Monday, August 30, 2010

That is all.

Agent Orange: time to pay up

The headline on POLITICO this morning features a lengthy article covering the long awaited bill the government will have to pay to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

"It’s a world turned upside-down from decades ago when returning soldiers had to fight to get attention for deadly lymphomas linked to the herbicide. Now the frailties of men in their 60s — prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease — lead the list of qualified Agent Orange disabilities, and the result has been an explosion in claims — and the government’s liability.

The latest expansion, approved by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in October, adds ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s and will cost at least $42 billion over the next 10 years. The VA estimates 349,000 individuals are already receiving Agent Orange disability benefits and that number could soon reach 500,000 — or one out of every four surviving Vietnam veterans by the VA’s count."

Agent Orange is something we all learn about one point or another in toxicology research. Not only because a large number of people were exposed and but also because we can still observe the toxic legacy of Agent Orange today - whether it be development of cancers in exposed veterans or the nearly 500,000 Vietnamese born with birth defects. Since I work on environmental contaminants (which include a large variety of herbicides), we also focus on the manufacturing process. Because anytime you combust hydrocarbons at high temperatures in the presence of halogens (like chlorine) you are likely going to form some really nasty dioxins.

In the case of Agent Orange, a chlorinated herbicide, the manufacturing process lead to the contamination of one form of Agent Orange with 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). TCDD is especially important in our field because it is such a potent inducer of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), which triggers a cascade of reactions to metabolize and detoxify foreign chemicals. In fact, the toxicity of other organic contaminants are measured as ratio of their AhR induction compared to that of TCDD. In other words, the toxicity of TCDD is the measuring stick in which we compare the toxicity of other relevant chemicals to. This ratio is known as the toxic equivalent factor and can be a useful tool in environmental risk assessment.

But bringing this back to the veterans, there is still hesitation from both politicians and scientists to support the newly added diseases to the veteran compensations.
"The VA had contributed an important piece with a 2006 study analyzing the incidence of heart disease among Vietnam veterans who had served in the Army Chemical Corps. And Shinseki, who himself served in Vietnam, found that this built on well-established evidence that dioxins present in Agent Orange could damage blood vessels. “Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence,” he said.

Nonetheless, the leader of the IOM panel, Dr. Richard Fenske of the University of Washington, told POLITICO that he was “surprised by the speed” with which the VA decided to add the presumption for heart disease. And Weidman argued that the department repeatedly ignores what he sees as a central tenet of the 1991 law: that more should be invested in scientific studies of veterans themselves.

“The whole concept of the 1991 law was to leave it to science, not politics, but we haven’t invested in the science in the 20 years since,” he said. In a shot back at Webb, he added: “If you want more scientific data, fund the damn science.”

For all the debate over Agent Orange, what’s most surprising is how little or no effort has been made to track down specific infantry units that operated in the widely sprayed areas of Vietnam."

Kind of sad really. Though one thing the article ends with that I can agree with; this kind of retroactive tracing of exposure is slow and inaccurate and just further emphasizes the need for electronic medical records. Not only useful for civilians but for military personnel is could easily be used to track from the time of enlistment to retirement which individuals were exposed to what chemicals, the exposure level, and what health effects develop later in life.

As best said by German thrasher Tom Angelripper, "Agent Orange - the fire that doesn't burn!"

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Fish tank - Shark attack!

I'm a little late for Shark Week but anytime of the year is great for some shark trivia. And even better when its in infographic form! Plus, I always knew there was something wrong with the way that Megashark attacked...

Click for the full image.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

“Bow down fools! My name is Tyrone”

I have covered atrazine before (here and here) and highlighted some of the back story of the lead scientist leading the charge, Tyrone Hayes, against atrazine manufacturer, Syngenta. Now, Syngenta has filled an ethics complaint against Hayes for sending Syngenta employees “explicit and obscene” emails over a period of several years. Hayes regrets if he offended any friends with his language but remains unapologetic, saying his emails were in response to verbal threats and abuse by Syngenta.

Syngenta has compiled these emails into a 102 page document posted online. And they are worth a read. Come on, how awesome is it to have a scientist end an email with “word to your mother.” It’s pretty much 102 pages of Hayes jive talkin’ and smack talkin’ Syngenta.

Some highlights:

“my abstract for e.hormone below. ...

"strike like lightening

voice like thunder

i hear the fear when you call my name

oh so frightening

makes you wonder

if the second coming done already came




“you thought you hit a nerve

but i threw a curve

and sho' cold busted a vein//see the man in black just keeps coming back

while you flushin yo money down the drain

so go'head, bring "your boys"

cuz i'm bringing the noise

i told ya, you can't stop the rage

you been braggin but we'll see who's tea baggin

when TDawg hits the stage”

This isn’t the first time Hayes has been known to talk in rhyme, such as the Atrazine Rap:

Reading the taunting emails, I have to award Dr. Hayes a few internets for his grade A trolling. Pretty much, I just picture this:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Fish tank - American Eel

Get out of my killifish traps you stupid eel!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tracing Resistance: Your one stop resource for....Crocodile Poop?

A while ago I wrote a short post about a fascinating archeological discovery entitled "Shark-Bitten Crocodile Poop Fossils Found (No, Really)". Of all my posts, this one has generated the most hits from Google searches. These people searching crocodile poop are not discrete about their searches. In fact, they are quite open about the fact that they want info on Crocodilian poop. Terms have included "CROCODILE POOP" and "where crocodile goes poop" and the simple non-yelling "crocodile poop". I was totally unaware of the fact that there people out there in desperate need of crocodile poop information. The real shock came when I googled the term "crocodile poop". This is what google returned.

Thats right!!!! Our blog is the #5 resource on the internet for crocodile poop! This made me realize there there is an unfulfilled need for accurate and reliable crocodile poop reporting on the internet. I mean if our little blog is number 5 what does that say about humanity as a whole? How could such a fundamental issue be ignored by the entire internet. I think John and I have a new goal, TO BE THE NUMBER ONE WEB RESOURCE ON CROCODILE POOP! Let's face it, we are not good or unique enough to be #1 at anything else on the internet. I think have a really good shot at this one. I mean look at the number one link, we can do so much better. I ask all of our followers and readers to help us with our goal to be the # 1 internet site for crocodile poop!

PS. Even more perplexingly all of these hits have come in the past week or so, if anyone out there knows why there has been such a rush on the search term "crocodile poop" let me know. I want to cover it.

Kevin's Review of House of Numbers

After my involvement in a lengthy debate on the House of Numbers (HoN) Facebook page I wanted to watch the film for myself. But I was stuck in an unfortunate catch-22. I wanted to see the film but in no way wanted to contribute to funding of its message. Luckily, some others in the HIV dissident community made it possible for me to watch their copy. I am very thankful.

I have been trying to figure out how to write about the film. I saw it three weeks ago and right now I am wishing I had taken some notes. I think my overall impression of the film may actually be shocking, I did not think it was that bad. In fact I agree with a few points. I was really expecting a parade of pseudoscience, blatant denialism, questionably edited clips, and just plain misinformation. Although, the documentary is defiantly biased, I thought it was going to be A LOT worse. Maybe that’s why I do not think it was that bad. Either way, I am jealous of Brent Leung (pictured left) for talking science with some of the leading names in HIV. I wish I could have had the opportunity to meet with his interviewees. I would have put that time to better use too.

Overall, Mr. Leung puts his own stamp on HIV dinialism. While some argue that thevirus does not exist, the virus does not cause AIDS, or the virus is harmless and the drugs cause AIDS, the main message of HoN is that the testing and diagnoses are inherently unreliable and that poverty is the real issue at hand

I do not disagree with him on the last point. With poverty comes a lack of education, nourishment, medical care ect.. I agree with his point that we simply cannot combat HIV in Africa without addressing the issue of poverty; unfortunately right now both of these are “incurable.” Does more need to be done about poverty? YES! Poverty and infectious disease are inseparable they each contribute to the other. No one can deny that the number of people who are in desperate need dwarfs the number of people living with HIV. If you combine poverty related ailments such as starvation, malnutrition, deaths from preventable/treatable illnesses, water borne illness, and deaths due to lack of sanitation or medical care that number would again dwarf the 30-35 million estimated people living with HIV (UNAIDS 2007). Malaria alone caused 190 - 311 million clinical episodes in 2008 (WHO). In the USA these problems sound foreign but for millions, if not a billion people, they are a daily reality.

To this extent I accept the poverty argument. However, Mr. Leung conveniently ignores poverty’s influence of the very thing he attacks- HIV testing and diagnosis. A significant portion of the film is dedicated to testing/diagnosis and how it is part of some big consperiency. From Leung’s experience at a free HIV testing kiosk in South Africa, to reviewing diagnosis criteria for remote African locations, to interviews with some individuals who may have had a false positive (emphasis on may), Leung tries to imply that the testing/diagnoses are fundamentally flawed and biased by some unknown hand.

The most glaring example of the omission of poverty as a factor for the “correct” HIV/AIDS diagnosis came from the criteria used by remote African doctors. Numerous times throughout the film the stringency of these criteria are compared to those in developed nations, however, WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT DEVELOPED NATIONS. When doctors lack basic supplies like gloves, clean instruments, antiseptic, antibiotics and a dying patient comes in, confirming a 100% positive HIV/AIDS diagnosis is not as important as easing the pain or saving/extending the life. I am sure mistakes are made, but what would doctors rather do, spend what little money they have on sophisticated tests to confirm an HIV diagnosis or use their meager funds to buy supplies to save many more lives? Seriously, what good does a highly accurate test do for a person dying of AIDS? Sure, you can accurately tell them exactly what they are dying from, but you can also tell them that they are shit out of luck when it comes to morphine to dull the pain from the many systematic infections ravaging their bodies. POVERTY COMPOUNDS EVERYTHING, IT IS THE THEME OF THE ENTRIE MOVIE! WHY IS THIS CONVENIENTLY LEFT OUT?

Another large segment of the movie was dedicated to Mr. Leung taking an HIV test at a free testing kiosk in South Africa. In 2007, UNAIDS estimated that around 11% of the total population was HIV positive. With an instance of infection that high, getting people to know their status is VERY important. What Leung fails to tell the audience is that there are nearly 50 million people in South Africa. Testing a significant portion of the population (possibly testing people more that once) is a massive undertaking. It would be a massive undertaking in the USA, just look at the great lengths the government had to go through to get people to fill out a 10-question census. Now think about getting people to consent to a blood test that could give you some very bad news. South Africa is not a particularly wealthy nation. They need a very cheap, easy to administer (anyone can be trained to do it), and easy to analyze (no expensive or sensitive reagents or equipment). It is possible that a test that meets these criteria sacrifices some small amount of precision. Leung attacks the fact that they confirm a positive result from a marginally less accurate test with a more accurate (probably more expensive) one. However, isn’t this good medicine? They are making sure they do not accidently give someone the wrong diagnosis. Wouldn’t anyone want to be tested again?

The idea of confirming a life-altering diagnosis with multiple tests is a controversial idea in this film. This is a luxury that people have in highly developed nations. There are many ways to test for HIV, antibody, antigen, viral load, and each has positive and negative qualities. Importantly, each test tests for a different marker; immune response, viral protein, and viral genome respectively. Different tests have different levels of accuracy, which are stated in the testing material. No test would be approved by the FDA unless it was pretty damned accurate. Since a positive test is a HUGE deal, tests manufactures commonly suggest that you take another test to confirm the diagnosis. Isn’t it only natural to ask for a second opinion when confronted with some other life changing diagnosis, why not HIV?

Overall Mr. Leung makes some valid points. If the movie argued that we needed to combat multiple ailments instead of focusing on one virus, I would support it. If the movie talked about trying to combat poverty through education and development programs, I would support it. However, these are not the messages of the film. This documentary is simply another attempt at advancing an HIV denialist agenda. I CANNOT SUPPORT THAT. If they were being open minded why would they intentionally omit so many facts? HIV deniers live in a House of Glass and they should not throw stones.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Fish tank - Jack Dempsey Cichlid

My latest additions, a pair of Jacks! Expect more pictures, my camera battery decided to die after taking just this one.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

AGW - a theory not in crisis

To all the climate change denialists - eat it.

The 2009 State of the Climate report released today draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable. More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.

Where will the goal posts be shifted to next? Humans aren't the cause, we're coming out of an ice age, or some other distorted amalgamation of pseudoscientific jargon. Whatever your flavour of denialism, the scientific consensus remains remains the same. And until a substantial body of evidence is produced to overturn it, the theory of AGW holds true.