May 7, 2009

Go Elsevier

Category: Not Wholesome!!! — Biella @ 2:21 pm

It looks like publishing fake journals was becoming closer to habit for Elsevir rather than a one-time exceptional mistake.

Scientific publishing giant Elsevier put out a total of six publications between 2000 and 2005 that were sponsored by unnamed pharmaceutical companies and looked like peer reviewed medical journals, but did not disclose sponsorship, the company has admitted.

Elsevier is conducting an “internal review” of its publishing practices after allegations came to light that the company produced a pharmaceutical company-funded publication in the early 2000s without disclosing that the “journal” was corporate sponsored.

I really hope people use this an an opportunity to detach fully from them.

January 28, 2009

HFCS is even worse thanks to … mercury

Category: Not Wholesome!!!,Politics — Biella @ 6:46 am

So, on the one hand, I am not surprised about this news about a study which found that high fructose corn syrup, which is of questionable health value, is laced, with a significant amount with mercury.

On the other hand, I am surprised that this is not splattered all over the front pages of all the major newspapers. This is serious stuff. Mercury is extremely poisonous and is known to cause all sort of health problems from immune system dysfunction to massive neurological damage.

Might more of our foods be laced with heavy metals, aside from fish, HFCS. It is very likely.

More on this, but later.

update: Since the article I linked to did not mention the amount of mercury found, here is the original publication (and as a small aside, why newspapers don’t link to these documents is beyond belief). Page 9 of the PDF is particularly telling because it reveals how it was difficult for researchers to obtain more samples so that they could enlarge the sample size….

May 13, 2008

Massive FUD: twisting science for the sake of profit

Category: Academic,Not Wholesome!!!,Politics,Science — Biella @ 3:51 pm

For those interested in the politics of science, or to be more specific, how science is flagrantly twisted to keep important facts and findings about our public health from public view, this book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Micahels looks like a must read. For those wanting a little here is a review of the book.. In short, the author shows how occlusion comes from the need to secure and protect profits, and is achieved with what he calls the “alchemy” of twisting numbers and facts:

“It’s quite easy to take a positive result [showing harmful effects] and turn it falsely negative. This epidemiological alchemy is used widely.”

The problem runs deep as this other article from Slate magazine also indicates. But there are some good sources to get and evaluate your science and health news and health news review seems like one important place to go.

May 6, 2008

Monsanto: Making the RIAA and Big Pharma Look Kinda Good

Category: IP Law,Monsanto,Not Wholesome!!!,Politics — Biella @ 3:38 pm

Surveillance, massive patent litigation, and toxic trails are just a few of the atrocities that are part and parcel of the global giant Monsanto. They do not just produce a lot of the worlds GE crops but some MAJOR FUD with real muscle as this disturbing in-depth article demonstrates . Whether it is their shadowy, relentless fight against American farmers to “protect” their patents or their fight to scare dairy farmers from labeling their milk BST free, they deploy an astonishing range of legal and extra-legal tactics to make sure they stay on top.

Below is a smattering of some of their creepiest tactics, which kinda make the RIAA look angelic in comparison.

“To gather leads, the company maintains an 800 number and encourages farmers to inform on other farmers they think may be engaging in “seed piracy. Once Pilot Grove had been targeted, Monsanto sent private investigators into the area. Over a period of months, Monsanto’s investigators surreptitiously followed the co-op’s employees and customers and videotaped them in fields and going about other activities. At least 17 such surveillance videos were made, according to court records”

“Studies by health authorities consistently found elevated levels of PCBs in houses, yards, streams, fields, fish, and other wildlife—and in people. In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia entered into a consent decree with the E.P.A. to clean up Anniston. Scores of houses and small businesses were to be razed, tons of contaminated soil dug up and carted off, and streambeds scooped of toxic residue. The cleanup is under way, and it will take years, but some doubt it will ever be completed—the job is massive. To settle residents’ claims, Monsanto has also paid $550 million to 21,000 Anniston residents exposed to PCBs, but many of them continue to live with PCBs in their bodies. Once PCB is absorbed into human tissue, there it forever remains.”

The company contends that advertising by Kleinpeter and other dairies touting their “no rBGH” milk reflects adversely on Monsanto’s product. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in February 2007, Monsanto said that, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that there is no difference in the milk from cows treated with its product, “milk processors persist in claiming on their labels and in advertisements that the use of rBST is somehow harmful, either to cows or to the people who consume milk from rBST-supplemented cows.”

Monsanto called on the commission to investigate what it called the “deceptive advertising and labeling practices” of milk processors such as Kleinpeter, accusing them of misleading consumers “by falsely claiming that there are health and safety risks associated with milk from rBST-supplemented cows.

January 24, 2008

Spread the beef

Anyone who knows me, even remotely, knows that I have a huge beef with the American health insurance industry, which was greatly magnified after my own unpleasant run-ins with them over the course of the last two years. But of course while the insurance industry is certainly a ruthless predator and thus deserving much of the blame, they are not the sole culprit in sustaining what is a lousy health care system for Americans. A key player, I think, are American doctors, and I would now like to spread that beef patty of disgust to them, especially since they are now the one’s giving me problems dealing with the final portion of BCBS bill. The story is indicative of lager issues and problems that center on the problematic silence “spoken” by doctors.

To make a long story short, BCBS of NJ was not ponying up some serious cash (at least for me) for 2 mole surgeries because they were claiming it was pre-existing condition. After having the public relations director email me (thanks to that post) and a lot of research and letters etc, it was more or less resolved. Soon after they overturned the pre-existing “bs” (and I am not talking blue shield here), they promptly started to pay all sorts of bills (and I even got money back from doctors I had paid).

But there is one pesky $1600 bill that lingers like a bad smell and the question is why? I am not entirely sure but my interactions with my ex-dermatologists, Affilated Dermatology in NJ, I think reveal some important lessons as to why and how the medical establishment are complicit.

Basically, BCBS is telling me that it looks like they have been double billed because the cost is exactly the same for two procedures that are also exactly the same. I explained that I had did indeed have two surgeries on my scalp (they were really close to each other) and they let me know that the provider needs to call back and send information that clearly shows there were two surgeries. This actually seems somewhat legitimate and potential mistake (and it is not like medical billing is known for their lack of mistakes and integrity either).

So I call Affiliated Dermatology and while I would say they have been patient, in so far as patiently waiting for my money, they have been completely unhelpful in any meaningful sense to help me getting this resolved. Now, given how difficult it is to deal with the health insurance industry, I understand they can’t provide fine-tuned, fine-grained personal attention. The health insurance industry engages in some real hefty politics of foot dragging and well, there are so many foot soldiers at doctor’s offices to keep up with the web of knots that the health insurance constantly entangles us in. With that caveat in place, they can however do two things:

1. Inform you that you can contact the Department of Housing and Insurance and start some sort of formal complain process.

2. Give you some small clue as to whether the doctor has sent any of the additional requested information (they are usually mum, or enigmatic, or totally confusing with regards to that) so you know what the heck is going on.

So a few days ago when I was speaking with health insurance person at the dermatology office, she claimed there was nothing else she could do about this last bill. Every time she calls BCBS, she claims that they claim it is a problem with being a pre-existing condition, and I was like “how can that be when that has been cleared and every other bill, and there were many, has been paid?” And then she also said that there has never been this confusion before where 2 surgeries look like one, blah blah and blah (and in retrospect, I forgot to tell her that my double surgery, according to the doc, was in fact highly unusual, because they would usually do them on two separate days because they were so close to each other. They made an exception because I was literally on my way to Canada and begged them to do so but anyway).

Ok, so there I was bickering with this woman and feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. Finally I let her know, point blank, that they have been remarkably patient with the billing but totally unhelpful in, well, helping me out. I let her know that they should let people like me know, for example, that they can file a formal complaint against the health insurance company and this would at least get the ball rolling. I then let her know that I had no other option but to file another complaint with the Dept of Banking and Insurance and they would just have to wait for that, at which point, she all of a sudden became more helpful. She suggested that we can do a three way call to resolve this. Well there you go. Why did it take a heated 15 minute conversation topped with a threat to get what I think actually makes perfect sense? Get the 3 parties involved on the phone with each other so as to all get on the same damn page about what needs to be done (not sure if BCBS will agree to this… at which point I will pester the public relations director again and in the end, I think this was resolved because he was sick of my emails).

Now, why why why why why why are doctors and their staff so unhelpful? I think that main answer is they are overwhelmed and don’t have the staff to deal with the enormous amount of foot dragging and coy tactics deployed by the health insurance. That said, there are 2 things worth mentioning that I think don’t paint a very flattering picture of many American doctors.

If you pay attention to your medical bills (and you always should), it is immediately evident that the doctors and hospitals get paid LESS, sometimes a lot less, if the health insurance company foots the bill because of the pre-arranged negotiated rate. So there is an actual incentive on that side of things to get paid via the consumer as opposed to the health insurance company. Now. I am sure that there are health care economic studies and reports justifying this strangeness but that does not make it right either. There is a clear incentive in place to get your green dollars, as opposed to those of the insurance company.

Second and this is a much bigger issue, is that I think that for any meaningful change to happen, we need the active support of a large percentage of the medical community, especially doctors. If they are mum, or actively opposed to health care reform (as was the case when the AMA helped derail the Clinton effort at instituting universal health care in the 1990s), well then it becomes all that much harder for the general populace and the politicians to initiate real change. Doctors are the ones, after all, with the moral weight and capacity to make claims that can STICK. If they are saying this system negatively impacts how we care for the ill, it is a system that is is immoral, well, one should listen to them as they are the ones, after all, who dedicated their LIFE to healing the ill, right? Yes? No? Maybe?

So their silence is nothing short of grave. The good news is that it seems like more doctors are on board than ever before clamoring for change in the right direction, but we need a lot more to come aboard…

A number of years ago, I wanted to write a controversial and critical article that claimed hackers are more ethical than doctors. I thought it would be fun to claim that those who are usually seen as ethical (doctors) are less so than those that are usually portrayed as bad-as* unethical tricksters.

Some people were offended by this because doctors deal with the great burden of life, death, sickness, and thus suffering while geeks and hackers are “just” geeking out on their computers. True. But at least a cadre of hackers have sustained a social realm and a real ethics–free software–in order to guarantee their own autonomy and also create the conditions for what is right for software.

Doctors, on the other hand, do not carry the torch of ethics as they should. While individually I am sure they deal with a oodles of difficult ethical choices and decisions, it is about time they they turn as a collective to the larger structural conditions that seriously cause a lot of harm to millions of Americans, especially the droves of uninsured. They have the moral weight to do something about it and it is about time they carry their weight in this battle and take some burden of suffering off others.

May 2, 2007

Share the Past, Create the Future, See a Bunch of Dudes Pontificate

Category: Not Wholesome,Not Wholesome!!!,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 3:28 pm

I just received a fund raising email from Lawrence Lessig who is trying to raise money to support the isummit conference to be held in mid-June in Croatia. The goal is to raise $ 100,000 which will be matched by some anonymous donor.

I hope that they are also trying to meet the challenge of getting a few ladies on board as keynote speakers because so far they don’t even have one and there are barely any as workshop organizers. Oh hey, but at least someone noticed on their website.

Along with the cash, maybe they need to raise some “awareness.” I know I sound like a broken record when it comes to this issue, but the record is broken…

April 26, 2007

Abbot and the Slimy Politics of Drug Patents

Category: IP Law,Not Wholesome!!!,Pharma,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 3:38 pm

For those of you who like to follow cutting edge developments in the politics of intellectual property law, do not miss today’s Democracy Now program AIDS Activists Call for Global Boycott of Abbott for Withholding Drug Sales in Thailand.

It is sort of stunning in that empowering and disempowering way. The show discusses protests launched again the large pharmaceutical company Abbot who in reaction–no, make that retaliation–to Thailand’s decision to issue compulsory licenses on AIDS drugs, and import generic drugs acted in highly questionable ways:

“Abbott responded in a way that shocked many AIDS activists – the company announced it would withhold seven new drugs from sale in Thailand including a new AIDS drugs and treatments for arthritis and high blood pressure.”

It is great to see countries use the very slim rights granted to them by organizations like the WTO but in order for the rights to have any punch, these countries *must* be given the space to make these decisions without the deep intimation and that is exactly what Abbot is up to.

To learn more, read the transcript, listen to the show. And if you want to go on, I have pasted the “favorite” part of the show:


August 5, 2005

Funny and not so funny

Category: Humor,Not Wholesome!!!,Wholesome — @ 8:00 am

Funny, one may say hilarious and not so funny, one may say downright disturbing

January 11, 2005

Putting things into Perspective

Category: Not Wholesome!!! — Biella @ 11:21 pm

So today as reported on Lawrence Lessig’s blog, IBM is pledging 500 patents to a patent pool a safe zone for open source development. Even though Lessig places this news under his “hero” category, I will use my Not Wholesome category, in fact I think I will break out my rarely used Not Wholesome!!! category to comment on it,

Why? In 1999, IBM, the largest patent holder in the world, made a profit of 1 billion dollars from patent licenses alone (!!!) and along with this, they accrued a record breaking 2,756 new patents (!!!). The following year, they made 1.5 billion from their patents and were awarded 3.4000 new patents. 500 patents in a safe sone patent pool is not even like placing patents in a kiddie pool but is more like putting them in a (small) spalsh of urine. I am not alone in thinking of IBM’s move as tactically disingenous, yet enormously advantageous for them. It gives them some sort of street cred, fame, and publicity, and sort of serves to momentarily ward off the contradiction that is open source at the largest patent holder in the world (and probably Known Universe). I was also glad to see NoSoftwarePatents stand firm to their credo:

It’s just diversionary tactics. Let’s put this into perspective: We’re talking about roughly 1% of IBM’s worldwide patent portfolio. They file that number of patents in about a month’s time.

Ok, so I have to admit as much as I think this is a problematic political move, it does make my dissertation a tad more exciting (I have a whole section on IBM) and I can’t really claim some total vitriolic hate for IBM. After all, I just ordered an X40.

November 17, 2004

Aesthetic Violence

Category: Not Wholesome!!! — Biella @ 10:33 pm

Well well well. If it was not enough that Walmart has ruined the lives of countless women all over the country, now the are going to go South, and along with all their usual shady labor practices, they are going to conduct serious aesthetic violence by opening a big fatty outfit in the city of Teotihuacan otherwise known for its stunning ruins. Teotihuacan, also known as -The Place Where Men Become Gods- should be renamed to something like Walmart: Where QUETZACOTL *– shops.

Worse is that “the national anthropology institute that oversees the ruins says the building poses no threat.” Blargh

But really, as my friend dmh sardonically reminded me on irc today there is a sliver lining to this dark cloud. “On the plus side,” he said “you will be able to conveniently develop your photos of the sacred ruins.”

The God of Convenience has indeed become one of the scariest, ghoulish gods of our times…

* Aztec God of Sun and the Air

ps– Thanks to Anne for bringing this to our attention.