dr. Daniel?  I don’t understand the change of heart.  Of course what Daniel doesn’t want to say is that she knows the chemo is effective and had a chance to keep Shakespeare alive longer. If Shakespeare stays alive longer then Daniel can charge for her herbal treatment longer and continue raking in the profit.

This is absolutely despicable and a good example of what happens with cancer quackery and all types of medical woo.  Daniel even claimed that her herbal medicine could treat and cure multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  There is absolutely no feasible biochemical mechanism that could explain how an herbal extract, even one that contains tons of different chemicals, could cure that many different mechanisms.  In fact, there is no single medication, herbal or otherwise, that can cure “cancer” as it is hugely wide range of diseases that fall under one category of cancer.

I’m glad to see this type of action taken against a quack as these people offer hope that is not there and cost desperate people tons of money for treatments that don’t work.  True, conventional treatments cost a lot of money as well, but there is proven science behind them that they may cure your disease, or at least extend your life.  The report says Daniels made $1.1 million from 55 families, a fortune for any person.  This is pretty sick, but it will not stop many of the quacks out there and the patients that seek them out.  I hope that this sets a precedent of prosecuting fraudulent activity and actively spreading medical lies.  I’m sure it won’t set off a firestorm of prosecutions, but one can always hope.

A little late on this as I’ve spent all weekend slogging through the mud at ACL Fest (which was amazing btw, I was hesitant at the lineup but by far the best time I’ve had in the last 4 years).

Anyway, the Nobel Foundation has begun awarding prizes this year giving out the Physiology or Medicine award and the Physics award already.  I happened to win $30 on the Medicine award, the odds were on for the telomerase work but am clueless about the other awards.  I enjoy watching everything unfurl and if you are the same you can check here for the updates.

Up next is Chemistry followed by Literature on Thursday, Peace on Friday and Economic Sciences on Monday.  Happy watching!

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