Drug Industry 1, Country 0: Big Pharma Can Now Hawk Unapproved Drugs

By Melissa Lafsky | January 14, 2009 7:14 pm

From the wires: The FDA has just completed a fresh set of guidelines that will permit pharmaceutical companies to tell doctors about unapproved uses of their medicines—in effect, giving big pharma carte blanche to hawk unapproved drugs.

Specifically, the new regulations allow drug companies to “distribute copies of medical journal articles that describe unapproved uses” of their drugs to all the doctors they want.

Technically this reg isn’t new; it was in place until 2006, then lapsed until industry lobbyists made sure it was proposed again last year, despite heavy criticism from Democrats and drug industry critics. And now, conveniently one week before the Bush administration draws its final, sputtering breath, the rule has made its way back into the final FDA guidelines.

Big pharma spokespeople pooh pooh the reg as nothing more than a formality: “Physicians need timely access to the latest medical information to keep abreast of the best practices in patient care,” said Alan Bennett, an attorney representing the pharmaceutical industry.

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MORE ABOUT: drugs, FDA, medicine

Illegal Immigrants, Beware: Satellites May Be Tracking You

By Melissa Lafsky | January 13, 2009 7:30 pm

As if people-sniffing robots weren’t enough: A satellite system called the “Sea Horse,” which was built to monitor migrant vessels from the coast of North Africa, will be used to track the movements of illegal immigrants making their way from Africa to Europe, particularly the shores of Spain and Portugal.

Funded by the E.U. and developed in Spain, the Sea Horse will, according to Russia Today:

enable police forces in the partaking countries to distinguish any illegal activities, namely illegal immigration and drug trafficking, by a single high-speed communications and data network. A coordination centre has been set up in Gran Canaria’s capital Las Palmas where officials receive information about immigration flows and suspicious ships sent from the individual surveillance stations established in coastline cities such as Praia in Cape Verde and Dakar in Senegal.  Police will then be able to plot charts and prepare the interception of illegal vessels.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Goes to Washington
MORE ABOUT: technology

Will Obesity Regulation Turn the U.S. Into a Police State?

By Melissa Lafsky | January 13, 2009 4:44 pm

With the economy tanking, it’s been easy to forget about that other little disaster lurking in America’s wings: the obesity epidemic. But it’s still raging on, popping up in places like Army recruitment offices and pediatric clinics at breakneck speed. Rather than let the problem run free and pray that it takes care of itself (a philosophy that worked oh so well for the economy) state and federal governments have been trying out various regulations aimed at curbing the rampant weight gain that’s sweeping the nation.

But is legislating how, where, and how much people eat a massive crimp in our civil liberties? Paul Hsieh at ABC News thinks so, and is tossing fire and brimstone at any and all food regulation lest it turn the U.S. into a fascist freedom-stomping regime:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Goes to Washington
MORE ABOUT: epidemic, obesity

One Religion that's Actually Embracing Science: Buddhism

By Melissa Lafsky | January 12, 2009 1:43 pm

Major sectors of Christianity and Islam have made it clear that they’re not going to be best friends with science anytime soon. But at least one of the major religions is extending an olive branch.  New Scientist reports that:

More than 30 Tibetan monks, plus a handful of nuns, will be collaborating with a team from San Francisco’s Exploratorium (“the museum of art, science and human perception”) to build exotic machines to create patterns from sunlight using cardboard, dowels, reflective sheets of mylar and electronic components.

If all goes to plan, the monks will return to their monasteries and start spreading the joys of scientific exploration among other followers of their religion.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science & Religion

Ok, We Admit It: Bush Hits Ocean Conservation Out of the Park

By Melissa Lafsky | January 9, 2009 6:57 pm

We’ve covered (and covered, and covered) the teeming mass of nature-killing vileness that has been Bush’s environmental policy. But we’re more than happy to join the props-giving bandwagon when the outgoing president does something right. And this week, he really nailed it, announcing the establishment of three national monuments in the Pacific Ocean and thereby protecting a massive chunk of marine life from mining, oil exploration, and commercial fishing. Environmental activist George Grattan summed up the enormity of this move as follows:

At a time when the world’s oceans face the very real prospect of an apocalyptic collapse, this development is an unalloyed good for worldwide efforts to bring us back from the brink. The scientific research which will be able to take place in these protected ecosystems may produce the data and solutions we need to keep burgeoning world populations in a more sustainable balance with the oceans’ roles in climate, food supply, and biodiversity. And, as Roosevelt knew and Bush seems to have remembered, there’s an intrinsic value to protecting vast areas of wilderness even if most people never encounter them.

So, kudos, President Bush, truly.

Of course, there’s more to say:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Goes to Washington

Weekly News Roundup: Here's Your Proof of Evolution

By Melissa Lafsky | January 9, 2009 1:19 pm

• Happy Friday! Half the world’s population could face a global-warming-induced food crisis by 2100, according to a new study.

• And then there’s the floods

• Need proof that evolution’s more than just a “theory”? Look no further.

• The fruit flies are back! And this time, it’s not just Palin dissing them.

• “Dear Obama: Please bring me cap and trade legislation this year.” A wish list from environmentalists.

• The U.S. isn’t the only tech sector getting slammed by the downturn.

• And now for a lesson in brutal honesty: How much does racism really bother you?

New Chief Technology Officer Points to a Tech-Friendly White House

By Melissa Lafsky | January 8, 2009 6:48 pm

The tech world is literally (and virtually) beside itself over Obama’s announcement that he plans to appoint the first ever chief technology officer to oversee the full-fledged technologization (not actually a word, but it should be) of his administration. Today, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and entrepreneur Andrea Weckerle took to CNN to extol the president-elect’s decision and offer their advice for the fledgling CTO. Among their more interesting suggestions:

Ruthlessly modernize: Examine the technology used within the federal system and determine what is outdated, redundant and inadequate, then keep what works and expel what doesn’t. Examine procurement polices and demand they are in line with best practices. The results of this endeavor alone will save the federal government massive amounts of money…

Create openness of information: This will serve two important functions, namely allowing people to see what the government is doing, thus fostering accountability born of transparency, and also providing access to data that will inevitably inspire and support innovation and collaboration within the private sector. In this realm, the old adage from the free software movement of “release early, release often” is quite helpful…

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The Science of Detecting Torture

By Melissa Lafsky | January 8, 2009 3:30 pm

The torture debate in the U.S. has highlighted a key paradox in American ideology: We value human rights, but we also fear outside threats, enough that we’re willing to put the rights issue aside when we want to wring truth out of a suspected Al Qaeda operative.

But what about the medical side of torture? Search magazine has a fascinating article on how doctors are specializing in torture detection, and researching how torture affects the body and mind. Specifically, writer Jina Moore profiles Rajeev Bais and Lars Beattie, two doctors at the Libertas Human Rights Clinic in Queens who provide medical affidavits for U.S. asylum-seekers who claim they were tortured in their home countries.

These affidavits hold a ton of weight with judges, and play a key role in determining whether or not asylum is granted. The reason is that Bai and Beattie can tell with relative certainty if an applicant is telling the truth about being tortured, first by interviewing and observing him, and then doing a physical exam to look for corroborating evidence—in effect, using the patient’s body to check out his story.

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MORE ABOUT: torture, war

The Anti-Vax Apocalypse Will Be Televised: Measles Spike in Europe

By Melissa Lafsky | January 7, 2009 5:35 pm

How many times do we have to say it? At least once more, apparently: The anti-vaxer movement is wrong, it’s dangerous, and it’s having major effects on public health. Like this one: More than 12,000 cases of measles, around four-fifths of which were in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated children, surfaced in Europe in the two-year period from 2006 through 2007, with an additional 6,000 infections reported in the first three quarters of 2008.

These results come from a study published in the upcoming issue of The Lancet, and were written up by Mark Muscat of Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut. The study includes data from 32 countries, though 85 percent of the cases were in Romania, Germany, the U.K., Switzerland, and Italy—all of which have vaccination rates below 90 percent, well below the World Health Organization’s 95 percent recommendation.

So here it is, a highly-contagious and also highly-preventable disease making its way into children because their parents saw some study or read some pamphlet filled with inaccurate and scientifically disproved information.

To make matters worse, there’s also the class problem that anti-vaxers are causing:

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MORE ABOUT: autism, children, vaccines

Bad Idea of the Day: Creating "Virtual Parents" for Kids of U.S. Troops

By Melissa Lafsky | January 7, 2009 12:24 pm

baby at computerThe Department of Defense has apparently grown a conscience. After nearly six years of deploying troops to Iraq, many of them parents, the DOD is acknowledging that kids are spending years without a mother or father around. And, given that mental health issues are already taking a severe toll on Iraq vets, putting stress on marriages and disrupting lives, it’s only logical that children are getting caught in the crossfire, so to speak.

So, rather than oh, say, ban repeated deployments or lift stop-loss orders, the government has decided to nip the absent-parent problem in the bud by creating… computerized parents. According to a proposal solicitation (via InformationWeek) on the Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Web site, the DOD is looking for a “highly interactive PC- or Web-based application to allow family members to verbally interact with ‘virtual’ renditions of deployed Service Members.”(Insert “Hello, DAD”—”Hello, Little Dave” joke here.)

The proposal outlines the idea as follows:

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MORE ABOUT: Iraq, military
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