Karen Ventii Karen Ventii of the Science to Life blog recently defended her dissertation. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Ventii on a job well done and look forward to an undoubtedly stellar career in science and medical writing
Run on over to Science to Life, read over a few posts and I think you will look forward to her next career steps as well, particularly if opportunities should afford themselves for public writing. It also wouldn’t hurt to leave a kind word on the accomplishment!

Okay, with Stage 13 on the books, where are we with the doping cases? Well, first we had Manuel Beltrán nailed for erythropoietin (EPO); his team Liquigas pulled him out of the Tour and suspended him. Next up was Moisés Dueñas as the second rider with a “non-negative test” for EPO. Number three is Riccardo Riccó, also nailed on suspicion of EPO.
Here is where it gets interesting.

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Bookshelf: Beautiful Boy

July 18, 2008

beautiful_boy-cover-sm.jpg
www.davidsheff.com
You’ve likely seen copies of David Sheff‘s memoir Beautiful Boy at Starbucks, your local bookstore, the library and reviewed in your paper. It is becoming a bit of a phenomenon.
I picked up a copy of this a couple of months ago at my local bookstore. The book is about a father’s discussion of dealing with the drug addiction of his son. As you might imagine DearReader, YHN was intrigued.
As an initial warning, there may be spoilers ahead in the post or following discussion. So if you worry about that sort of thing, don’t read below the fold. Also, this isn’t a review, as such, just an invitation to discuss the book.

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Three Techs

July 17, 2008

The considerable efforts of the academic side of the scientific team (the PI, postdocs, grad student and undergraduates) depend heavily on the efforts of a variety of technical staff in many types of biomedical research. I already discussed the value of the laboratory technician, meaning the individuals who are hired by the PI to work specifically for her within her lab. There are also a variety of institutional support technicians who work to provide needed skills and resources that are shared across many labs. Examples include scientific core facilities providing anything from specific high budget equipment to cost-effective routine assays. Other support may come from shops that manufacture custom lab equipment, animal care staff, human subjects medical support, information technology and graphic design experts.
I depend on several types of support staff in my work and find that, just as with techs in my own lab, good quality employees can be a critical difference in furthering the efficient, rapid and high quality progress of our work. So when I step back for a minute and notice that three of the most hard working, caring, responsible, smart, innovative and service-of-the-science-focused support techs that I have ever run across are no longer in the job anymore, well, I care. A lot.

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A functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging luminary has accused two previous scientific trainees of dubious academic shenanigans if not outright scientific misconduct. Nikos Logothetis discussed his complaints in a news focus published in Nature. Specifically, he:

charged that two of his former research students took data from his laboratory without his permission and published scientifically incorrect interpretations of them against his advice.

and

claims that the journal involved, Human Brain Mapping, acted incorrectly by publishing the paper after he told them the data were inappropriate. He says the journal has denied him the right to a timely reply.

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The world’s greatest sporting event is on at the moment; I’m sure you are all glued to the live feed from cyclingnews.com every morning (in the US, whatever time wherever you may be) [Go Vande Velde!!!!!]. You may possibly have missed the expected, i.e., the first doping positive- Beltrán was booted for suspicion of EPO doping. And you know we just love the doping stories around here. [Update 7/16/08: Another EPO positive non-negative “A” sample]
One of the larger ones of recent interest was the Landis debacle. The debacle in which the accused rider’s defense rested in no small part on the probity of the testing lab and the validity of the analyses which provided evidence of his testosterone doping.

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Fathers of 5 year old boys and house-trainers of young puppies realize that they do not get the message the first time. Nor the twentieth. It is not a labor for the impatient. I am, once in a while, patient. [There will be language that some people find offensive after the jump so don’t complain if you click through]

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Pioneering cardiac and vascular surgeon Michael E. DeBakey passed away last week. He was an absolute lion of surgical innovation. And it wasn’t as though he didn’t have a little prime-time lustre himself.

DeBakey, physician to such notables as the Duke of Windsor, the Shah of Iran, King Hussein of Jordan and Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, had a long and distinguished career as a medical pioneer and a public policy statesman. This year he was awarded one of the nation’s highest civic honors, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Still, the always insightful media-watcher (and Sb SuperReader) Anonymoustache noticed something a little bit odd:

There were two deaths that got some significant coverage in the news today.
-snip-
There was a trend to this coverage, of course. Virtually every news outlet gave big-time splashy front page status to one of these two people. The other received also-ran status from some outlets while he was completely omitted from the front pages of the rest.

What is wrong with this world? Guess who the also-ran was? Go read, but make sure you are in a place you can scream at the computer for a few minutes.

I will be guest blogging at Feministe for the next two weeks, so expect few if any posts from me in that interval. I’m sure DrugMonkey will hold down the fort here just fine without me.

It is a hard thing when somebody is lost from your subfield. We talk a lot about competition, scooping and limited funding resources but in the vast majority of cases, the interactions with your fellow scientists are just plain enjoyable. Oftentimes, you may have a limited subset of a dozen or fewer science homies that are practically like family. These individuals understand, really, the esoterica that totally charge you up about your subfield. They wax excited about your latest TotallyKewl result as if they were in your lab themselves. You can’t wait to hear about what they have been doing lately. You meet at conferences and talk late into the after-sessions hours over a very obscure dataset, plot collaborative projects and TotalWorldDomination of your sub-sub-sub-field with your brilliance. You edit special journal issues with this one and focused conference sessions with that one. Trade trainees. Oh, it’s high times, scientifically.
…and then, one day, one of them is gone.

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A story I recently heard from an correspondent who works as a medical professional in a general surgery practice reminds me of the distance we have yet to travel in understanding even the seemingly obvious implications of drug abuse. My correspondent’s practice sees a breadth of cases, including a diversity of acute trauma cases which are severe enough to require a surgery consult. Some cases will require immediate surgery and a lengthy hospitalization for recovery; several weeks may be required when someone has suffered severe trauma. Other cases might involve a little wait-and-see to determine if surgical intervention is going to be required; a several day observation window would not be uncommon. One of these latter cases resulted in an interesting story.
Agent: “We had a guy check himself out against medical advice while we were waiting to see if he was going to get better or require surgery. The patient was apparently really ticked off that they wouldn’t let him out to smoke. He was found a couple of hours later lying in the street.”
YHN: “So what happened, you mean he bled out or something?”
Agent: “Oh, no. In the Emergency Department they hit him with [the opiate antagonist] Narcan and he woke right up”

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The advocates for legalization of the recreational and clinical use of marijuana and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or “Ecstasy” in street parlance) are quite fond of questioning the observations published by scientists on the detrimental effects which may result from recreational use. This will come as no shock to my readers. Nor will the observation that certain legalization advocates seem to feel that drug abuse scientists funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse are willing tools and puppets of a vast right-wing prohibitionist conspiracy.
Since I have, do or likely will fall into this category of scientists, I take exception to this position.

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Dr. A at RESEARCHERS recently discussed having taken an intensive two-week science course where the students and faculty are sequestered in some locale (frequently quite lovely) for at least several weeks of intensive didactic and practical instruction in a particular field/subfield:

In attempts to decode the complexity that is statistical genetics, I enrolled in a 2 week workshop that just ended. That is two weeks I will never get back. Two weeks out of my absurdly crowded schedule. The thing with these types of courses.. is that they cannot possibly cater to everyone. Half of us have a good biology background, the other half were statisticians. Meaning I had to keep my mind from wondering during the derivation of every blood equation (see doodles) and sift through the masses of information to dig out what I need and basically work on grasping that stuff every evening. Needless to say my brain is full. It hurts. I have chi squared distributions oozing out of my pores. Gross.
How useful are such workshops? How much professional development should one be doing? How do you weigh the trade off? I was out of the lab for 2 weeks during a very busy time. Was it worth it? I’m not sure yet.

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The essential currency of the modern biomedical science career is the research publication. By which I mean your name listed as an author on a peer-reviewed journal article. This has always been the case and is not selective to science, the publish-or-perish mantra is common to many academic disciplines.
Nevertheless. In bioscience the current realities of career, funding and advancement put a huge pressure on scientists to accumulate as many authorship credits as possible.
Which means you must ignore conventional or traditional concepts of how things are done, what is polite behavior, whether you are being a selfish snot, etc and discuss authorship early, often and continually with your labmates, mentors, collaborators and trainees.

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Recreational use and abuse of prescription narcotics has received much attention in recent years, from the 2003 revelation that Rush Limbaugh was abusing OxyContin to the multi-drug overdose of Heath Ledger. If you do a little searching you will no doubt run across some descriptions of prescription narcotic abuse as growing and alarming trends. Kevin Z of Deep Sea News and The Other 95% pointed me to a handy little tool to take a look at a couple of aspects of these trends.

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