Thursday, June 30, 2005

Gimme, gimme never gets

Just home from a week in paradise, at the Hollyhock Retreat Centre. My life is truly blessed. I worked and hung out with 30 environmental activists who are working in a variety of ways to protect and restore wildlife and nature in the west – from San Francisco to Alaska, from Vancouver Island to Winnipeg (with one pleasure activist from New York City thrown in there to help mix things up a little).

With all the giving of themselves that these activists are doing on behalf of all of us who don’t have the time or inclination to fight the battles that need to be fought on behalf of all the species and ecosystems that are under threat, I am compelled to both give today and to ask those of you reading today to help me out in a small way.

A friend of mine recently co-wrote a book with a best-selling author. This book is called The Power of Giving: Creating abundance in your home, at work and in your community.

The book's goal is to start a movement to dramatically increase giving in our communities. And that's why the authors are donating 100% of the profits from sales of The Power of Giving to the registered charity, Tides Canada Foundation.

The Power of Giving explores all the ways we can give: time, money, kindness, forgiveness, and much more. Best of all, you'll create more abundance in your personal life, your home and your work when you follow the simple yet powerful messages in this book.

That’s the sales pitch. And here’s a lesson in marketing and why the appeal is to buy a copy of The Power of Giving today:

If 200 people purchase a copy of this book today, on June 30th, The Power of Giving will become an bestseller. If it becomes an bestseller, then bookstores will order more copies. If bookstores order more copies, then more people will buy the book and more money will be donated to charities. If charities have more money…they can do more work on our behalf.

Easy! You benefit from the great wisdom in the book, and charities will benefit too. So hook yourself up with The Power of Giving by purchasing a copy today. It’s just $12 Canadian...and it makes a great gift…I bought four copies myself…mom, dad, mom-in-law, you'll each be getting one.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Mother's Little Helper

I am happier than heroin addict with a hit. More relaxed than cat sleeping in the sunshine. This week I am working in paradise, a place Cortes Island, at the Hollyhock Retreat Centre. Who needs antidepressants when life is this good?

And that is the point of this very short entry.

If you’re an adult who is taking or thinks you may need antidepressants, I highly recommend this wonderful first person story by Joli Jensen, Emotional Choices: What story you choose to believe about antidepressants reveals a deeper truth about who you are.

And, if you’re the parent of a child who is either taking SSRI antidepressants, or you think your child would benefit from such drugs, take a look at the short documentary I made last year about this subject, The Magic Little Pill. (I currently only pay for enough monthly bandwidth to allow 5 viewings of this film, so if you try to watch and get an error message, drop me a line and I’ll increase my bandwidth for you!)

Thanks to to The Bastard of Art and Commerce for the heads-up on the Joli Jensen article.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Revised Oath for Doctors

This is from a doctor in India, Dr. Leo Rebello. He wrote it in 2003, believing the Hippocratic Oath to be partly outdated. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with his oath, but it’s interesting to see what he believes to be important to commit to. I wonder how many American and Canadian doctors would ever commit to the same...

Many doctors have forgotten their Hippocratic oath or humanism. Therefore, I would like to administer the following oath to the doctors to serve as a reminder as to how important is their profession. Doctors to please repeat after me.

I, -------------, do hereby swear on this solemn day that :-
I shall NOT prescribe unnecessary medicines and tests to my patients;
I shall NOT give false counseling;
I shall NOT overcharge and accept cuts and gifts;
I shall NOT rape tiny tots with inoculations or vaccinations, for they pollute the blood stream of small children leading to serious diseases like AIDS, Cancers, Autism, etc;
I shall NOT prescribe lethal drugs, like anti-retrovirals, chemotherapy, or give ECT to my patients;
I shall NOT be afraid of any authority and fabricate medical records or give false evidence;
I shall NOT exploit students studying under me;
I shall NOT manipulate findings or results to win grants.

The oath has more points that you can read at Health Wisdom by clicking though to the Doctor’s Oath (left column)

Hey! July 1st is Doctor’s Day…make an appointment…get a prescription…everyone will feel better!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Am I good or am I poison?

What Flavour Are You? I taste a bit like Almonds.I taste a bit like Almonds.

Mmm, the taste of almonds - anathema to many with nut allergies, and a bad sign for many more, as my taste is not unlike that of cyanide. Am I good or am I poison? A risky thing to guess about. What Flavour Are You?

Thanks to Bucket-o-Cool for the link.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Volunteers Needed for Anthrax Vaccine

NIH: Clinical Research Studies
Title: Anthrax Vaccine Clinical Trials
Adults who are in good health and children who are in good health may be eligible for this study. The involvement of 350 adult volunteers and 100 children in first and second grade is planned.

And I ask, what parent in their right mind would sign-up their 6- or 7-year old as a volunteer to receive an experimental vaccine??!! And anthrax?!

Same day, different email, I get a story from the Las Vegas Sun (whatever...) about the suspected effects the anthrax vaccine has had on a few other disposable American citizens. The opening para reads:
More than 1,200 military personnel who received the anthrax vaccine before going to Iraq have developed serious illnesses, according to an Army report released last month, though local military officials contend the shots still are safe and necessary.
If you want to sign your kid up for the FREE anthrax vaccines, visit the National Institutes of Health site to get all the exciting details.

That would be Institute of Health in the same way as George Orwell's, 1984 Ministry of Peace, wouldn't it?

And if you haven't read 1984...please stop reading my blog. If you want to keep reading, you can download 1984 for FREE at the very cool site, Online Literature.

What the #$%^%?

So, my son, Adisen is nine years old. He’s been sick with a virus that makes his lungs and gut hurt when he breathes deeply. After forcing him to suffer at home for the requisite three days, I took him to see our doctor. (Note that I only made him wait one day before taking him to the hospital when he broke his arm, so this three-day waiting period is somewhat flexible).

Anyway, Dr. Grant is a great doctor. Not big on drugs. Tends to offer the harder cures to health-care woes (Bloated? Eat less wheat. Tired all the time? Join a gym. Wake up with the shakes? Stop smoking crack. Having panic attacks at the office? Quit your job).

Anyway, after making Adisen hop on one foot, jump up and down, bend over, breathe deeply and cough (not all at the same time, mind you) Dr. Grant said:

“If your lungs still hurt in a week, come back and I’ll use the pointy part of this (at which point he pulled the reflex hammer from his drawer) to drill a hole in your side, right below your rib cage. Then you’ll be able to breathe through the hole so breathing won’t hurt your lungs anymore.”

With all the sincerity of the most gullible child placed on god’s green earth, Adisen asked, “but won’t that hurt?”

Dr. Grant assured him it would only hurt if he missed the soft part and drilled right into Adisen’s rib cage, which he promised him he’d try not to do.

After we left the doctor’s office, I asked Adisen if he thought Dr. Grant was serious about drilling a hole in him with a plastic hammer.

He said, and I quote, "Yes, because doctors always speak the truth."

What the #$%^%?

These were not my son's words coming from his mouth. No nine-year old of mine uses expressions like "speak the truth." And no child of mine would ever speak these words of anyone in a power position…doctor, politician, priest, or parents, for that matter.

It reminds me of the day he came home and started reciting prayers...

“What the #$%&^?” I asked.

“We say prayers everyday at lunch.”

I tell you, the things kids bring home from school – head lice, old sandwiches, and the craziest ideas!

Friday, June 17, 2005

I thought it was the Environmental PROTECTION Agency…

This morning, like most mornings, I launched my email program and waited for nuggets of news to find their way to my enquiring mind.

Some days are dry. Today is wet like the BC rainforest.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times delivered news I’d expect to read on CNN, the shock value of these two pieces are so high.

Here are excerpts from the Washington Post article: EPA Using Data From Chemical Tests on Humans

The Environmental Protection Agency is using data from two dozen tests that deliberately exposed humans to toxic chemicals to help determine whether to approve new pesticides, according to a study released yesterday by congressional Democrats.

Democratic staffers surveyed 24 tests conducted between 1967 and 2004, most in the past decade, that the EPA is reviewing as it evaluates applications to market new pesticides. They concluded that nearly one-third of the tests "were specifically designed to cause harm to human test subjects or put them at risk of harm," and in many cases "the informed consent forms used in the experiments do not appear to meet ethical standards."

The scientists conducting the tests frequently ignored the fact that they were putting their subjects -- who were often students or minorities -- at risk, the report said. In one case, three dozen subjects took an insecticide pill with orange juice at breakfast; in another, eight people received a dose of a toxic insecticide for 28 days, during which time all eight "experienced adverse events, including headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, coughing and a rash. The researchers declared that every single adverse event was unrelated to dosing."

And excerpts from the New York Times article: Drug Trials on Children Broke Rules, Officials Say

Federal officials have found that a Columbia University Medical Center committee that oversees the use of patients as subjects in medical research violated federal regulations in the 1990's in the case of four research projects. In the projects, experimental drugs were tested in children, including foster children, with AIDS or who were H.I.V.-positive.

The Office for Human Research Protections informed Columbia in a letter last month that the medical center's institutional review board had "failed to obtain sufficient information" concerning the selection of foster children as subjects, the process for getting their parents' or guardians' permission and certain additional safeguards.

The findings come at a time when questions have been raised nationally about the participation of foster children in drug trials during the 1980's and 1990's, when hundreds of babies in New York City alone were born H.I.V.-positive and when there were at first no treatments approved for children.

Disclosure: I snipped several paragraphs from each article, including the “we did nothing wrong” quotes. And maybe these researchers did not do anything unethical. Fact is, minorities, students, foster children, the elderly, even soldiers are often the targets for drug experiments. This we know. (And this is today, in the USA. Human experiments did not die with Hitler and the Nazis.)

I’ll never forget the researcher who came into my mother-in-law’s hospital room, two hours before her triple by-pass. The researcher had left a two-page document for mom to read, requesting her participation in an experimental dosage of one of the drugs that is used during a heart by-pass.

Her heart attack had been a total surprise. She was in the process of having her newly-written will witnessed by hospital employees, and she was being asked to participate in a drug test that was being presented in what I would call, an unethical way.

Given her not-very-clear-state-of-mind, she had decided that it was in humanity's best interest for her to participate. I flipped when I read the document.

I can’t recall all the details, but it made a statement about how an increase in the dosage of the drug in question of say, 20% did not harm lab rats. But later in the document it indicated that the experiment was to increase the dosage of the drug by over 100% in my mom-in-law…I was appalled at the lack of integrity being shown in this situation.

Expendable lives… those old people would have died soon anyway… those poor people would have had a lousy quality of life had they lived… those soldiers signed an “I won’t sue for injuries” statement… those babies have a low economic value, so we can afford to lose the lawsuit… those foster kids aren't wanted anyway… PAH!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Hormones Working, No Viagra Needed

Sex. It’s a subject I’m just having to start thinking about: how to ensure my 9-year old son knows enough about sex to know what is and is not appropriate for kids his age.

Truth is, he has absolutely no interest in girls (or boys) from a crush perspective. Yet.

But there’s one girl who has been pursuing him, writing love notes, giving him photos of herself (and one with the two of them). He considers her a friend. She has told him that one day he’ll smarten up and have a crush on her too.

I have to admit, I really like this girl, her confidence and her spunk. (She has bright red streaks in her hair. She’s cooler than I ever was and she’s only eight!). She comes over to play and I leave the two of them in Adisen’s room, unmonitored.

news today that the Heritage Foundation is challenging study results by a Columbia-Yale research team around the value of virginity pledges sparked my interest.

The Columbia-Yale guys found that virginity pledges contributed to kids being exposed to more STDs (because virgins can't have intercourse, but virgins can engage in oral sex).

The Heritage Foundation evaluated the same study and drew different conclusions. Here are a few:

  1. Eighty-one percent of virginity pledgers had engaged in any sexually activity compared with 92% of non-pledgers.
  2. Only 75% of virginity pledgers reported ever having engaged in vaginal intercourse compared with 90% of non-pledgers.
  3. Sixty-two percent of pledgers reported ever having engaged in oral sex compared with 73% of non-pledgers.
  4. Pledgers are one-third less likely to engage in anal sex. Fifteen percent of pledgers compared with 22% of non-pledgers had engaged in anal sex.
  5. Five percent of non-pledgers engaged in sex with prostitutes compared with 2.9% of pledgers.

So, parents, educators, religious leaders, all you people who are trying to look out for the health and well-being of kids, what does this say?

It says, kids need more information about sex.

They don’t need to be strong-armed into making empty, ill-defined virginity promises. Fer gawd’s sake, if you have a pre-teen, talk to them about sex in a respectful and complete way. Buy a book to help if you have to. Kids will experiment. Get over it and deal in the best way for the kids!

(And if you know of a really good book, can you let me know?!)

And another thing! If your son or daughter decides that a same sex experiment is what is right for him or her – accept it. Don’t make me come over and beat you senseless with your own intolerance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Strategies of Astroturf Organizations 101

Take a quick look at the following website. It’s called iDECIDE: Supporting your weight loss

Here’s part of the About Us page text:

The iDECIDE website is designed to help people like yourself who are concerned about their weight and ready to make the necessary changes for weight loss. Here you will find information about how to work with your doctor to develop a healthy weight loss approach that is right for you.
I wonder who funds this project, the website. The About Us page doesn’t say who these people are. Doesn’t tell us if iDECIDE is a non-profit organization or a for-profit company. The look and feel of the site are 100% non-profit though.

A little further down the About Us page is the following text:

In addition, iDECIDE includes a listing of Canadian doctors who have indicated that they are interested in helping people who are trying to lose weight. Click on Doctors Who Can Help to find a doctor in your area. Our goal is to assist you with getting professional guidance in order to develop a healthy approach that may help you start winning at losing weight.

So here’s my question:

Why would someone who wants to lose weight need to find a special doctor online at a weight-loss website? The doctors listed have indicated that they’re interested in helping people lose weight…that would be most GPs, I suspect. Why is this group of doctors special?

A little research by a colleague found that an Australian version of this site also exists. The landing page has the same graphics, photos, feeling evoked as the Canadian site.

The Aussies claim this to be the raison d’etre of their iDECIDE website:

This has been developed for people who are ready to lose weight with their doctor, and want to keep it off for good!

Another list of Australian doctors who have a special interest in helping people lose weight. Something smells fishy, no?

Yeah, it does.

Here’s the US version of the same campaign website.

While the Canadian site has absolutely no mention of the pharma interests that have funded it (I suspect since our direct-to-consumer drug advertising laws differ from the US),

and the Australian site has Abbott noted only in the footer ("'i Decide' is an initiative of Abbott Australasia in the interest of patient education and better health"),

the US site is actually housed at the Abbott URL. is a classic pharma-funded, fake grassroots organization (AKA, astroturf organization) posing as a non-profit working in the public’s best interest.

And to answer that question I asked 100 words ago: Why is the website directing people to specific doctors? I’m taking a wild guess here, but do you think maybe the doctors who are listed have been visited by cute pharma reps, handed a big pile of Meridia, Abbott's weight loss pills, and agreed to give them to their patients as a trial?

That’s all for today. Have a nice salad for dinner then go for a walk with your family.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Why Does Bill Gates Care About Cervical Cancer in Developing Countries?

Hands up, anyone who thinks Bill Gates’ modus operandi is to make the world a better place…hands? Hands? Anyone?

The richest man in the world has a charitable foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which makes headlines every few months with some new investment of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to provide vaccines to the world’s poorest people. So far, this Foundation has invested over $1.5 billion to help increase access to basic childhood vaccinations in world's poorest nations.

Today’s news applauds the BMG Foundation’s donation of $12.9 million to two organizations to support a campaign to get cervical cancer vaccines to women in poor countries.

The deal with cervical cancer is that it kills 250,000 women a year, most of whom live in developing countries. One of the main triggers for cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease.

Merck and GSK are both developing cervical cancer vaccines. It takes a lot of money (if we are to believe the pharma folks) to develop and take a new vaccine to market. Here’s what I don’t understand:

Why are Merck and GSK investing in a vaccine that will find its largest market in developing countries? That’s not good for business. Developing countries don’t pay market prices for vaccines. And, why develop a vaccine that will only benefit women? Women’s health issues are rarely a cause for concern to the suits who run big pharma.

Oh wait. I remember. A few weeks ago Merck and GSK made news with this vaccine, saying that once they've completed safety testing and received approval from the FDA, they want the US government to add it to the list of recommended vaccines for all American 12-year olds. Boys and girls alike.

So they still need to test the safety of this vaccine... I don’t imagine industry wants to get caught with another PR mess where it’s found out that low-income “black and brown” kids in American ghettos are being used as guinea pigs for new vaccines. Media is too close. Better to carry on experiments with black and brown women in far-away countries where media is ignored and lawyers are few and far between.

I understand why the WHO and big pharma and the US government all sleep in the same bed…but why has Bill Gates jumped under the sheets?

Just what is Bill Gates up to? I mean, I know he’s evil, but really, is he that evil?!

Monday, June 13, 2005

What the Hell is in the Ketchup?

So much of what I have learned over the past nine years has come from being a mother. Had I not had a baby, I never would have looked into vaccinations and become interested in the social marketing of diseases. Had I not had a baby who had febrile seizures, I never would have thought to consider how fever suppressants can harm you. Had my son, Adisen, not been labeled ADHD by his daycare, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to question the role of non-medical professionals in diagnosing our children’s state of mental health.

Today, I embark on a new fact finding journey to determine whether pesticides used on tomatoes could be causing Adisen to have spontaneous, irrational outbursts of anger.

Last night as I lay in bed, unable to sleep worrying about the frame of mind Adisen was in when he went to bed, every angry outburst he’s had over the last few months flooded my mind. And they all had one thing in common: prior to each event, Adisen had eaten ketchup. At home we only eat organic ketchup. But when he eats at his friends’ houses it’s always plain old Heinz or Kraft. When he eats in restaurants, it’s never organic ketchup he’s putting on his chicken.

We already know that Adisen has several food and chemical intolerances. His reactions vary from a red face to a sore mouth to ADHD-type behaviour when he eats wheat, chocolate, malt, red food dye, caffeine or MSG.

Several years ago he developed a painful skin rash while shucking fresh strawberries. I assumed at the time that the reaction was due to chemicals on the fresh-picked berries and from that day forward I started buying as much organic food as I could find.

All of these thoughts came to me. And now I wonder if there isn’t one or more specific chemicals used on non-organic tomatoes that are contributing to behaviours that, if we were to take Adisen to see a doctor, would undoubtedly be labeled as a mental health problem.


No luck with my Google searches to find any connection between tomatoes, pesticides and irrational behaviour. But I did stumble on this (I have paraphrased the original text since in its original form it is very convoluted):
“The label on the POST Selects Date & Raisin Pecan Crunch claims it contains salt. But when the agent at the Canadian Kraft consumer satisfaction public relations office was asked if the salt was regular or iodized, they responded that it was neither, but MSG.”

So I Called Kraft Canada to ask if it were possible that their ketchup contains MSG even if it’s not listed on the label. Pierre, my friendly Kraft consumer relations man said, and I quote, “I can’t talk for other products, but for Kraft and Nabisco if it’s not on the ingredients list it’s not there.”

Now if that isn’t an invitation to start digging!

This tomato/ketchup thing may be a red herring, but there’s no doubt that something my son is eating is making him sick. And I have to figure out what it is…ideas?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Vaccination Man

Slowly he would cruise the neighborhood, waiting for that occassional careless child who confused him with another vendor.

Click on the cartoon to see it bigger.

Who doesn't love Gary Larson?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Those Damn Lyee, Liars

I don’t even need to add my thoughts on this story, but I probably will. From the Washington Post yesterday, an excerpt:

Few scientists fabricate results from scratch or flatly plagiarize the work of others, but a surprising number engage in troubling degrees of fact-bending or deceit, according to the first large-scale survey of scientific misbehavior.

More than 5 percent of scientists answering a confidential questionnaire admitted to having tossed out data because the information contradicted their previous research or said they had circumvented some human research protections.

Ten percent admitted they had inappropriately included their names or those of others as authors on published research reports.

And more than 15 percent admitted they had changed a study's design or results to satisfy a sponsor, or ignored observations because they had a "gut feeling" they were inaccurate.

So, the funny thing with this story is that it could be a total lie! The story itself is based on a study that could have had unethical researchers faking conclusions! Or, it could be an entirely fictitious account, since reporters have proven that they are not above making it up as they go along, either! Wouldn’t it be hilarious if this was a fake study, and the real study is monitoring how the media eat up the story without first fact-checking?

(But I’ll bet my American SSN that this is true. Sad, potentially deadly when the research is on meds, but true.)

Indulge me while I hop back on my high horse, but to everyone who blindly accepts the mantra, “vaccines are entirely safe and science has proven this to be so,” uhhh….can you maybe consider this type of bending research results behaviour has been used to fudge the results of vaccine safety and effectiveness studies? Maybe?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Oh, the irony!

WebMd is running articles about the recent American Psychiatric Association’s AGM. One that piqued my interest is titled: Consumer Drug Ads May Confuse the Public.

The opening text reads:

A new study shows that patients are often influenced by advertisements for medications that they see on TV and in magazines -- often to the point that they question their doctor's wisdom.

And adjacent to the text of this article, dominating the top of the page, what is there? THIS DRUG AD! (Guess the AMA didn't find the same influence from website advertising...)

Oh my gosh. I pee at least 12 times a day. Really. Last night I woke up twice to pee. (I am also sick so yesterday I drank at least 12 big cups of tea and hot honey and lemon - but do pee more than 8 times a day...)

And I leak sometimes, too. Like yesterday, when my husband put off a telemarketer by saying he was 16 and his wife works at a bank. Peed my pants laughing, I did.

Unfortunately, the simplicity of this ad could lead me to conclude that I have an overactive bladder. More likely though, I just have an overactive imagination.

Excuse me. I have a sudden urge to pee.

Trumpeting vaccination may only entrench opposition

I have a request. Please read the following, short press release that appeared on EurekAlert! two weeks ago and tell me what you conclude.

Extolling the safety and benefits of childhood vaccinations may only serve to strengthen and entrench the positions of those philosophically opposed to them, says new research led by University of Toronto scientists.

Sorry. Can't help but throw in my comment: qualifying the parents who oppose vaccines as “philosophically” opposed is insulting to all parents who are opposed to vaccines based on knowledge, research they’ve done, or the fact that one of their kids may have suffered an adverse vaccine reaction. That qualification is clearly meant to discredit non-vaccinators.

"Changing attitudes about pediatric vaccination can be challenging," says Dr. Kumanan Wilson, professor of medicine and health policy, management and evaluation at U of T, internal medicine physician at Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network, and lead author of the research.

"Some parents have strongly held beliefs about the safety and benefits of vaccines and any attempts to try to change their minds may only strengthen their anti-vaccine sentiments."

Wilson and his colleagues from U of T and McMaster University sought to test the attitudes of people known to have views not supportive of vaccination. They randomly divided 97 participants into two study groups. One group received an evidence-based lecture on the benefits of polio vaccine while the other received a talk by a polio survivor. Participants completed surveys about their attitudes to vaccines before and after the presentations. "Before" surveys confirmed the researchers' initial hypothesis – these participants were generally non-supportive of vaccines with only nine per cent saying they would recommend the polio vaccine and six per cent saying they would recommend the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

However, analysis of the "after" surveys revealed surprising results – some respondents reported being even more opposed to vaccination. After seeing the presentations, 25 per cent reported being less likely to recommend the polio vaccine and 38 per cent were less likely to think polio was a serious problem.

"For some parents, concerns about vaccines are deeply held and physicians need to be aware of these findings when confronting parents who are strongly opposed to vaccination," warns Wilson. "Prolonged discussions may be counterproductive and could in fact damage the physician-patient relationship." The study appeared the April issue of Vaccine.

I don’t want to sound condescending, but doesn’t it strike you that the statement, "Prolonged discussions may be counterproductive and could in fact damage the physician-patient relationship," is a veiled way to say, "to hell with informed consent, just give them the damn needle."

The press release is clearly meant to advise doctors to provide less information to parents. But the results of the study, that parents who are informed (predisposed not to vaccinate) become even more firm in their opposition once given more information, prove that the more parents know about the dangers of diseases and vaccines, the less likely they are to vaccinate.

Hello? Can you say, “special interest spin” and “research result manipulation?”

I'm dying for comments on this...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

And now for something completely different

How valuable is the time you spend blogging? I spend about an hour a day researching and writing my blog entries. Since I’m self employed, the time I ‘waste’ blogging is potentially billable time. The majority of the work I’m hired to do is technical writing and curriculum development.

So, since this is my business, I thought I knew the value of my blogging hour. Hah! I’m one of those classic women who earn less than men, not because I’m not as good as the guys who do the same job as I do, but because I never learned to value my work properly. Idiote! (I always insult myself in sounds kinder somehow.)

So, to all you bloggers, filling up publishing space on the Internet, here’s what your writing time is worth. (Data is from 1999. If anyone has more current data I’d love to see it). Did you know your bons mots were that valuable?

Some categories that I found interesting:
Online Publishing: Range: $35-$100/hour; Avg: $70/hour
  • Marketing Communications: Range: $35-$100; Avg: $76/hour
  • Medical/Pharmaceutical Writing: Range: $35-$150; Avg: $75/hour
  • Researcher: Range $25-$150; Avg: $65/hour
  • Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    I’d rather be a monkey with Ebola, than an Angolan without

    All of the major news agencies are reporting the wonderful news that two vaccines-in-development, one for Marburg and one for Ebola, were 100 percent effective in a study of 12 macaque monkeys. Monkeys given just one shot of vaccine and later injected with a high dose of virus did not even get sick. Normally, all the animals would be expected to die.

    The story is newsworthy because of the recent outbreak of the Marburg virus in Angola where virtually 100% of those who have contracted the virus have died. (About 400 people).

    Will the vaccine save the lives of Angolans exposed to the virus in future? If the monkey survival rates are any indication, there’s a good chance the vaccines will work. But I bet the vaccine will not work as well in the human population of Angola. Here’s why:

    • Population of Angola: 10.8 million
    • Urban Population: 35%
    • Life Expectancy: 40 years
    • Infant Mortality: 194 per 1,000 live births
    • Under Five Mortality: 260 per 1,000 live births
    • Maternal Mortality Rate: 1,500 per 100,000 live births
    • GNP Per Capita: $500 (by comparison, the GDP per capita of Canada is $31,500 and of the USA is $40,100)
    • Percentage Population With Access To Safe Drinking Water: 38%

    So, why won’t the vaccines work as well on the people of Angola?

    Because the monkeys that were tested with these vaccines had a much, much better standard of living than the people of Angola, that’s why.

    Your average lab chimp gets clean water and enough good food every day to keep him a healthy chimp (otherwise, the drugs he’s being injected with would cause more serious negative side effects, which researchers don’t like to see).

    But in Angola, large segments of the population do not have access to basic goods and services, including food, clean water and health care. Fully 70% of the people live below the poverty line. And only 1 in 3 have access to safe water to drink.

    You want to curb death by disease in developing countries? It's easy:

    Improve the living conditions of your average citizen of a war-torn country to match that of your average laboratory monkey.

    Give these people access to clean water, enough food and good sanitation, for God’s sake. Is it really that hard to figure out?

    Think about it. Four HUNDRED people have died over the last two months from the Marburg virus. Over the same two months, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people have died from malnutrition, water-borne diseases and stepping on one of the 12 MILLION landmines that scatter the countryside in Angola.

    Why focus on the Ebola and Marburg vaccines, and not on improving the standard of living in Angola? The answer is dead simple. CNN said it best,

    The research has been financed by the Canadian government and U.S. military, which want vaccines in case of a domestic outbreak or a biological attack by terrorists.

    And all of those mal-nourished, immune-suppressed people of Angola will become human guinea pigs for the experimental vaccines to benefit paranoid Canadians and Americans. The international community will hold it’s head high proclaiming it has done this for humanitarian purposes. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. I’m disgusted with the Canadian government. No comment on the U.S military since children may be reading.

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    Did you say, “Vioxx Lawsuit?”

    Psst…a little secret from the pharma industry has just escaped, thanks to an article in the Financial Post on Friday, June 3rd. It starts,

    Several of the world's leading pharmaceutical groups and at least one regulator are in talks to hire a computer consultancy company that has devised software to "spy" on Internet conversations about medicines...

    The service scans Web logs -- or blogs -- news groups and forums for exchanges of information between patients.

    After a brief description of how the 7,000 web-trawlers will work, the head of Netrank, the company that will undertake the spying, had this to say,

    "You could say we are spying, but actually this information is in the public domain. We are doing it for the good of the patient, allowing companies to react more quickly to concerns."

    Call me wacky. Call me weird. But corporations working together “for the good of the patient?” I believe that contravenes any corporation’s legal responsibility to work for the good of the share-holder…

    How will the spy system work? Well,

    It monitors the number of references to selected drugs every day and cross references them with the content of messages, analyzed by phrases including "side effects" and "legal action." Potentially, the system could help drug companies get in touch directly with those who send messages.
    When I first read this article I was a little stunned that pharma would do this –spy on bloggers the way the CIA listens in on phone calls? Is no conversation sacred? But that, of course, was a naïve response. I actually think this whole story could be a smokescreen. It will raise some concerns about pharma communicating directly with consumers in these forums (in all countries but the USA and Australia, direct-to-consumer advertising by phrama is illegal or at least severely limited).

    The fact is, corporations of all kinds are already watching and commenting on listservs and blogs. But they don’t go by names like “Jane Smith, Merck employee” rather as “Jane Smith, a mom just like you.”

    Lots of political and corporate folks have been outed over the last few years by watchful list owners who have tracked suspicious comments back to their originating IP addresses. Big surprise, the comments that look, taste and smell of PR come from corporate IPs with a stake in promoting a certain idea or product.

    Be ever watchful. And skeptical. If a comment to your blog reads like PR, odds are good it is PR.

    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    A writer defined by what she reads

    What an honour to be tagged so early in my blogging career. Thanks so much to Herbinator for making me feel a real part of this community.

    Number of Books that I own:

    Me personally, about 1500 I’d guess, of which 80% are non-fiction. We’re a book family. (My 9-year old has over 300 age-appropriate books right now.)

    Last Book I Bought:

    Just yesterday I bought a book I’ve been wanting to read for months: The Truth About Drug Companies: How they deceive us and what to do about it by Marcia Angell, MD (and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine). I suspect I’ll be throwing stats and quotes from this book into my posts over the next weeks.

    Last book(s) I read:

    Last week I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon). Since the new year I’ve read lots of books, but these stand out: The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) … The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell) … Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)… Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain)... and lots of chapters, here and there, in several books in A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket) .

    Five Books that mean a lot to me:

    Aristotle’s Poetics. I had to read this book and write an essay on an idea in it as part of the admission process to get into the Communications Department at Concordia University back in 1986. Best damned outcome from reading a book ever.

    Toxic Sludge is Good For You, (John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton). I read this book while working for the David Suzuki Foundation in 1998/9. It introduced me to the power of the astroturf movement which really brought my inner activist to life.

    Mamatoto: A Celebration of Birth, (Carroll Dunham). A lovely, educational and very un-British-stick-up-the-bum view of how cultures around the world celebrate birth. This book gave me enough info to have the courage to tell the hospital nurses to “piss off” and leave the blood and vernix on my newborn son and the blankets off him. It was also the impetus for my looking into the whole vaccination tradition.

    Getting the Message Out: A Step-by-Step Communications Guide for Environmentalists by me. Several years ago I wrote a list of 100 things I want to do before I die. “Become a published author” was one goal. I wrote this book as a training manual several years ago and out-of-the-blue, an organization decided to publish it and provide copies to all Ontario-based environmental organizations. Not exactly what I had in mind when I conceived the “get published” goal, but it will do. And when I feel my writing sucks, I can call up this success as encouragement.

    Spider and Dragonfly’s Mystery by my son. A 15-chapter novella he wrote and illustrated in Grade 3. It’s a page-turner, with lots of crazy secondary characters like Undead Rapper Dude and Slime Robot. The story ends with the two protagonists and all surviving antagonists deciding to be friends and have a big picnic together. Brings tears to my eyes.

    People to tag:
    Bastard of Art and Commerce
    A Healthy Life
    The Toad Report
    Mad Dog Medic

    Friday, June 03, 2005

    The Fiery Tingles of Shingles

    Okay, so I’ve made my point about how easy it is to manipulate vaccine data to support the growth of this industry. There are over 100 new vaccines in development right now. Kind of scary. But, some of these vaccines could be very useful.

    Really, I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-informed consent.

    And as proof, here’s a vaccine that just may be a good idea. Zostavax is a new shingles vaccine that Merck is hoping the FDA will approve.

    According to a story in the June 2nd issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Merck has tested the vaccine on more than 38,500 men and women aged 60 and older and they’re reporting that 61 percent of shingles patients reported reduced pain and discomfort following vaccination, compared to placebo. Zostavax apparently also reduced the incidence of persistent nerve pain by 67%. The study claims the vaccine reduced the incidence of singles by 51% but I’m not sure how they figured that out since the article implies that the vaccine was tested on people who already had shingles and I’m not going to read the whole study.

    This vaccine will sound promising to anyone who has had shingles or watched a loved one suffer. I had shingles when I was 35. And it was by far the most painful thing I have lived through. Way, way, way worse than meningitis. I’d give birth every day for a year rather than suffer with shingles again.


    Okay, I just remembered how I got through my bout with shingles and now I’m starting to wonder how great this vaccine actually is (you are witnessing train-of-thought-writing and conclusion-drawing).

    So, I suffered for days, thinking there was nothing to do but wait the disease out. My mom suggested a natural approach to deal with the pain and sores, a remedy she found in the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing.

    At the core of the treatment was mega-dosing Vitamin C. I took 8,000 mg a day. I expected stomach aches and diarrhea (is this over-sharing?) but I had no ill-effects from that much vitamin C. I also took high doses of Vitamins A, B, D and E, Zinc, Calcium and Garlic. Within two days of starting the vitamins I was able to consider living again. I no longer wanted to slit my wrists, to create pain somewhere other than where the shingles sores were.

    So…now that I think about it…maybe I’m not so much in favour of this new shingles vaccine. What I’d love to see is a study that compares the outcomes of using the shingles vaccine to the outcomes of megadosing the vitamins I took. And, how about some mention of the side effects of the vaccine, while we're at it.

    Of course the vaccine outperformed the placebo…big deal. But will it outperform the non-pharmaceutical remedies that already exist?

    Vaccines-schmaccines. Even when I really try to look generously on them, I stumble. Sorry. I tried. I really did. But knowledge and experience got in the way.

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    Polio is a kind of candy with caramel in the middle

    Oh, I hate it! The kids are so cute.

    Measles is a game you play and then you sing a song.”

    Mumps is something camels have. Some have two mumps and some have one.”

    Chickenpox is a park where chickens have fun.”

    As the Merck spin doctors tell it, “most kids today don’t have a clue about diseases adults remember, thanks to Merck scientists. We’ve invested billions to research heart disease and asthma. Now we’re trying to make Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer history, too.”

    Put on your skeptic’s cap (or take it off) and check out the new Merck ad campaign.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    "So what happened to polio if vaccines didn’t work?"

    Toad734 posed the above question in response to my previous post. Great question.

    There are many easy explanations about what happened to polio:

    Redefinition of the disease
    Once the polio vaccine was introduced, the old, classical, definition of polio was changed from

    “a disease with residual paralysis which resolves within 60 days”
    “a disease with residual paralysis which persists for more than 60 days.”

    Given the reality of the polio disease this excludes more than 90% of polio cases, as they used to be defined, pre-vaccines.

    Different diagnosis of the disease
    Since the 1950s, when a person who has been given the polio vaccine gets polio, it’s not diagnosed as polio, but as viral or aseptic meningitis. But when a non-vaccinated person gets polio, it’s diagnosed as polio, of course. In this way, every media story you read about a polio case will be of a non-vaccinated person.

    Walene James, in her book, Immunization, Reality Behind the Myth, provides figures from the Los Angeles County Health Index Morbidity and Mortality, Reportable Diseases which reveals this fact.

    ----------------Viral or Asceptic
    -------------------Meningitis --------------Polio
    July 1955 ------------50 ----------------------273
    July 1961 ------------161 ----------------------65
    July 1963 ------------151 ----------------------31
    Sept 1966 ------------256 ----------------------5
    (Sorry - I haven't figured out how to insert tables into this blog program.)

    Those numbers from one county, it could be debated, may not be representative of the larger population. Well, according to August 15, 2003 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, there are some 26,000 to 42,000 cases of viral meningitis per year in the United States. And that’s where you’ll find tens of thousands of cases of polio disappeared to after the introduction of mass polio vaccination. I can’t place my hands on it right now, unfortunately, but I have a graph that shows the same pattern of polio cases decreasing while aspectic meningitis cases increased that Walene James identified but on a much larger scale in the USA.

    Redefinition of “epidemic”
    Finally, understanding the manipulation that occurs due to redefinition of an “epidemic” is also important. Prior to the polio vaccine, an epidemic was when there were 20 cases/1,000,000 population (or 2 cases/100,000 population). After the introduction of the vaccine an epidemic required 35 cases/100,000 population. Voila! No more polio epidemics! (You’ll see “epidemics” for different diseases, such as SARS a couple years ago, when there were fewer than 1 case per million population. The definition of an epidemic, it seems, changes depending on the goals of the public health body creating the public health crisis (or miracle!).

    These are just a few of the ways the public has been sold on the myth that vaccines are the most important health achievement of the century and that polio has been all but eradicated due to the vaccine…in fact, polio is alive and well, it’s just wearing new labels.

    The Earth is Flat – Like Your Head!

    Imagine how hard it must have been to be Copernicus in the 1500s, claiming that the Earth is just a planet in a solar system with the Sun at the centre, challenging the Biblically-based belief that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. Copernicus made his discoveries many years before he published them (just before his death), fearing his ideas might get him into trouble with the church. The politically powerful churchmen of the time feared that Copernicus’ theories might lead men to think that mankind is simply part of nature and not superior to it. Of course, that kind of crazy talk would lead to a lessening in the churchmen’s power.

    Fast forward 600 years. New millennium. What are myths that are upheld by church and state and industry today? The sacred cows that help uphold the belief that mankind is superior to nature and natural processes? There are many of these myths and they are so entrenched in popular belief that anyone who dares hold them up for scrutiny is labeled a “conspiracy theorist.”

    I am one of these so-called conspiracy theorists given my disbelief in the sanctity of vaccinations as the world’s most important medical accomplishment. For eight years (on and off) I have been trying to get financial support, a broadcaster, to stand behind a film about the way in which vaccinations are marketed to parents and doctors. The way in which diseases are marketed to create unreasonable fears and thus, demand for new vaccines.

    Today marks a watershed moment in my efforts. The last possible mainstream funder in Canada has rejected the project, saying the science to support my position is not proven – even though the story I want to tell has nothing to do with the science of vaccines. The story I have been trying to tell has everything to do with the way in which parents make one important health-care decision for their children.

    It’s arguable that every parent must decide to vaccinate or not vaccinate or partially vaccinate each of their children. But given the nature of “informed consent” around vaccinations, most parents don’t actually “decide.” We give in. We accept. If we challenge, we’re often labeled abusive or neglectful. In some US states children are actually taken into state custody when parents refuse to vaccinate.

    Efforts to show parents that their basic right to make informed decisions on their children’s behalf are denounced. Vaccinations are such a sacred cow that challenging the blind acceptance of this medical intervention, which itself is based on tradition not on science, is seen as heresy.

    Yeah, yeah, many people will argue that there is strong science behind vaccinations but the fact is, there is not. Even the vaccine-manufacturers can’t prove the value of vaccines since there has never been a study of any significant population to compare the health of vaccinated versus unvaccinated people. There is no control group against which to compare the vaccinated population…so there is no scientific evidence that we’re better off with vaccines. There are graphs and charts and statistics and anecdotes and assertions but no scientific proof. (A died-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist might also say there are lies and cover-ups and hidden agendas and Naziesque experiments on expendable populations – but I’m not that kind of heretic).

    Not many people have the stomach or the time to invest in challenging the church, state and industry. Copernicus waited until death was knocking to publish proof that the Earth is just another planet, and, by extension, that Man is just another species, no better than other species in the universe. (A Monty Python song is trying to break out from the depths of my memory…what is it?)

    Who will have to die before the truth about vaccines is exposed? Who has a hidden notebook containing the facts and evidence to prove or disprove the beliefs that have become so entrenched that universal vaccination is heralded as God’s work. Maybe vaccines really are the second-coming but until someone steps up with the scientific evidence to prove it, I think parents must become more forceful in questioning this sacred cow.

    If I can't make the film, I guess I'll just have to keep blogging.