Archive for the 'Kerfuffles' Category


Expected this of Facebook, but PNAS? What Were You Thinking?

Retraction countdown commences now.  It’s pretty clear that Facebook, Cornell and PNAS violated the spirit of human subject research laws, if not the letter of those laws (may have done that, as well).

If we start to accept that clicking ‘yes’ to a privacy policy equals adequately informed consent, we might as well scrap the whole system designed to prevent the research atrocities of the past. Do you feel your physician should be able to replace your standard medication with an experimental drug as part of a study that you are not aware you are participating in and never consented to because you signed his boilerplate privacy policy? Of course not. He/she would end up losing their license or in prison for this sort of conduct. Social science research IS human subject research and it requires the same level of concern for the rights of participants.  I’m not angry about the nature of the study. I am angry that these researchers felt so comfortable manipulating people without their knowledge or consent. It is a slippery slope and minimizing it is not helpful.

People clearly were harmed by this study. In fact, that was actually one of the study goals–see if it was possible to make them feel bad by artificially manipulating their exposure to negative comments– and ultimate ‘findings.’ That alone should have prompted better ethical oversight. This is not the same as retrospectively data mining de-identified static patient records, regardless of whatever rationale Cornell uses. This was real time emotional manipulation of actual people who had no idea it was going on. Bad form all around and I hope OHRP gets involved.


If Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses Had Petitioned the Supreme’s

Dear IRS,

I am a lifelong member of a religious order that counts pacifism among the tenants of our faith. This not because we do not love our country, but because we feel the Bible clearly shows (based on our interpretation) that human life belongs to God and taking a human life, for any reason, is an abomination. Even supporting the mechanism to take a life indirectly is considered a sin. So strongly do we hold this belief that we will not serve on juries where the death penalty is a possibility—again, not because we don’t feel some people are worthy of death, but because we feel that decision belongs to God and we will have sinned if we take it upon ourselves.

We are also taught that it is important to obey the laws of whatever land we live in. This means that if we go against those laws, for instance refusing military service during a draft, we must willingly subject ourselves to the legal punishment proscribed by law.

It was with some relief, then, that I heard about the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court which makes it clear that laws can be subjectively applied to suit religious beliefs. Based on my clearly held religious convictions, I demand to be reimbursed for any portion of my tax payments for the past 36 years that have gone to support the US military in missions that have resulted in loss of life. This violation of my beliefs has created an undue burden for my conscience, which can finally be rectified thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision that federal laws do not apply to people of faith.

If possible, can you provide line item data to indicate how many lives were lost and how they were lost. Just like Hobby Lobby, I demand the right to pick and choose what forms of state-sponsored murder I will support.  Since I don’t object to ALL military loss of life—just loss of life from active military actions, I will still cover friendly fire incidents and unfortunate accidents through my tax contributions–for now.

I would appreciate your attention to this matter immediately, as I am very busy combing through federal laws to see what else I may be exempt from.

Thank you


Circle of Strife: The Problem with Extremism

I am convinced that the continuum of political persuasion is not linear with the extremes being at opposite ends, but more of an open circle motif.  When you bring the two ends together to create the circle, the extreme left and the extreme right are right next to each other, two versions of the same mental deficiency.  An email my daughter received from a far left lady who owns the farm where she used to board her horses provides some evidence to support my theory.  My daughter and her fellow boarders made the decision to leave the barn because the owner was slipping deeper and deeper into spiritualistic nonsense, like claiming she could hear the trees cry when they needed to nail fencing to them or insisting that the horses were telling her (and/or the horse psychic she hired from time to time) that they didn’t want to be ridden.  When her bizarre beliefs actually threatened the health and welfare of the animals she claimed to be protecting  the remaining boarders decided they would have to leave. They worried, needlessly it appears, about her reaction and the loss of income she would sustain. Here are some excerpts from her email sent in response to their notice that they would be leaving:

  • “I knew you would be leaving perhaps before you did.  I was asked by spirit to call together a small group of friends who are healers, intuitives and psychics.  We have been getting together once a month. Although we are not yet certain why we were asked to form this group some incredible things have come to light. My own abilities to communicate with spirits and animals are growing quickly.  Some changes have to come for this land to be all that it can be and one of those changes is that it be a non-riding barn.  Although I would never have asked you to leave I knew that the universe would resolve this for everyone’s higher good. I am not 100% sure but I think Creekside is destined to be a rescue barn. Things are happening so fast that I just have to trust the universe and accept.”

Alrighty, then.  So here we have a self-identified liberal who, like her far right counterparts, abdicates her obligation to think and reason in favor of leaving decisions in the hands of an invisible spirit.  No doubt she would accept the wisdom of runes or other ancient inspired writings over observable fact every time, as well.  So let’s compare ideologies, shall we?

Far Right Far Left
Rely primarily or solely on guidance from an invisible spirit who is presumed to have supernatural wisdom X X
Believe that ancient sacred writings are more relevant to human experience than centuries of documented human experience X X
Consider themselves to be victims of persecution when their belief system is challenged X X
Are willing to allow real harm to accrue to others rather than compromise on their beliefs X X

Perhaps I was primed to take a new look at extremism because of this email, but a recent article by David Corn in Mother Jones (“Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty”) got me thinking about what I would do if the extreme left took over the Democratic party in the same way the extreme right has for Republicans.  The article consists of an interview with Bob Inglis, long-time Republican representative from South Carolina who, although boasting a 93%  lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, failed to be conservative enough for his district.  His crimes? 1.) Encouraging his constituents to think for themselves and ‘turn Glenn Beck off,’ 2.) Pointing out that it was in poor taste, just generally rude and disrespectful of the office  for Joe Wilson to shout ‘you lie’ at the American president in public, and 3.) Suggesting that efforts to label Obama a socialist or to challenge his birth legitimacy were ignorant distractions that kept elected officials from addressing the real problems facing the country.   Every one of these sins provided proof to the extreme right that Inglis was, unforgivably, living in the real world of reason.  In refusing to accede to their faith-based belief system in favor of getting to work on actual problems that need actual real-life solutions, he invited the righteous wrath of those who would prefer to go to their graves, fingers in ears, believing a beloved set of lies rather than to ever acknowledge the hard issues facing the real world.

Just to reinforce the conservative bona fides of Bob Inglis, this was one of the guys who made it his mission to take down Bill Clinton, wasting (as he now acknowledges) time and taxpayer money on a conservative vendetta against a guy they just didn’t like.  In fairness, there is a lot to not like about Bill Clinton as a person, but that has nothing to do with his governance and using elected office and taxpayer money to pursue a personal take down is more slimy than anything Clinton did while in office.

Inglis bemoans the demagoguery, ‘poisonousness’ and ignorance of the Teabaggers and their de facto leader, Sarah Palin.  He  despairs for his party and his country and in being bold enough to publicly denounce the nonsense that is going on in Republican circles he managed to do what I thought was impossible: Make me feel kinda sorry for someone whose political tactics I despised during the Clinton years.   I found myself trying to ‘walk a mile in his shoes’ and wondered what would happen if reasonable Democrats faced a parallel situation in our own party which, thankfully, I think is highly unlikely.

But what if?  What if those who espouse New Age dogma and advocate reliance on spirit voices for policy direction became the leading strident voices of the party (again, highly unlikely because the ritual practices that often go along with New Age spiritualism include imbibing ‘sensory enhancing’ substances that tend to make stridency all but impossible :-)).  What would I do?  I couldn’t in good faith support nonsense I felt to be endangering our country simply to stay loyal to a party, but neither could I jump ship to the other party simply because they were slightly less crazy (assuming their extreme faction was suitably contained–which it currently is not).  A philosophical shift of that magnitude would simply not be possible so I would be stuck, like Inglis, in ‘no-party’ land.

While I disagree with Bob Inglis on almost every issue of policy and would find it hard to ever trust him after the unseemly display that was the Clinton impeachment trial, I applaud him for having the cojones to call bullshit on teabagger nonsense despite knowing it would cost his career.  It is a brave politician these days who is actually willing to fight on issues rather than ideology.  If only the leadership of the party were equally brave.

*PS: In the Corn article, Inglis provides a chilling account of how deeply paranoia and mental illness penetrate the teabagger movement.  In this passage, he is describing a visit to a group of constituents who support the teabag movement. It should be required reading for independents and undecideds:

  • “I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there’s a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life’s earnings, and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, “What the heck are you talking about?” I’m trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, “You don’t know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don’t know this?!” And I said, “Please forgive me. I’m just ignorant of these things.” And then of course, it turned into something about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergers and all that stuff. And now you have the feeling of anti-Semitism here coming in, mixing in. Wow.”

These are the ‘real Americans’ Palin would like to see run this country.


Yes Virginia, We Do Need an Ad-Ed Wall

It’s all about the Benjamins

I’m not entirely sure why the New York Times decided to take up this issue in their Sunday New York Magazine, but it seems there is quite a kerfuffle whipping up in the scientific blogosphere over whether or not it is appropriate to allow company-sponsored ‘nutrition’ scientists (Pepsico® formerly owned and has a lifetime interest in Yum! Brands, the people who recently brought us the KFC Double Down, a so-called sandwich consisting of two fried chicken breasts stuffed with bacon and cheese–540 calories and 1380 gram of sodium in each–fat content not listed, go figure).   Traditional scientists come from a background of academic publishing where advertising is viewed with suspicion and industry-sponsored data is considered suspect until it can be independently verified.  This is a good thing–a safeguard against corporate bias polluting pure science in the interest of profits–but, sadly,  it is disappearing.   Many scientists object to the loss of this so-called ad-ed wall, so it is not surprising–or should not have been–that there was a mass exodus of credible bloggers from one of the most popular science blogging sites on the Internet, ScienceBling, when the site owner opted to allow PepsiCo® to host a blog on nutrition science (isn’t that a little like asking Sarah Palin to host a blog on the beauties of the wildlife she likes to shoot?  Oh wait, someone [TLC] actually did that?  Alrighty, then).

Enter Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times.  She just doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about and took to old-fashioned print to bemoan the ‘cacophony’ and messiness of science blogging.  If you really want straight answers and easy-to-understand prose, she recommends several blogs including one run by a climate science skeptic (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if she is despairing of the ‘noise’ in the scientific community, could she have picked a worse, more noise-inducing topic than climate change?).   And the PepsiCo® kerfuffle?  Just carbonation in a tea cup.  Nothing to see here folks,  move on.

I am on the fringes of the scientific community, having become involved as a lay person in many aspects of clinical research through my work with a patient research advocacy organization, so my perspective is a little bit different than that of the scientists who wrote critical reviews of Ms. Heffernan’s piece.  I would like to add a lay person’s voice to this debate (no comments were allowed on the online version of her article) and it goes something like this:

“Yes, Virginia, it does matter if the ad-ed wall is breached because, outside of scientific integrity and rigorous attempts to avoid bias, the scientific community has another obligation–protecting a scientifically illiterate public from corporate and money-driven efforts to alter scientific reality.  They are the only ones who can do this, as the public has and little or no education on how to interpret data and detect bias and should not be expected to do so. ”

And, for good measure, I’d throw in a recent example of how  so-called corporate scientists manipulate public ignorance of science for purely financial gain using an MLM supplement company called MXI* (based in Nevada).  MXI’s marketing is a case study in how a bold group of charlatans can mislead the public using false claims of scientific rigor.  MXI is on my radar screen because I have two sisters who have MLM businesses selling their products which consist of various concoctions of high-antioxidant (or as we call it in our house ‘magic’) chocolate.  This stuff can do EVERYTHING and it is clinical proven with many ‘studies’ run by actual ‘doctors.’ Dismayed by my stubborn refusal to want to magically lose weight, grow hair, clear up my skin, improve my digestion and bolster my energy (all claims this company makes in its marketing materials) with this clinically proven product, one of my sisters resorted to actually sending me the study ‘data,’ which was top secret and meant only for product reps.  Here is this amazing clinical data (copied directly from the email with no effort to correct grammar or spelling):

Those who work hard to lose weight their whole lives …. and those who lose weight the new, easy way.

The Xocai meal replacement shake is hitting the market next week.  If you know of someone that would like to lose weight, or would like a quick nutritious meal on the run, or just wants more energy, see if they would like give this a try.  The clinical trial has had even better results than were expected.

And, if you’re thinking you might like to fire your boss and build your own business earning big money, now is the time.  Someone will tell your friends and neighbors about this shake – it may as well be you!


Mike Kennedy MD
Steven Warren MD DPA

Study Medical Directors
High Antioxidant Wellness System
July 30, 2010

Dear MXI Associates:

Six weeks ago, we selected 50 individuals who wanted to lose weight by using a High-Antioxidant Wellness System. We have now successfully reached the halfway mark in this Wellness System Study. The participants selected filled a wide scope of categories, males and females ranging in age from 26-76, from different parts of the country, all desiring to achieve a weight loss goal from 20-100+ lbs. These 50 study participants have been following the protocol, which involves substituting two meals a day with the X-ProteinMealTM Replacement Shake, three pieces of XocaiTM chocolate and other healthy snacks, and a high-protein/complex carbohydrate meal for a total of 1,200 calories for women and 1,500 calories for men. The program includes walking or other forms of exercise, drinking water, sleeping 7-8 hours per day, keeping a food dairy, and participating in a weekly accountability call.

We are excited to report at the halfway point of this 12-week study the total weight loss of the 50 participants is nearly 1,000 pounds—half a ton! That’s a lot of extra weight no longer being carried around! The really exciting news is they are full of energy, have no muscle aches, no longer experience carbohydrate cravings, and feel better than they have ever felt. They are even having a hard time consuming the required daily calories because they feel full and have no hunger. Everyone is losing weight and abdominal inches without even feeling like they’re on a diet. When asked if they would stop the protein shakes, their response is they “could not live without it.” When they look over their previous dieting experiences and food intake, they realize why they were gaining and not losing weight. By recording and reporting their total daily calorie intake, they’ve had great success in controlling their calorie intake and remaining compliant with the weightloss protocol. The shakes provide the necessary proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamin and minerals, which give the participants two nutrient-rich meals and helps them avoid the consumption of empty calories. To date, not a single participant has dropped out of the study, which is unheard of in clinical studies. The participants are ecstatic with the success they are experiencing.

This is a very simple system that can be utilized by anyone. Results in the past six weeks have supported the principles of this system:

1.    Use of a protein shake with cocoa and complex carbohydrates reduces the normal pain in the body usually experienced after vigorous exercise.

2.    Increased levels of omega 3 assist in weight loss.

3.    Whey protein isolate is very effective in weight loss.

4.    Reporting to an interactive web page or participating in a weekly call increases compliance.

5.    Socially interactive programs maximize weight loss.
We feel this is truly the first weight loss system that leads to maximal success!

We know you may not reach the “perfect” BMI, but we know you will feel better than before and maximize your health. We have had reports of increased hair growth, smoother skin, decreased depression, and unbounded energy! Prior to the study, some participants were consuming over 2,500 calories per day. Now, several report having a hard time consuming the required 1,200 or 1,500 calories per day that are needed in order to lose, as any less may result in weight gain. When have you ever been told to eat in order to lose weight? Several participants report they are now able to walk with their spouses, and other people are noticing and acknowledging their weight loss. The satisfaction of others seeing your body transform is priceless! The key to this system is the high antioxidant power of chocolate combined with other antioxidant fruits. Over 50,000 total ORACfn and 1,200 mg of flavonoids are provided per shake. The synergistic power of whey protein isolate, fiber, minimal sugars, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals with the high-antioxidant mix is amazing!

Chocolate is a miracle food and its benefits are numerous.

The X-ProteinMeal™ Replacement Shake, the newest product to join the Xoçai™ Healthy Chocolate Family will be available for pre-order on August 2, 2010 at 12:01a.m. E.S.T. Shipping to North America will begin August 16, 2010. We are confident by following this wellness system you will be successful and able to achieve your weight-loss goals. It is up to you to start the program and become the person you have always wanted to be. We wish you the best in your wellness efforts and know this system will help you.

With great success to you,

Mike Kennedy, M.D. Steven Warren MD DPA*
Your partners in obtaining and maximizing your wellness dreams.” [end]

The authors throw in a few legitimate looking data points (that add nothing to the analysis but are at least official looking numbers) to offset the fact that they have extrapolated (also magically, it seems) all their proof from study participant self-report–or so we must assume since no actual data is presented.  Outside of cringing in shame that my two actually very bright sisters accept this as ‘evidence,’ I think it highlights a major reason why we need the scientific community to be on guard against a wholesale corporate takeover of science.  My sisters swear they are experiencing the powerful effects of magic chocolate, but seem unaware than anyone on a 12-1500 calorie diet would be losing weight, regardless of chocolate intake and they are totally unfamiliar with the powerful placebo effect that muddies up even rigorously designed studies from time to time.

Granted, PepsiCo(R) is not an MLM outfit, but it is naive in the extreme to think that a profit motive (or even just a ‘keeping my job’ motive) will have no impact on the sort of data that is collected, presented and interpreted even by the most sincere corporate scientists.  Speaking as someone who witnesses the devastating effects of clever, scientific-sounding sales pitches on an unwitting patient population desperate to believe in magic cures, we need the scientific community to be more vigilant and protective of their turf–not less.

*MXI is one of several  MLM supplement marketing schemes run by Jeanette Brooks whose failed companies have been cited by the FDA for false advertising in the past. Go figure.

**Dr. Warren apparently had his license put on probation in Utah for one year due to sloppy record keeping.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was not able to independently verify this, however.  It came from trusted site scam tracking sites (Quatloos [requires registration] and the UK Business Opportunity Watch site) , but in order to verify it with the Utah State Board of Professional Licensing  I would have had to pay for a report, which I’m not really interested enough to do.  I already know he’s a lousy scientist based on his ‘clinical results’ email.  ‘Nuff said.


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