Sunday, December 31, 2006

The 'gay' sheep saga continues

I posted in the past a few items on the biological research on the sexual orientation of sheep at OHSU. Here's a link to an article in today's SUNDAY TIMES on the issue. Further reports were published here and here, particularly ridiculous was a commentary published in the NEW YORK SUN. The same nutter published the same commentary (well, more or less the same) in a Moonie owned rag called WASHINGTON TIMES (not to be confused with a serious paper, the WASHINGTON POST). In case you wonder why one should spend any time whatsoever discussing this matter, you might wish to check out this US based blog, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this and this for a UK based ranting (cheap shot, I know, but there's plenty more where that came from).
To give credit where credit is due, some are concerned about the potential abuse of such research, eg here, here and here. I must admit I began to wonder about the kind of institution that OHSU is when I read this piece :-) [just kiddin].

Another torturer down ...

Saddam Hussein, former Pres of Iraq and another torturer in chief was hanged yesterday. Frankly, even people usually opposed to capital punishment (like myself) should probably not give a toss one way or another. This guy has been responsible for terrible atrocities during his reign. Millions of Iraqi citizens left their country to protect their very lives from him and his thugs.

Having said that, the trial has of course been farcical. Set up essentially by the winners (if there is such a thing, given the mayhem in that country) of the war, the presiding judges were removed twice during the trial because the current powers that are in Iraq didn't like what they had to say. The actual execution was also a bit macabre. The executioners all wore hoods above their heads, not a great deal different to the way how Saddam's prisoners were executed I would imagine. If the new, 'democratic' Iraq can't do a great deal better than the old one... perhaps there is reason to be concerned for its future.

Here's a nice compilation of quotes from Arab papers on his execution.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Xmas and things

Quite amusing the kind of verbal acrobatic us atheists/secularists/agnostics engage in when we try to avoid Xmas in our email and other communications come December 24/25/26. Trying to avoid the obvious, namely Xmas, we go about it by wishing just about everything else, thereby nonetheless acknowledging the need to wish anything special at all. So we send 'Season's Greetings', wish a 'very early' HNY or a 'great holiday'. - All fair enough I guess. After all, we don't believe in Jesus Christ superstar and the rest of the trinitarian crowd. We should probably wish a 'Merry Christmas' to those who believe. I wonder, though, why we should spend a lot of time wishing anyone else anything else. A Christian friend sent her 'chrissie' greetings, while a colleague of unknown beliefs send 'happy holidays etc etc'. Another nice way of leaving the greetings matter open. After all, you'd substitute the 'etc' with 'Xmas' if you wish or wish 'lots of gifts' or indeed with 'and plenty more good sex'. In most non Xtian countries there are no holidays and Chinese NY falls on a different day than our Jesus Christ inspired NY. So, why bother wishing a HNY either?
Guess those of us who truly don't believe should just move on with their lives and stop wishing this and that just because it's the time of wishing things.
But that's just me, struggling every year about this time with the question of whether to wish, and if so, what to wish...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Oxford Dons refuse to hand control over to externally controlled Council

It seems that not all is lost in higher education. Oxford University's academics refused to hand over control of the institution's financial affairs to external Council members. Thereby they ensured that the self-governance of one of the world's premier universities remains a certainty. This ultimately will ensure a greater degree of academic freedom than would otherwise be the case. Congratulation to colleagues at Oxford for preventing ex-businessman turned Oxford Vice Chancellor John Hood from handing control over the university effectively to external business people.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Unethical HIV research

ACT UP Paris has been critical of currently ongoing clinical HIV trials in Uganda and Zimbabwe. Check out this link for further detailled information. The organisation is concerned about standards of care, informed consent issues and claims that patients in these trials are subjected to unnecessary risks.

Friday, December 15, 2006

UK arms sales corruption probe

The current UK Prime Minister entered office with the promise to deliver the cleanest government ever in the history of the country. True to form his Attorney General ended today a corruption probe investigating whether BAE had indeed used a 60 mio GBP slush fund to bribe Saudi officials in order to seal a major arms deal. Remarkably the investigation wasn't ended because it was all too obvious for anyone to see that the allegations were untrue. No, the investigation was ended due to it being considered a threat to 'national security'... - No wonder there is an ever growing lack of trust in politicians and politics in the country.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Primate experiments are 'morally required' say scientists

A report by a group of leading biomedical researchers, chaired by David Weatherall, has concluded, according to THE TIMES that 'Experiments with monkeys are “morally required” as the only way to answer scientific questions of crucial importance to human health, an expert inquiry said yesterday.' I am not qualified to evaluate the scientific claim herein, namely that 'scientific questions of crucial importance to human health' can only be answered by undertaking experiments involving primates. I have some doubts, as surely, experiments involving humans should yield even better results. Be that as it may, though, an ethical case for primate research could not possibly be made even if that statement was correct. It is not possible to derive a moral ought from this observation. To be fair, however, this conclusion was cooked up by a TIMES journalist. The actual report contains a reasonably sophisticated analysis of the ethical issues involved.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Che Guevara and today's students

Good (or bad) ol Che has become a Warhol like icon of modern consumerism. No doubt he would turn in his grave did he know. Alas, we don't turn in our graves when we are dead, because that is part of being dead (ie we don't move about anylonger).
What puzzles me about this current fashion is that seemingly most of those youngsters (well, being safely in my 40s now, folks in their 20s are youngsters on my books) have no clue whatsoever about Che Guevara's ideals, and much of his life. Just the other day I noticed in a very close friend's bedroom a huge Che poster (red background, the lot). Thing is, my friend is a deep adherent of modern capitalism, he shows open disdain for my 'public sector' work as an educator, wants to open up a business and be a successful entrepreneur. Now, surely my friend is entitled to his views. What is puzzling about this one, however, is that Che Guevara, had he come across my friend during the Cuban revolution, would have had him shot on sight.
Well, you'd argue that at a time when Milos Foreman's songs from his musical HAIR are being abused to sell shampoo, quite possibly we should accept that Che's face graces the bedroom walls of business students. I remain unconvinced. I still think that once we choose our heroes, we should know enough about them to explain why they are our heroes. But, that's just me

Steven Purcell is gay - who cares?

The papers reported yesterday that the leader of Glasgow City Council, a New Labour politician by the name Steven Purcell 'outed' himself. It seems he split up with his wife some time in summer and for some reason or other thought it worthwhile holding a press conference announcing that he is gay. What puzzled me about this case is that actually even the broadsheets reported this amazing amazing revelation. - I mean, really, this is the 21st century, who cares?

General Pinochet is dead ... finally

Yes, the old king of torture died today, aged 91. Sadly so he successfully managed to escape prosecution and eventual prison for the many crimes against Chilean and other citizens committed under his dictatorship. In case you want to know a bit more about this terrible character, visit the Guardian's website. The paper has an excellent Special Report on Pinochet.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Unethical research on pregnant women with herpes


Drug-Company Sponsored Research Trial Needlessly Put Indigent Pregnant
Women and Their Infants at Risk

Placebos Administered to Pregnant Women With Genital Herpes Simplex
Virus Resulted in Unnecessary Cesarean Deliveries

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dozens of primarily indigent pregnant women
enrolled in a drug-company sponsored research trial were needlessly
put at risk by being treated with a placebo rather than a generic drug
proven to help them, according to a letter authored by Public Citizen
and two medical school professors and obstetricians published in the
December edition of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The trial, funded by Glaxo-Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline), measured
the efficacy of valacyclovir administered to pregnant women with a
history of genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) in reducing outbreaks of
genital HSV lesions at the time of labor. Women with HSV outbreaks
during pregnancy, especially those who experience a first episode, are
more likely to have another outbreak while in labor. When this occurs,
a Cesarean delivery is routinely performed to prevent HSV transmission
to the baby, which can result in sometimes-fatal neonatal HSV

The clinical trial ran from April 1998 to November 2004 at Parkland
Hospital in Dallas, which serves a predominantly low-income
population. The results were published in the July 2006 edition of
Obstetrics & Gynecology, the official journal of the American College
of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Valacyclovir is a drug that is converted in the body into acyclovir.
Since 1999, acyclovir has been recommended by ACOG to be considered at
36 weeks of gestation for pregnant women with their first episode of
HSV during that pregnancy to prevent another outbreak at the time of
labor and the need for a Cesarean delivery. The authors of the study
ignored this guideline by including in the trial 62 women who had a
first episode of genital HSV during the pregnancy, most presumably
recruited after the ACOG guidelines were published.

In addition, four of the researchers who wrote the 2006 article
published a review article in 2003 that concluded that acyclovir
significantly reduced Cesarean rates for women with both first and
recurrent episodes of HSV compared to a placebo. Nonetheless, for more
than a year after submitting their findings, the researchers continued
to enroll women with both first and recurrent episodes, half of whom
received placebos.

"At the very same time these researchers were publishing their
conclusion that acyclovir could reduce Cesareans, they weren't
offering this drug to these indigent patients," said Dr. Adam Urato,
an obstetrician at the University of South Florida and one of the
letter's authors. "They were knowingly placing their patients at
higher risk. Did the patients understand that the researchers
themselves had concluded that acyclovir reduced the risk of Cesarean?"

As a result of this conduct by both the drug company and the
researchers, a significant number of the women assigned to receive the
placebo had an HSV outbreak that led to a Cesarean section – an
outbreak that likely could have been prevented if they had been
appropriately treated with acyclovir. The Declaration of Helsinki,
developed by the World Medical Association as a statement of ethical
principles in medical research involving human subjects, states that
any "new method should be tested against those of the best current
prophylactic, diagnostic, and therapeutic methods."

The authors of the letter called upon the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, which authorized the study, to
issue a formal apology to the pregnant women enrolled and to perform a
full investigation as to what went wrong to allow such a trial to take
place. They also called for compensation for the women involved in the
trial who were not properly treated and underwent Cesarean sections.

In addition, they urged ACOG and the editors at Obstetrics &
Gynecology to initiate an inquiry as to how this study was handled by
the journal. The Declaration of Helsinki also implores journals that
"reports of experimentation not in accordance with the principles laid
down in this Declaration should not be accepted for publication."

"Indigent pregnant women represent a particularly vulnerable
population," said Dr. Aaron Caughey, an obstetrician at the University
of California, San Francisco, and the lead author of the letter. "That
a research trial could be performed that put pregnant women at risk
when an effective medication was available flies in the face of
responsible medical research."

Public Citizen has a long history of involvement in the debate over
the appropriate use of placebos in clinical trials, particularly in
developing countries. "We have long contended that if researchers and
drug companies could get away with administering placebos under
questionable conditions in developing countries, they would do the
same to poor people in the United States," said Dr. Peter Lurie,
deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "Now they

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My little letter to the editor of Scottish daily newspapers

The background of the letter (ie the story) can be found here.

And this is my letter:

Perth SNP MSP Roseanna Cunningham's views on adoption of children by same sex couples are remarkable. They are remarkable because they are not even tainted by any attempt to provide sound reasons (harm to children, that sort of stuff) for her prejudices against gay people. Rather, according to her, adoption of children by same sex couples is 'against nature's design'. Feel free to substitute 'God', 'the Almighty' etc etc for 'nature' if you wish, it's the same type of 'reasoning'. Scottish and other philosophers will be deeply grateful to Ms Cunningham as this little piece of 'wisdom' makes for a nice hook to begin a Philosophy 101 module: 'How not to make your case' might be a good heading for that class. The types of ideologues peddling such 'wisdom' tried to convince us a few hundred years back that the earth is flat, among other things. Big surprise then that they have also discovered further moral guidance in nature, telling us that gay adoption is bad. We all know that some people hold prejudices against gay people, ethnic minorities, single parents and other easy targets. What is remarkable is that the Scottish parliament is abused as a venue to propagate such prejudices. I call on the SNP to tell us prior to the next elections what its considered stance on this issue is. Scotland is the most secular part of the UK, surely Scots will want to know whether they can expect from a potential future SNP government gutter driven policies such as those propagated by its MSP Roseanna Cunningham.

... and here... the latest from the US of A

a teenager got shot and killed for throwing eggs at SUVs... seems the driver of one such monster pursued him with his vehicle and shot him.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Car drivers must soon pay for road utilisation

The UK government received a report proposing that car drivers shoulod be charged for using public roads. The report indicates that up to 28 billion GBP could accrue to users of trains and busses per annum. Must say I much like this idea (declaration of potential conflict of interest: I would be a beneficiary of this policy if it came into being - I don't have a driver's license and do not know how to drive a car). This should result into measurable reductions in cars on roads. This in turn would reduce the continuing destruction of our environment as well as make road utilisation more efficient for those using them (they would be able to get faster from A to B as there should be less cars about).
The funny people at SKY news (Rupert Murdoch's 'news' outlet) wondered aloud this morning whether the money would be spend to build more roads...