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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Is it a cancer drug or not?

Posted by stevepog on 16 March, 2010

The media faces constant criticism from medical specialists and  advocacy groups whenever it trumpets the latest new wonder drug to cure any form of cancer.

Many spurious claims have over the years been splashed across the UK Daily Mail’s front page, prompting backlash from organisations such as the National Health Service, Cancer Research UK and even the appearance of a Facebook group with more than 40,000 members criticising the Mail’s cancer cure/cause agenda.

But the recent news that pharma giant Roche was revising its position on Avastin after the drug failed in a late-stage study, evaluating the blockbuster as a treatment for advanced stomach cancer, was an example of where the stock market, media expectations of a miracle cure and a pharma giant collided.

The Wall Street Journal said the announcement had the effect of:

‘undermining market expectations the drug could reach annual peak sales of more than eight billion Swiss francs ($7.48 billion)’

Roche’s PR team has had the very difficult job of trying to push the share price back up and regain investors confidence. One of their newest stabs at this crisis communications was a release today stating that

‘the eyesight of two patients with a rare condition was saved through the groundbreaking use of the drug Avastin’

At the time of writing, the news is only 20 minutes old so and there is little detail contained on how many people have been involved in trials by Southampton ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Lotery, only to state that his research on treating Sorsby’s Fundus Dystrophy (SFD) has been accepted by US journal Retinal Cases & Brief Reports. The release goes on:

He (Lotery) said it was the first time the drug had been used to treat the rare genetic condition(SFD) which caused the two patients, both in their 30s, to suffer blurred vision and a general deterioration of sight.
Avastin halts the growth of blood vessels and stems bleeding and is commonly injected with good results into the eyes of patients with “wet” age related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the western world in people over 50

Avastin has already been trialled successfully in conjunction with chemotherapy in ovarian cancer sufferers so the prospect of another potential target would be welcomed by the shareholders but more importantly, by sufferers of the targeted conditions. But this is a situation where the media needs to tread carefully and wait for stronger research to appear before latching onto another cure-all drug.

New antibiotic treatments for gastric cancer

On another cancer story, Yoshio Yamaoka, an F1000 Medicine faculty Member from Japan, has looked recently at the use of various drugs to treat Helicobacter pylori infection, which often leads to gastroduodenal ulcers, gastric cancer and associated diseases.

While there are positive signs from a large multicenter trial in Japan of H. pylori antibiotics on patients with gastric cancer, Yamaoka warned that practitioners should exercise caution with regard to widespread antibiotic treatment saying,

‘if all infected persons are to be treated, we should consider the increase in frequency of antibiotic resistance and unexpected consequences such as esophageal adenocarcinoma, asthma, and autoimmune disease’

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Medicine, Random, Science | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Is it a cancer drug or not?

Hair apparent

Posted by stevepog on 8 March, 2010

beware of the bearded man bearing breadfruit

Sometimes there’s a real life-changing thrust to blog posts, that drives at the heart of a pivotal issue in modern society and make people question their motives, passions, opinions or even educational goals.

But seeing as we’re all coming down off a post-Oscars high, let me preempt your own judgement by rating this one as an Inglourious Basterds compared to the Hurt Locker of more worthy blog scribblings.

Actually, it’s really more of a Valkyrie than QT’s latest effort but then Tom Cruise never won any awards for his ability at copying accents (and it obviously wasn’t nominated for the 2010 awards so it’s less zeitgeisty).

Anyway, my point is to direct your eyes to the picture of the man on the left, much-respected Stanford neuroscientist and f1000 Faculty Member Robert Sapolsky.

With a beard that would make Hagrid feel ashamed, Sapolsky must be a delight as a lecturer. He’d also make a great magician with no need for a top hat either.

Sapolsky is a seasoned reviewer for f1000 and contributed a very positive review of a recent paper in Nature which discussed Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. The crux of the paper was in a press release we put out today but the first emailed responses from journalists focused not on the weighty issues being discussed but of course, the accompanying photo above.

In one reporter’s words, it encouraged her to ask for more information on him as “I’ve been meaning to do somethign (sic) on weirdy beardies for a while”.

This is not the first time we’ve discussed hirsute scientists and our friend Joanne Manaster has a similar penchant (purely scientific) for bearded biologists. But it reinforces once again how much we should respect a scientist who sports this look: if he shows half as much commitment to research as to beard growth, a cancer/malaria/Xbox-related RSI cure is surely not far away.

*it’s ok, I cringed while writing the headline as much as you probably did reading it. To me it felt like the title for a bad 90s C-grade comedy starring a faded stand-up comic.

Then I did an IMDB search (I’m writing this in real-time, so the punchline could be a fizzer) and whaddya know?

It was closest in wording to a bad Canadian comedy flick , a 1912 black and white romantic drama and best of all, the ridiculously titled, Michael Flatley: Eire Apparent, about the most arrogant Irishman to ever pull on a pair of tights. Riverdance fans, I’ll meet you in the car park if you want to take issue with that assessment.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Journalism, Press Releases, Random, Science | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

When animal activists go too far

Posted by stevepog on 25 February, 2010

We have previously discussed the honorable activities of the Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) and its members, including Dario Ringach whose recent paper on animal activism was highly rated by our reviewers.

AMP send regular email updates to scientists and this item looked at an extremely important issue, so I am reproducing it here in full:


Five members of the Science Blogs community have posted strong commentaries today denouncing the activist targeting of a scientist’s child.

As background, UCLA professor Dario Ringach, one of the organizers and participants of last week’s panel discussion about animal research with AR adherents, and two of his colleagues had protests at their homes a few days in advance of the event. In an after-action communique about the protests, it was stated that activists knew where one of Dario’s children went to school and are planning to stage a protest there.

Janet Stemwedel, a panelist in the UCLA discussion, led the outcry on her widely-respected Adventures in Science and Ethics blog with a post entitled “Time to Get Mad. Time to Speak Up.”
(http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/time_to_get_mad_time_to_speak.php ) Here is the thrust of her call to action:

“For just daring to stand up and share his view, Dario was targeted for more home demonstrations. And now, activists threaten to bring the demonstration to his children’s schools, to “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living”.

“Express the view that scientific research is worth doing, plan on your kids being harassed? Is that what we’ve come to? Is this really the society we want to live in?

“If it’s not, we need to stand up and say so, in no uncertain terms.

“Having differing opinions is not a crime. Nobody’s kids should be targeted for harassment because you disagree with their parents. We need to call this behavior out, no matter who does it, no matter what cause they hope to further with it.

“Each time these tactics are the ones that are used, we die a little as a pluralistic society, no matter which side we support. Any member of the public paying attention to such shenanigans should be outraged, and should say so.

“And members of the scientific community especially have reason to oppose these tactics. They reflect, after all, the impression that scientists aren’t really a part of our society, that they’re not really members of our moral community. You can bang on their windows and scare the crap out of their kids, and “normal” people won’t make a peep about it.

“Scientists are normal people, despite their specialized skills and interests. They need to see this bullying for what it is and raise their voices to reject it.

“Scientists, are you mad? Then stand up and say it.”

Four other prominent members of the Science Blogs community have already responded to her call, and other articles are likely to come in following days.   The Science Bloggers are:

PZMyers at Pharyngula:

Orac at Respectful Insolence:

Dr. Isis at On Becoming a Domestic as Laboratory Goddess:

Nick Anthis at The Scientific Activist:

(Please note that some of the posts link to animal rights websites.  If you wish to see what is connected to a specific link and are unwilling to visit activist sites, send us a note.)

How to respond to Dr. Stemwedel’s call to action?   A first step would be to participate in the lively discussion that is continuing in the comment sections of her blog and those of the other writers.  Also, sign the Pro-Test Petition if you have not already  – www.raisingvoices.net – and encourage your family, friends, colleagues and elected officials to do so as well. Consider becoming more involved in outreach about the research message, whether it is to schools or with adults in your community; we have a starter’s guide at www.amprogress.org/advocacy and would be delighted to send you materials and facilitate contacts with other research advocates in your area and with your interests.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Random | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

More food for thought

Posted by stevepog on 24 February, 2010

By Steve Pogonowski and Bea Downing

Work dramas, late bills, latent childhood trauma: adult life is full of potential for the average person to get stressed and deal with it by ‘comfort eating’.

As discussed in a previous post by Callum, labeled ‘Food for thought’ (hence my segued sequel/blatant rip-off title here), there are ongoing studies starting to appear in the earlier pages of top-ranked journals that look at the psychological, rather than purely physical, causes and effects of weight gain and obesity.

But the fact remains that there is still much to learn about the biological processes resulting from the mental stresses of daily life.

In a recent F1000 Biology Report, Faculty Member Achim Peters from the University of Luebeck and Dirk Langemann of Carolo-Wilhelmina-University looked at recent advances detailing how stress affects neurometabolism and eating behavior.

Stress increases the brain’s demand for glucose and, in some people, causes comfort eating and weight gain due to a weak sympathoadrenal response.

Under stress, the brain’s metabolic rate – and glucose demand – shoots up by 12%. Two mechanisms then come in to increase glucose availability to the brain: brain-pull and storage-push. Brain-pull mechanisms increase the percentage and amount of energy that the brain can withdraw from the blood across the blood-brain barrier, while storage-push mechanisms increase blood-glucose levels to flood the system with energy.

During periods of chronic stress, the stronger storage-push response results in the blood being loaded with energy. When the brain’s demand for glucose falls, the storage-push is still releasing glucose into the blood. The remaining glucose is mopped up by insulin and stored as fat.

Peters and Langemann said:

“Evidence accumulates that the stressed mind can choose a metabolic coping strategy by switching its supply mode from brain pull to ‘comfort eating’.”

Chronic stresses in adult life, such as job-related demands and difficulty paying bills, may weaken the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system. In adults with depression and anxiety, weight gain and the risk of obesity were increased in a dose-response fashion with the number of episodes of these common mental disorders.

Problems can also strike earlier in life: early-life stress and juvenile trauma result in long-lasting changes in the activity of the autonomic nervous system and body weight. Prenatal psychosocial stress exposure is associated with hyperinsulinemia in later life, a strong predictor of weight gain and a typical marker of brain-pull inefficiency.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Press Releases, Science | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on More food for thought

Adrift in an ocean of trash talk

Posted by stevepog on 10 February, 2010

My lesson for today: Don’t argue with an oceanographer over our responsibility for cleaning up the Great Garbage Patch. Actually, don’t argue with an oceanographer over anything marine-based and also don’t call someone (the inspirational Annie Crawley) an oceanographer who isn’t.

Credit: Slate Magazine

I made the mistake of saying that an article in Slate by Nina Shen Rastogi was wrongly titled, as I believed it should be asking how we can clean up the patch, not WHETHER we should bother.

Chief scientist Miriam Goldstein from Seaplex (@seaplexscience on Twitter),  which is The Scripps Institution of Oceanography/Project Kaisei expedition to measure plastic in the North Pacific Gyre, replied:

Actually I agree w headline. Open-ocean cleanup EXTREMELY expensive/technically challenging. Need to carefully consider cost/benefit.

The humbling part wasn’t in being dissed in under 140 characters for my lack of knowledge but in seeing what the important issues are when it comes to a massive area of trash that can’t just be cleared up with a few sweeps by a barge.

Like the Slate article author, I imagined the patch as a large mound of floating rubbish, spinning endlessly whirlpool-style without the plughole to drain out of. I had read of  banking fortune heir David de Rothschild’s headline-grabbing voyage on a yacht made of reclaimed plastic bottles, taking in the North Pacific Gyre on a route from San Francisco to Sydney (a project delayed partly by the extremely ambitious task of building such a boat).

But changing the concept that the Patch really isn’t a Patch at all will take some undoing. Perhaps there’s a word in another language that would better do it justice (and one not so similar to those of cute 80s dolls would bring home the message better anyway).

As Miriam said, cost and benefit are obvious considerations when looking at possible clean-up efforts. As Rastogi said in Slate, “despite the oft-repeated claim that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is “twice the size of Texas,” we don’t really know the exact size of the Patch or how much garbage it contains.” (To Americans, Texas must seem really large: to Canadians, Australians, Russians etc it’s kind of small).

So committing x billion dollars to cleaning up an area of unknown mass and size could be essentially fruitless. Commenters on the article made the wise assertion that cutting the trash pile off at its source (drains, business waste overflows, garbage dumps, discarded material from boats etc.) was the only way to significantly reduce the Patch in the long-term.

In the way that more scientists are presenting sensible future-focused approaches to managing climate change (see original papers, later reviewed on f1000 Biology, from Lawler and Tear et al. for a solid review and another from Graham and McClanahan et al. on coral reef ecosystem stability), so Project Kaisei and other organisations are working on strategic responses to the issue, such as recycling retrieved waste and using large nets to snare bigger pieces of trash and leave marine creatures unharmed.

So arguing with an ocean scientist isn’t a good idea and hopefully government decision makers can come to that same conclusion.

Posted in Communication, f1000, Journals, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Worthless lie

Posted by rpg on 9 February, 2010

I’m on record as defending PR in the scientific sphere (and featured in Nature’s From the Blogosphere, so it must have touched a nerve somewhere). I maintain that we will continue to require good public relations, perhaps even more so with the looming spectre of swingeing cuts in publicly-funded science. (I’m a little less enamoured of paying PR managers at a research council double the average professorial salary, but that’s a story for another day.)

Although f1000 (obviously) isn’t associated with any particular institution or scientist, we do like to put out the occasional release covering interesting science that’s been picked up by the Faculty. This is an interesting exercise as a lot of newsworthy stories have usually already been released by the journal of the original article, or the author’s home press office, by the time our evaluations come in. But we do find a lot of important (or, let’s be honest, slightly quirky) work that hasn’t got much further than a couple of interested specialists, and we like to bring it to a wider audience. (Sometimes this attracts criticism from talentless hacks, but hey, it’s all good). Besides, if six month-old ‘news’ is good enough for the Beeb, it’s good enough for us.

Anyway, we’ve been reasonably successful in our forays into PR, getting quite a bit of attention from all sorts of places, including the national press. Some of our more popular topics have included cartilage repair, cocaine addiction and seasonal effects on multiple sclerosis (rather than deluge you with links, all our releases are archived at EurekAlert.) SP has made a glossy brochure of media coverage, which you can have a look at if ever you care to visit me in the shadow of the BT Tower.

Interestingly, the Royal Society of Chemistry has also been experimenting with PR. Brian Emsley recounts how ‘light’ news stories—such as the importance of adding soy sauce to your gravy— raise the profile of an organization (in this case the RSC), and basically prepare the ground for the ‘serious’ stuff. Like ground bait, or artillery barrages to soften the enemy before sending in the infantry. We’re trying to do a similar thing to the RSC; raising our own profile and that of science more generally. It’s all part of the science communication bug I have, and a way of getting people in general more ‘comfortable’ with the scientific process in general (as well as getting our content out to professionals—practice nurses perhaps—who might not have seen it).

So, we’re still experimenting, and we’ll probably get some things wrong, and hopefully we’ll get other things right, but I’d really like to know what you think about PR and the direction we should be taking it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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How do you summarise Science Online 2010 in 140 characters?

Posted by stevepog on 19 January, 2010

Inquisitive, hungry, intense, can get nasty? Science nerd or squirrel?

Science Online 2010 wrapped up on Sunday and, despite its brilliant format, great networking opportunities and overall general coolness of fun and quirky participants, I was left with a dilemma.

If anyone can possibly tell me how to wrap up a conference about science, the web, technology and journalism to fit into a Twitter post, I will either fund your child’s college education (or at least buy them a cell biology textbook) or do the Locomotion at the next Sci Online 2011 (as an Australian, sorry about Kylie Minogue).

Because for anyone new to Twitter or just not good at headline-style conversation, even isolating topics into a catchy tweet was difficult. If you don’t believe me, check out the archive here and see what really catches your eye.

My point being that, for those who have mastered the art of the tweet, it really does equate to microjournalism and full-length blogging should as such be given the same cred as ‘dead-tree’ media (thanks to an unknown conference delegate for pulling out that term. Should we call web writers ‘ozone-depleting’ or ‘powergrid-draining’ media?).

It will take a while to get my summary of the conference to a respectable length, so for now I’ll refer to others who have already slept off their jetlag, showed their respect to the great dreamer on Martin Luther King Day and got their thoughts into an ordered state not overly addled by caffeine or sweet tea (an abominable North Carolina drink, sorry for saying so).

Co-organiser Bora gathered a full list together at http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2010/01/blogmedia_coverage_of_scienceo.php, which includes some of my favourites so far:






In another recent news, here’s a link to a new f1000 Report discussing osteoarthritis treatments:

f1000 Report by Yves Henrotin

Posted in Communication, Conferences, f1000, Journalism, Literature, Science | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

oh carolina, my spidey senses are tingling

Posted by stevepog on 12 January, 2010

Inspire or scare your grad students! Credit to zazzle.com for original button

Ah North Carolina, home to sweet potatoes, Krispy Kremes, Pepsi, the Wright brothers’ first flight, old-time music (whatever that is) and Venus Fly-Traps. And for four days in January, also home to the moderately sized gathering that is the Science Online 2010 conference.

Skim over the program here and try to contain your jealousy at the thought of all those techy web science people squeaking about how microbiology and microchips can join together in glorious harmony. My cynicism aside, it sounds like a great lineup – though if anyone dresses up in a Spiderman outfit to take the web/science mashup too far, I’ll head straight to the bar.

Closer to home, Richard’s discussion on author listings in scientific papers has generated some interesting debate, especially as one academic suggests cage fighting as a method to solve ordering issues. Brings to mind images of a Celebrity Deathmatch between Watson and Crick or Curie and McLaren. Could make the punters more interested than the usual war of words ever does.

*As for all the spidey talk, I did rewatch Spiderman 3 last night and, like Avatar, found it a bit too touchy-feely to be a great action film. Though being a long-time fan of Venom, his appearance made it ploughing through worth the glossy Hollywood coating. But I’ll save further movie analysis for another blog in another place.

Posted in Communication, Conferences, f1000, Random, Science | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Citizen Science campaign ramps up

Posted by stevepog on 22 December, 2009

I’ve mentioned before about the superb efforts of our friend Darlene Cavalier in encouraging non-scientists (and some influential members of US Congress) to actively engage in science, which we gladly endorse.

Darlene is working hard on the ScienceforCitizens website, which will be launched next month, but she also found time to be interviewed recently by Florida radio show Weekend Workout on science policy, cheerleading and other topics.

Take a listen here (her interview starts at 20:50 on the Soundcloud player below or about a third of the way through if you use the basic web player at this link):

Weekend Workout podcast featuring Darlene Cavalier

Darlene, myself and other web 2.0-savvy bloggers, science press, educators and developers will be attending Science Online next month in North Carolina, where we will (as the conference notes promise) “discuss, demonstrate and debate online strategies and tools for doing science, publishing science, teaching science, and promoting the public understanding of science.” Sounds like a hoot doesn’t it.

I’ll report on those happenings in mid January, for now it’s off to cold and snowy Belgium and Germany for the Christmas/New Year break. Keep an eye on our Twitter account for regular updates on f1000 and enjoy the festive season.

Posted in Communication, Conferences, Journalism, Science | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Citizen Science campaign ramps up

“What about the oceans?” Climate change reversal scheme has its doubters

Posted by stevepog on 16 December, 2009

With most of the science media, green movement and world leader attention focused on Copenhagen and climate change right now, it would be remiss of us not to mention a new evaluation which looks at one of numerous papers promising new ways to tackle the greenhouse effect.

The reviewer, Robie Macdonald, from the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Canada, looked at a paper in Geophysical Research Letters that discussed stratospheric geoengineering as a way to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

MacDonald said:

This paper estimates the costs of putting sufficient aerosols into the stratosphere to slow down or reverse global warming. For possibly as little as several billions of dollars per year, one might cool the planet, stall or reverse ice melting, thwart sea-level rise, and increase the terrigenous sink for CO2 through enhanced primary production.

MacDonald quite rightly has issues with this proposed technique, as it may on one hand help produce planet-cooling sulfate aerosols but on the negative, as Ars technica also reported, “it would also produce more droughts and worsen ozone depletion. And, crucially, it would do nothing to reverse ocean acidification”.

In a time when the media is not quite sure which side of the climate change `debate’ to be on and newspapers are running unchecked stories which deny climate change exists, alongside comment pieces from an unqualified former vice-Presidential candidate (Sarah Palin) to anti-skeptics (George Monbiot), stratospheric geoengineering could take off as the next big thing in climate change reversal (if there could ever be such a beast).

*By the way, the suggested methods of using military aircraft and artillery shells to save the planet sound a little too Armageddon for my liking.

Posted in Communication, f1000, Journals, Random, Science | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »