Archive for June, 2008

Why Won’t Uncle Sam Let You Run a Car on Pure Booze?

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 10:10 am

carsClimate activists and consumers alike have been buzzing about an entrepreneur who has created a system for producing ethanol in your own backyard. But questions remain as to whether the device, or others like it, can ever be commercially successful. Part of the problem, Times writer Michael Fitzgerald points out, is that it’s illegal in the United States to operate a car on 100 percent ethanol.

Given that the government has gone to so much trouble to make sure ethanol is produced en masse, it seems odd that it would keep a law on the books that outlaws using a pure version of it as fuel. Flexible-fuel cars in the U.S. run on an 85 percent ethanol/15 percent gas ratio. In fact, it’s illegal to purchase 100 percent ethanol without a government-issued license.

Meanwhile, running cars on 100 percent ethanol is not only possible, it’s done frequently. The Indy 500 has begun running all its cars on pure ethanol, while nearly half the cars in Brazil do the same.

So why the balk on pure ethanol in the U.S.? The answer lies in the cars.

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The Mommy Wars and Science Collide (Again)

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 8:05 am

mommy warsOver at Wired, Nature Network blogger and Harvard Ph.D. Anna Kushnir has questioned the disparity between the number of women in science graduate programs (more specifically, the number of women in her graduate program) and the women in senior teaching and research positions. Women equal or outnumber men in the former, she observes, and are dwarfed in the latter. As such, she says, somewhere along the line (usually around the time of childbirth) female scientists are dwindling, and she concludes that forces such as motherhood, societal discouragement from an academic career, or lack of self-confidence are “applying this pressure to force women out of a career in science.”

Kushnir’s point is neither incorrect nor new, for scientists or the rest of the working world.

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Should Climate Activists Be Celebrating High Oil Prices?

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 6:17 am

climateOil hit a walloping $135 a barrel. Sales of SUVs and other gas-guzzlers are plummeting. The number of miles driven by Americans is showing its largest decrease ever recorded, with 11 billion fewer miles driven in March 2008 than in March 2007. Public transportation use is the highest its been in half a century, and gas consumption in the start of 2008 is estimated to be down 0.6 percent from the same months in 2007. All of which should be great news for global warming activists, right?

Not so, says The Wall Street Journal‘s Holman W. Jenkins, who argues that the current high prices will push investors and technology to find ways of producing “vast new resources” of fossil energy in order to capitalize on the public’s willingness to shell out more money. This push, he argues, will only increase the amount of fuel consumed and crank the knob up on emissions—a situation he calls “the worst nightmare of the climate worrywarts.”

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Drug Company Pocket-Padding: The Latest Chapter

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 5:28 am

drugsThe New York Times recently broke the news that three prominent Harvard psychiatrists, Joseph Biederman, Timothy Wilens, and Thomas Spencer, received a million or more dollars from antidepressant manufacturers. Biederman and Wilens each earned at least $1.6 million in “consulting fees” from 2000 to 2007, while Spencer earned at least $1 million in the same time period. None of them ever reported the income to the university, and thus all three may have violated federal law.

The story, with its big names, their controversial findings, and the massive payments involved, presents a pretty clear case of conflict of interest. Biederman in particular has stirred up the pot—his research on child bipolar disorder led to the dramatic rise of children using antipsychotic medications, a practice which has drawn criticism from the medical community.

But when it comes to doctors taking cash from drug makers, these docs are hardly the only ones worthy of a takedown.

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Are Conservationists Favoring Cuddly Animals?

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 4:43 am

polar bearPolar bears have nabbed headlines recently, becoming the first creature to make the endangered species list specifically because of global warming. But as environmental decline tightens the screws on more and more animals, are all species receiving equal aid? Hardly, says Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley, who writes that “[g]etting people to care about the 238 species of spiders, clams, moths, snails, isopods and other invertebrates on the list of endangered species is about as likely as a magazine putting a photo of a dung beetle rather than a polar bear on its cover.”

On the contrary, Begley writes, it’s the “soulful-eyed, warm and fuzzy animals”—gorillas and tigers and (panda) bears, oh my!—that get the press time, and thus the attention and resources from both conservation agencies and the government. But more often than not, those small, less-darling creatures in danger of extinction have a greater impact on the ecosystems they inhabit.

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McCain v. the GOP, Part Umpteen: Global Warming

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 4:35 am

Global warmingJohn McCain has been praised by pundits for pledging to combat global warming—a stark contrast to the cornucopia of indifference, obfuscation, and disbelief that’s fed the Bush years. But according to recent polls, his party members may not be so convinced that we’re indeed careening straight into a global crisis.

A recent Gallup poll found that the number of Republicans who believe that news of global warming is “generally exaggerated” has jumped from 34 percent in 1997 to 59 in 2008. The number of Democratic skeptics, meanwhile, have fallen from 23 percent in 1997 to 18 percent this year.

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Genetic Discrimination (Finally) Outlawed

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 3:09 am

Since the mapping of the human genome, technology has advanced to radical new levels, allowing doctors and researchers to test for genetic predisposition towards anything from respiratory ailments to cancer.

But with the technology advances, concerns arose—rightfully—about the opportunity for “genetic discrimination,” in which insurance companies and/or employers could deny an employee medical coverage, or even turn him down for a job, because his genes show an increased likelihood that he’ll get sick in the future.

Now, the federal government has gotten into the act.

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Man Denied Lifesaving Transplant Due to Marijuana Use

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 2:15 am

medical marijuanaA Seattle man in desperate need of a liver transplant has been denied a new organ by the transplant committee at his treating hospital, the University of Washington Medical Center. The reason for the committee’s decision—which is decidedly harsh, given that his condition is severe—is that the patient, 56-year-old Timothy Garon, used marijuana.

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Get Thee to Medical School!

By Melissa Lafsky | June 19, 2008 1:29 am

medical studentsFirst came the report from the Institute of Medicine that the U.S. is facing a massive healthcare shortage as the nation’s 78 million baby boomers enter their golden years. Projections estimate a shortfall of anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 doctors relative to demand by 2020, and within three years our senior citizens will be dealing with a healthcare workforce that’s “too small and woefully unprepared.”

Now, the Journal of the American Medical Association reports in the April issue of Archives of Surgery that the number of general surgeons per 100,000 Americans has fallen more than 25 percent in the past 25 years.

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Reality Check: Science in the Courtroom

By Melissa Lafsky | June 18, 2008 3:10 pm

courtroomForensic Science
DNA evidence, fingerprint analysis, toxicology, and other “hard evidence” sources have gotten so popular—and so advanced—that juries (and lawyers) are bending to the so-called “CSI Effect“—despite the longterm frequency of sample contamination and lab errors.

Not that we’re putting down forensic evidence—for all its faults, it has worked courtroom miracles across the globe.

After taking full advantage of the post-Patriot Act world, the FBI may finally be getting a legal—and Congressional—smackdown for its cavalier attitude towards people’s desire not to be spied on.

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