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All Good Things Must Come To An End

I am immensely, indescribably sad to learn this morning via an emailed missive from Spektrum der Wissenschaft (the German publishers behind our SciLogs.com platform) that they are going to shutter this platform down in September, the ostensible reason being that they “weren’t able to find investors for this platform” – the bane of any private endeavor. Some of you, my fellow Scilogs bloggers, may have known this already, but I certainly didn’t. More fool me.

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Uncovered Cough And Sneeze Help Spread Nasty Disease

Achoo!

Feel like a sneeze or cough coming on? Cover it in a cloth or tissue paper, or even your sleeves, and wash your hands, admonishes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and for good reasons, too! Microbial pathogenic agents of a variety of respiratory illnesses, both viral [ranging from the common cold (rhinovirus); influenza (orthomyxovirus); parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and human metapneumovirus (all paramyxoviruses); severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-Coronavirus)] as well as bacterial [such as those responsible for pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae), whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), and tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)] are often transmitted by cough, sneeze, and/or unclean hands/palms carrying these germs on their surfaces.

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Is It Responsible For Journalists To Promote Unscientific Superstitious Nonsense?

It all started with a silly article that had landed in my inbox on Friday morning via the platform called ‘Medium’. The lede of the article in the Pacific Standard magazine by Elena Gooray asked: How do you beat a curse? It caught my eye even in the middle of an eye-roll. I wish it hadn’t. Because inevitably I caught the sub-lede: A practiced Santa Barbara psychic weighs in on Lil B’s so far effective curse against basketball superstar Kevin Durant. And my hackles were raised.

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Keep Calm and Know Your Fever (Before You Reach for That Medicine)

Growing up in the Eastern part of India, I was subject to a most peculiar cultural phenomenon known as “ThanDa lege jaabe” (ঠাণ্ডা লেগে যাবে in the vernacular, translated as: You’ll catch a cold). This odd concept, most beloved of the mothers in that region and handed down generations after generations, would teach them that any vagary of the sub-tropical weather — sun, rain, autumnal zephyrs, wet and foggy riparian winters, and everything in between — was liable to cause acute upper respiratory tract infections (uRTIs), characterized by runny nose, cough and sneeze, perhaps even progressing to pharyngitis, laryngitis or tracheobronchitis. And the most feared symptom was elevated body temperature, or fever.

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Of Serious Concern: Drug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii in Treated Wastewater

Currently one of the most common disease-causing bacterium in the world, Acinetobacter baumannii, for sure, is a nasty bug — an emerging nosocomial (hospital-associated) pathogen, being increasingly observed in serious conditions requiring intensive care (including ventilator-associated pneumonia, sepsis, meningitis, wound infection and urinary tract infection). Unfortunately for patients, particularly immune-suppressed ones, this bug is now known to be extensively drug resistant (XDR; resistant to most antibiotics including carbapenems, with the exception of two drugs of last resort, colistin and tigecycline), with a smaller proportion resistant to even these two (known as pan-drug resistant, PDR, which are therefore virtually untreatable with the current crop of FDA-approved medications).

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PLOS ONE Meta-analysis on Acupuncture in Pain Management Spins Out Undue Recommendations

Science communicators are no strangers to spin in the reporting of scientific studies, especially in Press Releases. This is a favorite tactic of aficionados and researchers alike in the so-called ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ (CAM), which includes acupuncture — a pre-scientific therapeutic modality originating in ancient China with roots in medical astrology and ignorance of human anatomy and physiology. I have earlier written several times on an issue that I continue to find rather perplexing: when it comes to publishing studies on CAM research, the usually-high publication standards of the premier open access journal PLOS ONE appear to be ignored, in the context of both primary research and systemic, quantitative and analytical reviews.

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Failure as a Necessary Step in Drug Development (Tip of My Hat to David Kroll)

The Forbes magazine has an impressive line-up of columnists; I follow many of those who write on the sciences and healthcare-related topics. One of them is Dr. David Kroll, a pharmacologist by profession and passionate, long-time science communicator. His column yesterday had especial interest for me; in it, David took the example of Dr. Derek Lowe—a pharmaceutical industry scientist who’s also a prolific and erudite blogger—who was apparently his inspiration for starting his own blog, and mentioned an intriguing thing Dr. Lowe had said during a Question and Answer session with Karen Weintraub for STAT News (quoting from David’s column including original links, below):

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Communicating Science via Images: Power and Responsibility

There is no denying the fact that visual representations —photos, graphics, and video— play a significant role in telling a story and conveying a concept. Even if the adage from early twentieth century, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, may have lost its charm a bit in this age of easy digital image/video manipulation, it’s not difficult to imagine why images and illustrations would have a tremendous impact in the communication of complex content, such as science communication. As James Balm (@JustBalmy), blogger and Social Media Assistant for BioMed Central, explained in an informative 2014 post:

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Bovine Blackguards, A Profound Potboiler

Having been born and growing up in India, the land of the sacred cow, I am no stranger to this domesticated, quadrupedal ungulate of the subfamily Bovinae, genus Bos. It’s difficult not to have respect for an animal whose scientific name already proclaims it to be the boss, and I am culturally well-conditioned (‘well-done’, one might say) to accord an immediate reverence to this multi-faceted (not to mention, delectable) animal. After all, Gau-mata, or Cow the Mother, is an enduring socio-religious meme in India, stemming from simpler, more agrarian times — possibly a testament to the species’ intimate association with human history ever since it was domesticated about 10,500 years ago (archaeological and genetic evidence suggests that cows in Southeast Asia, Bos indicus, a different lineage from cows in Europe, were domesticated about 7000 years ago in the Harappan civilization).

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Nanoparticles in Homeopathic Dilutions? More Like, Wishful Thinking. Or Magic Pixie Dust.

Those who read my regular posts (Yes, that rare breed of people…) are amply aware that I am no fan of pseudoscience and quackery, as well as the relentless invasion of quackery into academia, leading invariably to scientifically implausible, nonsensical “research”, for which Dr. Harriet Hall had aptly coined the term “Tooth Fairy Science” several years ago over at Science Based Medicine.

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