Sunday, July 27, 2014

Real #Science #Websites for #Non-Scientists

Real Science Websites for Non-Scientists

I've been writing my blog for several months. It's a hobby that allows me to express my opinions about some current scientific issues that are in the news. Its purpose is to defend science against misperceptions that are spread on the web as well as in other media. 

There are a few websites that do the same far more effectively. I've listed them here. You can get to each by clicking on them.

Warning: These are news reports about science. While my opinion is that they are honest attempts to convey accurate science, if you want to use the information in an argument with some anti-science troll on the web or nutcase relative at Thanksgiving, cite the original peer-reviewed work (and better yet, actually try to get through it).

This is a small list. Please feel free to add suggested additions in the comments and I'll check them out. If I agree, I'll add them to the list.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#Poison #Science #Murder #Mystery #KindleUnlimited

Now on Kindle Unlimited:

The humorous murder mystery about what can go wrong in peer review. 
Poisonous Science is now available through Kindle Unlimited.

Monday, June 23, 2014

#Herbal Remedies versus #PrescriptionMedicine

Herbal Remedies versus Prescription Medicines

The facts

Plants contain thousands of compounds that can affect your health. Some for good. Some for bad. 

The good: Good compounds include the nutrients your body needs for energy and maintenance of health including sugars and vitamins. Indeed, if you have the correct balance of amino acids, the building blocks for proteins, you can live a reasonably healthy life as a strict vegan. Then there are stimulants like caffeine that make life more enjoyable and might even have health benefits. Clearly small amounts of wine and other alcohol beverages also are beneficial in reducing cardiovascular disease.

Well what about those herbal remedy claims? Many of the compounds that plants evolved to have for their defense against being eaten or to attract insects and animals to help disperse their seeds have been shown to have beneficial effects in humans. Drugs from plants like theophylline, aspirin and taxol are used either as the actual compound or slightly modified version for better delivery of natural products. Indeed, the pharmaceutical companies still investigate the potential for herbal remedies to be developed into drugs. But, development costs a lot. For a new drug to go through all the laboratory testing and then clinical trials to show that it is generally (nothing is absolute) safe and effective costs half to three quarters of a billion dollars. 

The bad: Ever hear of hemlock? There are thousands of compounds that are lethal in small amounts. How about the oil from poison ivy? Not lethal, but quite unpleasant. So, pushing the natural angle can have that nasty point. 

So what about those herbal remedies is bad? Simply, you don't know whether they work, what you're getting, or how much of whatever is supposed to be good in it there is in the potion or pill. There's good reason why the Food and Drug Administration requires those extremely expensive tests. They are responsible for the public's safety and for making certain that drugs are effective at doses that cause a minimal amount of side effects. 

My Opinion

There is plenty of money being made by selling herbal remedies and staying just inside the law that doesn't allow claims to cure or treat disease. The purveyors of these compounds appeal to those for whom prescription medicines don't work, those who have become convinced that the medical and pharmaceutical establishment are in conspiracy to get their money, and those who mistakenly think herbal medicines are designed by some entity to be in plants to cure mankind of its ailments.

My opinion is that while plants contain good and bad compounds, eating a healthy diet containing lots of fruit and vegetables is the best use of plants in maintaining health. Taking herbal concoctions is risky. Let's say you have some ailment that could be helped by a prescription or over-the-counter FDA approved drug. If you're lucky they are harmless to your body, but then you would be taking them instead of something that actually would help. That makes little sense. But, what if they do help? Then, you're very lucky indeed, and perhaps if you're extraordinarily lucky, the next time you take it, the same ingredients at the same amount might be there. If you're unlucky, the ingredients cause you harm. 

I wish you luck, but I wish you the good sense to let others feed the wallets of the herbal witch doctors. 

For more information, the same sources as in my recent blog about #Weightloss and #Nutrition are relevant:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

#Pseudoscience of #Weightloss gets busted by #Congress #Oz not in Wonderland of #Nutrition So #Science wins

Dr. Oz Grilled In Congress, Admits Weight Loss Products He Touts Don't Pass 'Scientific Muster' 

see the article at Huffington Post

This type of peddling of pseudoscience is the biggest reason why I started my blog. There are ways to lose weight, but too many methods are pushed that do not work or only cause temporary loss of water. 

The best way to lose weight is to lower calorie consumption, increase exercise, and make sure your health is maintained by eating a balanced diet. There is no magic and it is not easy. Some people are helped by getting encouragement from others, as in groups, but the desire to lose weight is not enough. One needs self-discipline to lose weight and keep it off.

One also needs to be a real skeptic about any article that is not based on peer-reviewed research and from a reliable source. 

Where to get real science based help

If you want to read more from reliable sources click these links from The National Institutes of Health:

What's a Healthy Weight?

Should I take supplements?

What about alternative medicine and supplements?

More information

Monday, June 16, 2014

Next stop in the #Writing_Process #Blog_Tour

Next stop in the Writing Process Blog Tour 

Mystery author, Jerry Last invited me to participate in a unique blog tour on writing. I’ve known Jerry for a few decades. We are both biochemists involved in lung research. But, only three years ago, I discovered that he was the author of a series of murder mysteries, most of which occurred in South America. I’m currently reading his latest, “The Origin of Murder” that takes place in the Galapagos. You can visit his website to learn about his books, his writing process and other interests. You can also visit other authors on this tour by following links to them in each of the blogs. I hope you enjoy it.

To continue the tour, I have answered the four questions that each author is asked.

What are you working on?

As a busy academic scientist, much of my time is spent writing non-fiction. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be. Currently, I’m working on two manuscripts. One is about a protein in cancer cells that is involved in metastasis. That is one focus of the work in my lab. Another is about alterations of a protein in epilepsy that may contribute to seizures. That work is from my assistance to a colleague in Ferrara, Italy. Both of these may someday be written about in posts on my blog, which is mostly science for non-scientists.

I’m still in the planning stages for my second novel. As my first, it will be a murder mystery based in the world of science that is investigated by the team of Steve Jude and Cindy Firestone. Finding something of interest in the world of scientists to which non-scientists can relate is not difficult, as science affects everyone’s life. Finding something common to the careers of scientists and non-scientists to make the theme of a whole book is not so easy. In my first novel PoisonousScience, the theme familiar to everyone is competition in an era of diminishing resources. I haven’t decided the main theme yet for the second novel, but one of the ideas I’m toying with involves a false accusation of cheating, which destroys the career of a scientist.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

There are countless murder mystery novels. There are countless novels about academia. There are even several popular novels about murders that occur in academia. What is different about mine? Well in the words of the only review of eighteen on Amazon for Poisonous Science that wasn’t four or five stars, it “is too true to read it as a fiction- with the understanding that murders were to dramatize the story.” While, I certainly hope nobody starts murdering scientists in retaliation for an unfair review, I’m fairly certain that revenge of some sort has crossed the mind of everyone, scientist or non-scientist who feels that they have been the victim of injustice. But, at the same time, I put some humor into many of the situations in my stories because my outlook on life is to look adversity in the face and then break into laughter at the absurdity of it all.

Why do you write what you do?

I’ve loved reading mystery novels and thought about writing one for many years before I began to write the first one. This delay wasn’t only due to being busy with writing scientific article for work, but also having to write in a style that is almost the complete opposite to the style I’ve been using for four decades.

But, I had a story I wanted to tell. Increasing competition for limited resources is so damaging to scientists and their staffs, and the limits on fixing the problem are so frustrating that it just might just make someone, more imbalanced than any real scientist I know, seek the ultimate form of revenge. So, I found the time to write my first novel. Having enjoyed the process, I will certainly find time to write more. Basically, my goal is to have fun combining two things I love to do, solving murder mysteries and informing the public about science and science policy.

How does your writing process work?

Whether it’s science or fiction, I find that having an outline is essential at the beginning. In science writing, sticking with the outline is fairly easy, as the readers will be looking for the information to be presented in a fairly standard sequence and format. In fiction writing, I found it helps in getting started, but that as the intricacies of the story develop, the outline serves more as a general direction to which to return rather than an actual roadmap.

I begin each chapter of a novel with a goal of where I want my characters to reach. Obviously, for some of the characters, the goal they reach at the end of a chapter is only an intermediate in their journey and it may be in their thinking rather than reaching a physical location.

The progress in solving the crime was written from the perspective of Steven Thomas Jude, an FBI agent. As a former forensic pathologist, Steve obtained training in the scientific method. So, although Steve was never a laboratory scientist like many of the victims and suspects, his methods were clearly scientific.

Some of the chapters in my first novel contained the thoughts of the murderer. Those were fun to write. I actually thought about having the murderer be the narrator for the whole book, but then I decided to have the murderer become progressively detached from reality. 

Because my goal is to make the scientist’s world understandable by non-scientists, I asked my wife, a librarian, originally trained in art, to read each chapter. Once, the whole story was complete, I asked a third grade teacher to give me feedback, particularly about what didn’t make sense to her.

My writing mostly occurs when I can avoid distractions. So, most of it is done late at night at home or while traveling on Amtrak between Merced, CA and Los Angeles. When I write dialog, I find it best to then read it out loud. To avoid getting thrown off the train, dialog is strictly written at home.

On with the tour

Now let me introduce the next two authors on this tour, Judith Cranswick ( and Ben Starling ( They will be posting about their writing process around June 21st.  

Judith is a British crime writer who writes standalone psychological suspense novels and the Fiona Mason Mysteries. Fiona Mason is a tour manager for a coach company and each novel is set in a different country. Judith’s love of travel is reflected in nearly all her novels as even her latest edgy suspense novel is partially set against a backdrop of the wonderful wildlife of the amazing Galapagos Islands.

Ben Starling is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both central themes in his upcoming novel. He is currently Writer in Residence for Mirthquake Ltd., a production company that advocates for ocean health and welfare. Most recently, he has participated in protests at the Japanese Embassy in London against the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. Ben graduated from Oxford University with a Master of Arts and M Phil. He is Oxford’s only ever Quintuple Blue (varsity champion five years running), was Captain of the university boxing team, and coached and boxed competitively until about five years ago. He was born in the USA but has lived in the UK since childhood. Ben’s upcoming novel is planned for release in 2015.

Please also like my author page on Facebook -

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why #Immunization by #Vaccination is Good #Health and #Science Policy

Just the facts

#Vaccines and adjuvants

Vaccines are made by mixing dead or almost dead, bacteria or viruses (together called microbes) or parts of microbes with compounds called adjuvants. The adjuvant is often a very irritating inorganic compounds such as aluminum hydroxide. And no - aluminum does not cause Alzheimer's Disease. Sometimes the adjuvant also contains molecules called lipopolysaccharides that are combinations of sugars and fatty acids that are made by bacteria. The adjuvants turn on the immune system so that it more easily starts to respond to the dead or almost dead microbes. 


The body's response that is desirable to the vaccine is the development of immunity to the bacteria or virus from which the vaccine was made. Antibodies are proteins made by our own cells in response to parts of the microbes. The antibodies provide immunity by binding onto live bacteria or viruses when they come into our bodies. This changes the shape of the antibody. Once the antibody's shape changes, cells in our body that can kill microbes recognize the antibody and eat the microbe and kill it.


Very often minor reactions, including sore muscles or fever occurs after inoculation (injection). Other side effects are rare. Vaccines do NOT cause autism. The preservatives sometimes added to vaccines do NOT cause autism. 

Sometimes vaccination does not work. Some individuals immune systems fail to respond. Other times a variant (mutated) form of the microbe develops that can escape the antibodies. Microbes change often so that new vaccines are needed all the time and often cannot be developed until after many people are infected. These are problem that can be overcome by more intense effort in vaccine development. The technology is improving constantly to identify microbial components as targets for vaccine development.

Now for my opinion

Vaccination has saved countless lives by preventing disease. Smallpox, polio and many other deadly diseases have been largely or completely eliminated. Those are more facts. 

My opinion is that as a society, we need more vaccines to be developed and we need to make them mandatory for most preventable diseases, particularly among children. Why mandatory? Because that protects those who may not have been vaccinated yet or those whose immune cells failed to produce antibodies or enough antibodies when vaccinated. I believe that it is irresponsible for anyone to risk exposing others to a disease when it can almost certainly be prevented. 

Exceptions? Yes, there are diseases including some flu strains for which vaccination fails for the reason of mutation that I described above. This is why I wrote "most preventable" diseases. When immunization is not a certainty for almost everyone, then it would be absurd to to make that mandatory.

But, for the vast majority of preventable diseases where immunization is known to work, not getting immunized is just plain nuts!