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Sayonara… Fitbit. It’s Not Me. It’s You.

It was in early 2016 when, on account of my birthday, I got a Fitbit device. The model was Charge HR, which promised to track my steps, distance walked, floors climbed and so forth, as well as continuously track my heart rate throughout the day and make a note of my sleep pattern (a function I wanted because of my sleep apnea). It would also sync with my iPhone via the Fitbit app, and a neat bonus was vibrating call notifications on the device, even when my iPhone was on silent. It had a clock face option showing date and time, which meant I didn’t have to wear a watch any more.

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Making pseudoscience of homeopathy immune from criticism does not serve public weal

A physician friend alerted me the other day about a strange new official proclamation from the Government of India (GoI). With a long history of uncritical friendliness (as well as State-sponsorship) towards various alternative medicine modalities, GoI —specifically, the ministry in charge of altmed, the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha & Homeopathy) in this case— announced that a “high level committee” has been set up to “deal with issues” related to “false propaganda against homeopathy”.

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Evolution of Sodium Benzoate Chemophobia Promoted by Panera Bread, from ‘complex structure’ to ‘present in fireworks’

Oh the humanity of it all! Back in November I had written about the decidedly weird chemophobia around Sodium Benzoate being promoted by Panera Bread, one of my favorite bakery and soup-salad places in the US. As I wrote, my wife and I love to eat there, but its anti-science, pro-pseudoscience stance on this issue was profoundly disappointing. Well, three-quarters of a year later, it turns out they are still assiduously at it.

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Worrisome Trends in Anti-Science Push Targeting School Children in the US

This morning I came across an unsettling BuzzFeed report by Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28 on Twitter) on how climate change denialism is being peddled to school teachers in the US.  Reports Zahra:

Teachers nationwide are being targeted in a campaign to spread bogus information about climate change…

Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March. The mailings were sent to more than 300,000 teachers, according to the group behind the campaign, the Heartland Institute.

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Asparagus, Odorants and SNPees; with a hat tip to SciAm’s Steve Mirsky

This morning I chanced upon, via that inexhaustible font of newsly tidbits otherwise known as Twitter, this fresh Scientific American essay by veteran science writer Steve Mirsky expounding upon a commonplace phenomenon that has been a lasting mystery as well as, interestingly, a source of conversation around science —the strong smell in urine following the consumption of Asparagus, that well-loved, delectable vegetable of Le Printemps known to mankind since 3000 BCE.

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Attrition through Intimidation, the New Immigration Policy Faced by Immigrant Professionals

This is not a space where I usually indulge in writing about politics per se, except whatever happens to impinge upon science policy, research funding and so forth. Scientists have long been accused of inhabiting a rarefied ivory tower, detached from any engagement with the general populace, but the portents are that the current political climate in the United States makes it imperative for science professionals to hang up their lab-coats and get more involved with the grand American political process in order to bring their educated, informed and expert perspectives to evidence-based, logically-consistent policy-making. Indeed, within the past couple of weeks, I can recall at least two instances of scientists feeling impelled to attempt joining the fray for this nation’s governance— NASA scientist Tracy Van Houten,  and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen —a most encouraging sign.

For me, however, the view of politics is a lot more fundamental than merely engaging in policy making. Political engagement is not ordinarily something I would have time to consider during my regular working hours as a research scientist. But as an immigrant to this land and person-of-color, I do believe that in certain situations, as the one we have reached in this nation, the whole existence of mine and people like me became inevitably political, a state in which remaining neutral for the sake of some esoteric neutrality is not possible without being a hypocrite. I simply no longer have the luxury of remaining blissfully unaware of the rapidly-changing circumstances around me, whose impact on the lives and livelihoods of my family, my friends and me is potentially grave. The most recent example of this blipped onto my radar a couple of hours ago, in form of a report in the Gothamist on the extreme immigration enforcement guidelines released today by the Department of Homeland Security, yes, the same department that is the supreme arbiter of my life and status as an immigrant/Permanent Resident in the United States.

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Ethical Qualifications for Forgiveness in Judaic Law: Thoughts from a Rabbi, with Mine

On the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (referred to in Israel as “Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah” or “Yom HaShoah” in short) —today, January 27— Yerachmiel Gorelik, a Rabbi and Philosopher of Traditional Judaism at the Colorado State University, has written a most thought-provoking essay on the complexities of the human action of forgiveness, usually considered to be an indicator of compassion and strong moral values, with a twist

Friday, Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – an annual day that honors the memories of the victims of the Nazi era. Seven decades after Hitler perpetrated his terrible genocide on the Jewish people, the world is faced with a disturbing question: Can the Nazis be forgiven?

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Arnica Extract Changes Gene Expression in Extracellular Matrix? Probably. Does Homeopathic Arnica? Haha, No!

ResearchBlogging.org

A paper published last month in PLOS One by a group of investigators from the University of Verona in Italy states that Arnica montana Stimulates Extracellular Matrix Gene Expression in a Macrophage Cell Line Differentiated to Wound-Healing Phenotype. Given my abiding interest in pharmacognosy and ethnobotany, I was suitably intrigued because the extract derived from Arnica montana, a European flowering plant of the sunflower family, is likely to be biologically active due to the presence of certain sesquiterpene lactones (same class of substances as present in the plant-derived anti-malarial Artemisinin), the plant metabolite flavonoids (substances with some in vitro anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity), and derivatives of thymol (phenolic substance with antimicrobial action). Like many bioactive phytopharmaceutical substances, Helenalins, the sesquiterpene lactones and their fatty acyl esters in Arnica montana, are toxic in high concentrations, but have anti-inflammatory properties via its inhibition of the transcription factor NFkB.

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I Love Panera Bread, But Yikes! Must They Peddle This Daft Chemophobia?

I love the café/bakery eatery chain Panera Bread. Ever since I was introduced to them in 2003, my wife and I have frequented this establishment in many different cities of the US, finding with delight that our trust in their food quality and quantity has not been misplaced. We love their menu items, soups and sandwiches – even some of their seasonal salad offerings (and that’s saying something, because neither of us is a very salad-y person). My wife is particularly keen on their Chai Tea Latté. Their bakery is excellent, not to mention the delicious breads they make, which can be bought separately. So imagine my consternation, when on a recent visit, I discovered that they appear to be peddling some weapons-grade bullshit about chemicals and additives in food.

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Random Musings on ‘Personal Genomics’, Inspired

A quick post today, inspired by a fabulous essay by the redoubtable science communicator duo, Tara Haelle and Dr. Emily Willingham, on the possibilities and pitfalls of genetic testing and personal genomics in the Undark Magazine. It spawned a few, relatively random musings on this topic, admittedly a topic I have not hithertofore explored much. I wrote my thoughts as a comment after the magazine essay, but I don’t know if or when it would appear. So here they are, as a blog post.

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