Tuesday, January 31, 2006

And what about Groundhog Day?

"What are you giving thanks for?" asked the Viagra ads at Thanksgiving. "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" they asked at year's end. Keep an eye out as Valentine's day approaches.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Commercial Alert, an Oregon nonprofit, is sponsoring a campaign to stop direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only industrialized countries in which such advertising is allowed.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Silicone is a time bomb"

Bumps like capers bulging from your lips, ridges like worms below your eye sockets, rice grains running along your forehead, and a walnut-size bump between your eyebrows: doesn't The New York Times make cosmetic surgery sound good?

More kickbacks, please

Same story, different drugmaker: this time it is Novo Nordisk, a Danish company, that is accused of paying doctors, PAs and pharmacists to switch patients to their drug.
Saw a story about the "virtual human ken doll" on CNN yesterday, very disturbing because he recognizes that he has body dysmorphic disorder yet the plastic surgeons are still willing to continue on him...



Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rhetoric Parlor Series: Antidepressant Advertising.

The first entry in this semester's Rhetoric Parlor Series will be this Friday at 4:15 in Magrath Library Room 8. Cristina Hanganu-Bresch will present from her dissertation in progress on the way pharmaceuticals are promoted to physicians. The official title of the talk is "The Visual Semiotic of Depression: Two decadesof antidepressant advertising in the American Journal of Psychiatry."

Here's a quick primer on semiotics. Hope to see you there.


IRB Shopping

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the "FDA Won't Regulate 'IRB Shopping'." This conclusion is based on self-reported comments from "pharmaceutical companies, colleges, and other organizations" that it is not a big problem.

Next week....

Next meeting with health journalism students, Feb 1, Murphy Hall Room 100, 1o:30-1:00.


Trudy Lieberman's "Bitter Pill" in Columbia Journalism Review

The Seattle Times' "Suddenly Sick" series

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

HRT on the ABC

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's radio show, The Health Report, has produced a useful program on the selling of hormone replacement therapy for menopause, available by podcast.

Blowing the whistle on Medtronic

Qui tam litigation has come to Minnesota. According to The New York Times, a whistleblower lawsuit alleges that medical device maker Medtronic paid a Wisconsin surgeon in Wisconsin $400,000 a year to work just eight days, and that doctors who visited the Memphis office were taken to strip clubs while the expenses were disguised as trips to the ballet.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A nose for a deal

Pakistani Britons are traveling to their homeland to get discount cosmetic surgery, says The Independent. "Nose jobs, tummy tucks, liposuction and breast enlargements are the favoured treatments for many who feel 'pressure to have Western features' but who want to pay only a fraction of what they would be charged in Britain."

Is advertising obsolete?

At times the speakers at the Word-of-Mouth Marketing conference in Orlando could have been mistaken for revival preachers, writes Julie Bosman in The New York Times. "Among Friday's offerings were sessions titled 'Turning Customers Into Evangelists,' 'Word of Mouth in Faith-Based Markets' and 'How to Create Brand Converts." (Not to mention "Bring Brands Back from the Dead.")

Detox Mansion

James Frey is taking a beating from journalists for making up long passages of his bestselling detox memoir, A Million Little Pieces (which was set in a Minnesota recovery facility for the rich and famous), but apparently his fellow patients were taking him to task long before the journalists were.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Obesity Inc.

The genius of American capitalism is the way it generates so much revenue both from making thin people fat, and from promising to make fat people thin. The Obesity Industry constitutes about 3% of the American economy, according to Michael Rosenwald in The Washington Post, including $133.7 billion annually for fast-food restaurants, $1.8 billion for diet books and $124.7 billion for medical treatments related to obesity. (Not to mention cottage industries such as Goliath Casket, which has, according to its web site, has been "serving the needs of the Oversized Casket Community for 20 years.") Meanwhile, investors are betting heavily on a new wave of diet drugs due on the market soon, including Sanofi-Aventis SA's Acomplia, while Wyeth is still paying out vast amounts in legal settlements to patients injured by its diet drug combination Fen-Phen.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dead can dance

Everyone loves museums and galleries, and when you think about it, is there any more relaxing way to spend an afternoon than a peaceful stroll through a gallery of stylishly displayed human corpses? The Medical Humanities and Ethics Program at Northwestern University has dedicated the first issue of its newsletter, The Atrium, to the ethical debates surroung the display (and dissection) of human bodies -- bottled fetuses, anomalous body parts, and the plasticized corpses on display at Bodyworlds. It's called "Bringing Out the Dead."

Exquisite corpse

Sure, folks may be lining up to see human bodies on display at Gunther von Hagens' Bodyworlds exhibit, but you have not really seen dead bodies on display until you have seen an exhibit by the The Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (MART). MART is an organization "dedicated to the showmanship of animal oddities, natural adaptation and mutation." Their exhibits include artificial chimeras, mutant chickens, vampire mermaids, flying monkeys and a variety of road kill. Best of all: it's for sale. If you go to the on-line shop you can buy "Frogs Eating Human Toes." MART says, "Want your frog vomiting gore? We can do that. Prefer something more innocent? How about a frog sucking on a toe like a pacifier? We can do that too! Frogs eating toes....buy one for your mom!"

Black box warning?

GlaxoSmithKline wants to market an over-the-counter version of its diet pill Xenical. The good news: an FDA reviewer says it is a safe and effective weight loss agent. The bad news: side-effects include "involuntary leakage of undigested fat."

The Sheffield University scandal

Stay tuned for updates on the saga of Aubrey Blumsohn, the Sheffield University medical school professor who was suspended after he raised questions about a shady $250,000 research contract between the university and Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals. Jennifer Washburn detailed the story in Slate last month. Last week the university official at the center of Blumsohn's allegations, Richard Eastall, resigned from his NHS post. More on this story as it develops...

Health care for everyone?

The Boston Review has published a forum on American health care reform, with excellent contributions by Jill Quadagno, John Geyman and Barbara Starfield, but the most provocative essay in the forum may be the one authored by Victor Fuchs and Ezekiel Emanuel, titled "Getting Covered." Fuchs and Emanuel argue that the most politically realistic plan for getting adequate health care for all Americans is not a single payer system, but a system of universal health care vouchers. They argue that a voucher system will be easier to reconcile with the American individualism that has doomed all previous efforts at universal coverage. Fuch and Emanuel write, "We can each push our favorite plan and have universal health care fail yet again. Or we can compromise and get all Americans covered."

Clone Psychology

What would it be like to grow up as a clone? Like being an identical twin? Like being a stepchild? Like being the ghost of a dead sibling, whose genetic constitution you share? The Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio show "All in the Mind" explored this question on January 14 with ethicist Julian Savulescu, reproductive biologist Alan Trounson and psychiatrist Stephen Levick. (The show is also available by podcast and mp3 download.)

Who's afraid of human enhancement?

Reason magazine has published an edited transcript of a symposium on enhancement technologies, titled "Who's Afraid of Human Enhancement?" featuring Ron Bailey, a writer for Reason and author of Liberation Biology, Eric Cohen, the editor of The New Atlantis; and Joel Garreau, a reporter for The Washington Post and author of Radical Evolution. (It is also available on mp3 at the site.)

A Reason symposium is not the place for leftists who are worried about bioenhancement -- Bailey envisions an idyllic family picnic in 2010 where a 150 year-old great-great-great-grandma plays touch football with her 30-year-old great-great-grandson, while even Cohen, a bioenhancement skeptic, says "I’m enough of a free market person to believe that if something works in wealthy societies, eventually most people are going to be able to afford it" -- but if you are looking for a lively, literate introduction to the ethical issues surrounding enhancement technologies, this debate will get you started.

That Sam-I-Am, that Sam-I-Am, I do not like that Sam-I-Am

Green Eggs and Ham. Your standard torture-and-kidnap story, or a tribute to American salesmanship and open-mindedness? The Wall Street Journal weighs in.

How much for his hair and fingernail clippings?

William Shatner has sold his kidney stone to an on-line casino in order to raise money for a housing charity. The casino paid $25,000 for the stone and will add it to a collection that includes a half-eaten cheese sandwich bearing the image of the Virgin Mary.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Guinea Pig Zero at the U

Robert Helms, activist, professional research subject and editor of the legendary zine Guinea Pig Zero, will be speaking at the University of Minnesota. Here are the details.


Guinea Pig Zero:
Notes from a Professional Research Subject

Robert Helms
Founding editor of Guinea Pig Zero: A Journal for Human Research Subjects
Thursday Jan 26 2006
Moos Tower 2-650
University of Minnesota

Publishers Weekly says:

In 1996, freelance lab rat and activist Robert Helms, under the nom de plume Guinea Pig Zero, began to publish a zine with the same name. In Guinea Pig Zero: An Anthology of the Journal for Human Research Subjects, he gathers together a few dozen contributions (many of which he penned) exploring "this dark little corner of modern science from the subject's own viewpoint." From Donno's tale of going bonkers in a sleep-deprivation study, to Beth Lavoie's discussion of the various poisons to which soldiers in the Gulf War were exposed, to Helms's history of a 1935 test subject strike, these are strange and frightening stories that may make our trust in the medical establishment seem naive.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Weblog on Medical Consumerism.

Check back weekly for links relevant to our classroom studies.