BikeMonkey Guest-Post
Most of you have been following, I presume, all of the anti-woman legislation being pursued by Republicans at the State level. It reached a bit of a fever pitch recently with the State Senate filibuster of an anti-abortion bill by Senator Wendy Davis. More recently the North Carolina legislature has been trying to enact draconian anti-abortion legislation as well. They did so, cravenly, by first shoehorning the policy into a bill launched (entirely un-ironically, apparently) to combat Sharia law and then putting it into a motorcycle safety bill! Resourceful these folks certainly are.

In this political conversation the occasional wag has been seen to refer to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. For those who are unfamiliar, the Wikipedia:

…a movement calling itself the “Sons of Jacob” launches a revolution and suspends the United States Constitution under the pretext of restoring order.

They were quickly able to take away all of the women’s rights, largely attributed to the financial records being stored electronically and labelled by gender. The new theocratic military dictatorship-styled “The Republic of Gilead”, moved quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsorily cult-Christian regime of selectively skewed Old Testament-inspired social and religious ultra-conservatism among its newly created social classes. In this society, almost all women are forbidden to read.

The story is presented from the point of view of a woman called Offred (literally Of-Fred, however not a patronymic as some critics claim). The character is one of a class of individuals kept as concubines (“handmaids”) for reproductive purposes by the ruling class in an era of declining births. The book is told in the first person by Offred, who describes her life during her third assignment as a handmaid, in this case to Fred (referred to as “The Commander”). Interspersed in flashbacks are portions of her life from before and during the beginning of the revolution, when she finds she has lost all autonomy to her husband, through her failed attempt to escape with her husband and daughter to Canada, to her indoctrination into life as a handmaid. Through her eyes, the structure of Gilead’s society is described, including the several different categories of women and their circumscribed lives in the new theocracy.

Ahh, you hyperbolic feminists and liberals. Such a bunch of sensationalists! Surely the GOP wouldn’t try to cause any such thing. Totally different!

This country, the USA, reaching far back to it’s genesis as a European Colony, was not originally a slave country. In fact, it was formed under English common law which explicitly prohibited slavery at the time. It was formed by peoples who were at war with a country which did, at the time, have a legal slave tradition….that would be Spain.

The English common law did provide for indentured servitude. The indentured service arose from the 1562 Statute of Apprentices and subsequent English Poor Laws which allowed poor people to be indentured to work for a richer person for a period of time, 7 years and/or up to the age of 24 was in the original Statute. All considered perfectly reasonable so for discussion purposes, sure, let’s start with that assumption.

When Jamestown, Virginia was established (early 1600s) as a profit venture, it originally struggled. Mightily. Somewhere around 1616 the Virginia Company realized they should leverage indentured servitude and started shipping over poor individuals as cut-rate labor. It worked in various ways with first the plantation owners in Virginia pre-paying “passage” and then apparently devolved into captains loading up in England with passengers on spec, and then auctioning them off to the plantation owners upon arrival in Virginia. Auctioning of their indentured service interval. Let us be clear. These folks (some around these parts like to start spouting about the Scots and the Irish at this point in the story, we can roll with that) were eventually free colonists. Eventually. And maybe they were freed into a life of struggle and poverty too. Who cares? They were free.

The first recorded boatload of 20+ black people arrived at Jamestown in 1619 under the same deal. Sure, they’d been pirated off the Spanish who held them as slaves but originally they were treated under English common law. They were indentured for the “passage” costs between when the English pirates stole them from the Spanish and delivered them to Virginia. And as per this Wikipedia article:

After working out their contracts for passage money to Virginia, each was granted 50 acres (20 ha) of land (headrights) after completing the indenture. This enabled them to raise their own tobacco or other crops.

So far, so good, right? Just as the fake-equality defenders of the poverty stricken, Scots-Irish descendent Appalachian white folks of modern day would have it, the original black people arriving in the English colonies of America were treated as well or poorly as the in/voluntary poor indentured white folks.

The trouble is, shit happened.

What happened thereafter, from the early 1620s through about 1655, was that a gradual series of critical practices, laws and legal decisions were made that favored the interests of greedy individuals who were entirely callous to the rights of other people. This was against a backdrop in which rich English folks back home were making bank from high seas piracy of the Spanish slave trade. They did so for clear monetary gain, apparent personal convenience and, one must conclude, a considerable amount of ‘othering’ for people not like themselves. At first the clues that permanent lifetime indentured servitude existed in Virginia are scant. The William Wood essay reviews a 1643 case in which the valuation of white (700 pounds of tobacco) and black (3,000 pounds of tobacco) children as part of a decedent’s estate made it clear their indenture was of different durations. Also a 1649 case in which the two white runaway indentured servants had their indenture extended by several years whereas the black one, John Punch, was rendered to lifetime servitude. John Punch is thus often considered the first legally enslaved person of the American English colonies. Fascinatingly, a genetic and genealogical analysis suggests that John Punch is an ancestor of Barack Obama through his mother.

Slippery slopes, people, slippery slopes. What was the harm of a draconian punishment of just one criminal? (He’d run away from his indenture, after all, tch, tch, tch.)

Next up was the fascinating case, in 1654-1655, of one John Casor, indentured to Anthony Johnson, this latter was curiously enough one of the first 20+ black arrivals indentured in 1619. Mr. Johnson had worked free of his indenture, set up as a farmer and became prosperous enough to require indentured servants of his own. John Casor was one such and demanded his release after working 7 or 8 years for Johnson. Johnson refused, claiming he was actually indentured for life (remember those kids?) and Casor somehow ended up working for his neighbor. Johnson sued said neighbor for “detaining his Negro servant”. The court of Northampton County upheld Mr. Johnson’s claim to Mr. Casor which formalized the permanent enslavement of Casor as well as the right of a free black person to own a slave. From this perspective of property rights rather than punishment for a crime, some might claim that Casor was in fact the first formally, legally sanctioned slave of the Americas, rather than Mr. Punch.

Like it matters that much. I’m sure certain folks around here will be happy that the first slave was Obama’s relative through his white mother and others will be tickled to think the first slave was owned by a black farmer.

Oh, and we’re not done with the slippery slope. Not by a long shot. (Just like each abortion restriction isn’t the end of the modern GOP’s goals and attacks, people.)

In 1662 Virginia adopted partus sequitur ventrem which meant that children of black women slaves would be similarly enslaved. This ran counter to English common law which held that the status of a child was tied to the status of the father. Gee, I wonder what that was about….oh yes:

The change also gave cover to the power relationships by which white planters, their sons, overseers and other white men took sexual advantage of enslaved women. Their illegitimate mixed-race children were “confined” to slave quarters unless fathers took specific legal actions on their behalf. The new law in 1662 meant that white fathers were no longer required to legally acknowledge, support, or emancipate their illegitimate children by slave women. Men could sell their issue or put them to work.

Of course it was not just about keeping more black people as slaves, but also about maintaining the ability of rich white dudes to rape women who they quite literally owned. And you know, to force them to bear children for whom the father would take no responsibility whatsoever. (Sound familiar?) The span from 1662 to 1863 was two hundred friggin’ years of free rapin’ rights on the part of wealthy white Southron men in these here lands.

Initially the children of a free white mother and a black man would be free but they soon fixed that loophole. As of 1691 these kids were also indentured (for a mere 30 years!) and the mother had to pay a fine of 15 pounds sterling. If she couldn’t pay, she went into indenture for five years! Then, after having furiously imported lots of black slaves to work the plantations over a few decades, Virginia colony “deported” all free blacks in 1699. Thereafter, if you were black in Virginia, you were enslaved. And the oppression was complete.

A full conversion from the English common law, which banned enslavement, to full lifetime, permanent, cross-generational enslavement.

But naah. Couldn’t ever happen right? No way the current assaults from the GOP on women’s bodies, autonomy and rights could ever slide into the nightmare of The Handmaid’s Tale.

I would recommend reading the Wikipedia entries on:
Anthony Johnson
John Casor
Nat Turner

and in particular the 1970 William J. Wood essay The Illegal Beginning of American Negro Slavery (HeinOnline, GoogleBooks).

Interesting exchange on the twitts today with someone who is intimating that the process of selecting peers to serve as grant reviewers on NIH study sections requires some transparency and fixing.

As my longer term Readers are aware, my main objection along these lines is that I think Assistant Professors should not be excluded and that the purge urged on by Toni Scarpa back some years ago was misguided. I will also venture that I think it is ridiculous that the peer review pool is limited to those Professorial rank people who have already won funding from the NIH (for the most part). If really pressed, I’ve been know to suggest that it is even unfair that the more senior postdoc types who have not yet won a faculty-level appointment cannot review grants.

Other than that, I am generally down with the official mandates to seek ethnic/racial, gender and geographic representation on panels. My personal experience has been that the SROs do a pretty good job at this. Also, because of these factors, I have found that the types of institutions represented spans the range pretty well..small mostly teaching profs, big Research Uni profs, research insitutes of various sizes, public Unis, private Unis, Med Schools and academic departments.

So it is with some confusion that I read someone asserting that there is a problem with who is selected.

My query of the day, therefore, is to ask you if you know of people who seek to serve on study section but cannot seem to land an invite. Alternately, do you know of categories of investigators that are routinely overlooked?

New Case Report from the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

Kesha K, Boggs CL, Ripple MG, Allan CH, Levine B, Jufer-Phipps R, Doyon S, Chi P, Fowler DR. Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (“Bath Salts”),Related Death: Case Report and Review of the Literature. J Forensic Sci. 2013 Jul 3. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.12202. [Epub ahead of print][PubMed, Publisher]

The subject was a 39 year old man with a history of depression, back pain and drug/alcohol abuse. He was found in public talking to himself, delusional. Once admitted to the hospital, he became agitated, tachycardic and hyperthermic (107 degF noted). Although the decedent was positive for diphenhydramine, promethazine, diazepam and nordiazepam the conclusion was….

Based on the investigative, autopsy, and toxicology findings in this case, the cause of death was methylenedioxypyrovalerone intoxication and the manner of death was accident. It is also important to note that his bizarre behavior with life-threatening hyperthermia is consistent with an MDPV-induced excited delirium state in this individual.


The peripheral blood level was 1.0 mg/L of MDPV. We’re just starting to see reports so we’ll just have to wait and collect various blood levels that are associated with medical emergency and death to try to get an idea of the danger zone. Of course, there will be no such thing as an absolute threshold, as individual susceptibility and the circumstances will vary.

My initial mindset on reviewing a manuscript is driven by two things.

First, do I want to see it in print?. Mostly, this means is there even one Figure that is so cool and interesting that it needs to be published.

If there is a no on this issue, that manuscript will have an uphill battle. If it is a yes, I’m going to grapple with the paper more deeply. And if their ARE big problems, I’m going to try to point these out as clearly as I can in a way that preserves the importance of the good data.

Second, does this paper actively harm knowledge?. I’m not as amped up as some people about trivial advance, findings that are boring to me, purely descriptive studies, etc. So long as the experiments seem reasonable, properly conducted, analyzed appropriately and interpreted compactly, well I am not going to get too futzed. Especially if I think there are at least one or two key points that need to be published (see First criterion). If, OTOH, I think the studies have been done in such a way that the interpretation is wrong or clearly not supported…well, that paper is going to get a recommendation for rejection from me. I have to work up to Major Revision from there.

This means that my toughest review jobs are where these two criteria are in conflict. It takes more work when I have a good reason to want to see some subset of the data in print but I think the authors have really screwed up the design, analysis or interpretation of some major aspect of the study. I have to identify the major problems and also comment specifically in a way that reflects my thinking about all of the data.

There is a problem caused by walking the thin line required for a Major-Revision recommendation. That is, I suppose I may pull my punches in expressing just how bad the bad part of the study really is. Then, should the manuscript be rejected from that journal, the authors potentially have a poor understanding of just how big the problem with their data really is. Especially if the rejection has been based on differing comments between the three sets of reviewers. Sometimes the other reviewers will have latched on hard to a single structural flaw…which I am willing to accept if I think it is in the realm of ‘oh, you want another whole Specific Aim’s worth of experiments for this one paper, eh?’.

The trouble is that the authors may similarly decide that Reviewer 3 and Reviewer 1 are just being jerks and that the only strategy is to send it off, barely revised, to another journal and hope for three well-disposed reviewers next time.

The trouble is when the next journal sends the manuscript to at least one reviewer that has seen it before….such as YHN. And now I have another, even harder, job of sorting priorities. Are the minimal fixes an improvement? Enough of one? Should I be pissed that they just didn’t seem to grasp the fundamental problem? Am I just irritated that IMO if they were going to do this they should have jumped right down to a dump journal instead of trying to battle at a lateral-move journal?

Look people, this is really very exceptionally easy to understand. It is not rocket science.

New drug “Molly” produces lasting side effects

Recent social media posts have focused on the side effects of Molly, an MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) drug similar to ecstasy that has become increasingly popular among college students over the past year.

No, it is not “an” MDMA drug and it is not “similar” to ecstasy.

Recreational drugs have all kinds of nicknames. Names that vary across time, place and subpopulation. A given user, however, means something specific.

“Ecstasy” was and is the drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, known as MDMA for short. You can read my musings in the archives.

It is also the case that illicit drug sellers, at times, provide the customers with a drug product which is something other than what the person intends to purchase. In the case of cocaine and heroin, most casual readers will be intimately familiar with teevee and movie plot lines which involve “cutting” pure cocaine or heroin with other substances. The goal, in fiction and in reality, is to make more money from a limited commodity.

“Ecstasy” supplies are notoriously variable in both active drug quantity per dose (i.e. traditional concepts of “cutting”) and in the psychoactive ingredients contained therein. In the case of the latter, there is reason to believe that the non-MDMA, psychoactive drugs might serve as a partial substitute. These alternatives include meth/amphetamine, MDA, MDE, mCPP and caffeine here, here, here, here and here. (Lots of caffeine, actually.) Head over to and you can search for pill constituents yourself.

Now, given this diversity and given that these are psychoactive drugs that have their own fan bases, it would not be surprising in the least to find people actually seeking out or preferring “Ecstasy” that was in fact not MDMA. There is a set of focus group comments here that I find illuminating. You can imagine for yourself why an Ecstasy consumer would prefer to think of methamphetamine as “speedy”-MDMA rather than good old methamphetamine. Also, people are very bad at blind identification of, say, methamphetamine vs MDMA. So there’s that. It is not impossible that some individual might have consistently been sold “Ecstasy” that is actually something else, like mCPP and caffeine, and prefer it and think that this is “Ecstasy”. But I doubt it. Hard to get clear estimates and it varies across time but something on the order of at least half of “Ecstasy” contains only MDMA.

Now, against this history of things marketed as “Ecstasy” that might or might not be pure MDMA, there arose a marketing trend (and user bragging right boast) for pure, genuine Ecstasy/MDMA. Reflecting, of course, that this particular compound/molecule is what substantial parts of the “Ecstasy” market were intending to purchase.

This marketed-as-pure MDMA became termed “Molly” in recent parlance.

Get it journalists? Molly = MDMA = Ecstasy.

And juuuuuusssst as with the prior episode, illicit drug suppliers are motivated to cut and substitute the product they move to people who are seeking to purchase MDMA. Once again, there is undoubtedly drug being sold as “Molly” that in fact contains other psychoactive substances and/or is cut with inert substances.

None of this makes “Molly” some new drug of uncertain identity, however.

Additional Reading:
Music Festival in Washington Leads to Dozens of Drug Overdoses, One Death
Molly: Pure, but Not So Simple
There’s something (potentially dangerous) about molly
Club drug ‘Molly’ on major upswing as Ultra Music Fest Miami approaches
These Rappers Hate Ecstasy

“The proposal is extremely well-written and clear.”

Geez, are we here already? As you know, the 1st of July is the first possible funding date for NIH grants that were submitted in Oct-Nov and reviewed in Feb-Mar. I like to see what my favorite ICs are doing in terms of funding new grants. Everything is interesting. The total number, the ratio of R01 to R21 and/or R03, number of K99/R00s, BigMech grants, etc.

It may take a few days for RePORTER to update but in the mean time you can stalk SILK for the very latest of new NIH grant awards.

April 1 was an unmitigated disaster, coming within weeks of the sequester falling and the uncertainty of a continuing resolution (which passed mere days before April 1). Grants slated to start were delayed substantially although at least one of the ICs I follow seems to have caught up by now.

Another of the ICs of my closest interest has barely funded any new grants all Fiscal Year. It’s amazing and I have no idea what the hell is going on. Perhaps the floodgates will open in July? I’m sure their applicants are hoping so!

Anyway, happy browsing. Try not to notice how HUGE the NCI is and what a disproportional number of awards are made by that IC….