Category Archives: Health

U.S. Tobacco Industry Rebounds From Its Near-Death Experience

Jennifer Maloney and Saabira Chaudhuri report for The Wall Street Journal:

Image result for U.S. Tobacco Industry Rebounds From Its Near-Death ExperienceIt’s a great time to be a cigarette company again.

Far fewer Americans are smoking, and yet U.S. tobacco revenue is soaring, thanks to years of steady price hikes. Americans spent more at retail stores on cigarettes in 2016 than they did on soda and beer combined, according to independent market-research firm Euromonitor International. Consolidation and cost cutting are boosting profit. Big Tobacco shares are on a roll.

Two decades ago, such a boom didn’t seem possible. The industry faced a future of increasing regulation and declining sales, as older smokers quit and fewer young people picked up the habit. States were suing for billions of dollars. Bankruptcies for some players seemed just around the corner.

Things didn’t turn out so badly, though. Costs from an avalanche of legal settlements and regulatory requirements have been heavy, but they haven’t put any big players out of business. Cigarette makers found they could more than make up for falling volumes with higher prices.

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Rising Ocean Temperatures Could Set Off a Chain Reaction That Threatens Our Food Supply

Laura June reports for The Outline:

Image result for Rising Ocean Temperatures Could Set Off a Chain Reaction That Threatens Our Food SupplyNew research published last week in the journal Elementa suggests that rising temperatures on Earth will cause massive changes in the deepest parts of the ocean. And those changes won’t be good: starvation and “sweeping ecological change,” the report warns, could be on the menu by the year 2100.

The research, conducted by a team at the University of Oregon, suggests that the temperature of the abyssal ocean (depths of 3,000 to 6,000 meters) could rise by about 1 degree Celsius over the next 84 years, which might not sound like a lot to a lay person. But, the research also suggests that this rise in temperature would likely cause massive problems all over the planet, because it is dependent on the deep ocean’s health, which accounts for more than 95 percent of the ocean’s entire volume. “Biodiversity in many of these areas is defined by the meager amount of food reaching the seafloor and over the next 80-plus years — in certain parts of the world — that amount of food will be cut in half,” Andrew Thurber, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, and co-author of the study, said in a press release about the work.

Temperatures in the bathyal area of the ocean — not quite so deep, at around 200 to 3,000 meters — are expected to rise even more, up to 4 degrees Celsius in the same period. It is, Dr. Thurber said, “the equivalent of having summer for the first time in thousands to millions of years.” The main effect for the ocean in all of this will be an exacerbated lack of food and an increase in the metabolisms of the existing organisms. Increased metabolism leads to a need for more food, which is going to be a problem at a time when there will be an ever-lessening supply. Abyssal waters are already some of the most food-deprived areas of the planet, so the prospect of halving this already minuscule supply would be truly devastating.

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WHO: Superbugs That Pose the Greatest Threat to Human Health

Lena H. Sun reports for The Washington Post:

Image result for SuperbugsThe World Health Organization announced its first list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” on Monday, detailing 12 families of bacteria that agency experts say pose the greatest threat to human health and kill millions of people every year.

The list is divided into three categories, prioritized by the urgency of the need for new antibiotics. The purpose is to guide and promote research and development of new drugs, officials said. Most of the pathogens are among the nearly two dozen antibiotic-resistant microbes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a 2013 report could cause potentially catastrophic consequences if the United States didn’t act quickly to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections.

“This list is not meant to scare people about new superbugs,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at WHO. “It’s intended to signal research and development priorities to address urgent public health threats.”

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John Boehner: Republicans Won’t Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Darius Tahir reports for Politico:

Image result for Boehner: Republicans won't repeal and replace ObamacareFormer House Speaker John Boehner predicted on Thursday that a full repeal and replace of Obamacare is “not what’s going to happen” and that Republicans will instead just make some fixes to the health care law.

Boehner, who retired in 2015 amid unrest among conservatives, said at an Orlando healthcare conference that GOP lawmakers were too optimistic in their talk of quickly repealing and then replacing Obamacare.

“They’ll fix Obamacare, and I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it,” Boehner said.

The former speaker’s frank comments capture the conundrum that many Republicans find themselves in as they try to deliver on pledges to axe Obamacare but struggle to coalesce around an alternative.

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Most Scientists ‘Can’t Replicate Studies by Their Peers’

Tom Feilden reports for BBC News:

Test tubesScience is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon.

From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

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Total recall: The people who never forget

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie reports for The Guardian:

Related image[…] She had always had a talent for remembering. She had also always dreaded change. Knowing that after they left New Jersey, nothing could ever be the same, Price tried to commit to memory the world she was being ripped away from. She made lists, took pictures, kept every artefact, every passed note and ticket stub. If this was a conscious effort to train her memory, it worked, perhaps better than she ever imagined.

Jill Price was the first person ever to be diagnosed with what is now known as highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM, a condition she shares with around 60 other known people. She can remember most of the days of her life as clearly as the rest of us remember the recent past, with a mixture of broad strokes and sharp detail. Now 51, Price remembers the day of the week for every date since 1980; she remembers what she was doing, who she was with, where she was on each of these days. She can actively recall a memory of 20 years ago as easily as a memory of two days ago, but her memories are also triggered involuntarily.

It is, she says, like living with a split screen: on the left side is the present, on the right is a constantly rolling reel of memories, each one sparked by the appearance of present-day stimuli. With so many memories always at the ready, Price says, it can be maddening: virtually anything she sees or hears can be a potential trigger.

Before Price, HSAM was a completely unknown condition. So what about the day she sent an email to a Dr James McGaugh at University of California, Irvine? That was 8 June 2000, a Thursday. Price was 34 years and five months old.

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Texas Is Leading the Right-Wing Crusade Against Planned Parenthood

Jordan Smith reports for The Intercept:

At the end of a three-day hearing, a federal district court judge in Austin, Texas, on January 19 issued a temporary injunction blocking state officials from excising Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program — a move that would deny more than 11,000 of the state’s poorest residents from accessing preventive care from their provider of choice, and would annually strip Texas Planned Parenthood clinics of several million dollars.

The current court action is just the latest in a long string of attempts by the state of Texas to defund local affiliates of the nation’s largest provider of women’s health and reproductive care. And it is part of a larger movement by conservative state and federal lawmakers to cut off Planned Parenthood from all government funding.

If anti-choice lawmakers in D.C. have their way, it may be easier for Texas, and other states, to get their way.

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Protein Hype: Experts Say Shoppers Flushing Money Down Toilet

Haroon Siddique reports for The Guardian:

Image result for protein hypeThe UK’s rocketing demand for high-protein products is being fuelled by consumers buying foods unlikely to deliver the benefits they are seeking, experts have said.

Weetabix, Shreddies, Mars, Snickers and Batchelors Cup a Soup were among the brands that launched enhanced protein versions this year as the trend hit the mainstream.

Many supermarkets have introduced dedicated sections for higher-protein products and, according to Euromonitor, the market for sports protein products alone – which excludes most of the mainstream brands – is expected to hit £413m this year and almost £750m (in today’s money) in five years’ time.

But experts have warned that consumers, particularly gym-goers, are falling victim to clever marketing.

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The Sugar Conspiracy

Ian Leslie writes for The Guardian:

Image result for sugar conspiracy[…] In 1980, after long consultation with some of America’s most senior nutrition scientists, the US government issued its first Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines shaped the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Doctors base their advice on them, food companies develop products to comply with them. Their influence extends beyond the US. In 1983, the UK government issued advice that closely followed the American example.

The most prominent recommendation of both governments was to cut back on saturated fats and cholesterol (this was the first time that the public had been advised to eat less of something, rather than enough of everything). Consumers dutifully obeyed. We replaced steak and sausages with pasta and rice, butter with margarine and vegetable oils, eggs with muesli, and milk with low-fat milk or orange juice. But instead of becoming healthier, we grew fatter and sicker.

Look at a graph of postwar obesity rates and it becomes clear that something changed after 1980. In the US, the line rises very gradually until, in the early 1980s, it takes off like an aeroplane. Just 12% of Americans were obese in 1950, 15% in 1980, 35% by 2000. In the UK, the line is flat for decades until the mid-1980s, at which point it also turns towards the sky. Only 6% of Britons were obese in 1980. In the next 20 years that figure more than trebled. Today, two thirds of Britons are either obese or overweight, making this the fattest country in the EU. Type 2 diabetes, closely related to obesity, has risen in tandem in both countries.

At best, we can conclude that the official guidelines did not achieve their objective; at worst, they led to a decades-long health catastrophe. Naturally, then, a search for culprits has ensued. Scientists are conventionally apolitical figures, but these days, nutrition researchers write editorials and books that resemble liberal activist tracts, fizzing with righteous denunciations of “big sugar” and fast food. Nobody could have predicted, it is said, how the food manufacturers would respond to the injunction against fat – selling us low-fat yoghurts bulked up with sugar, and cakes infused with liver-corroding transfats.

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Nestlé Chairman Makes the Case for a New Kind of Diet

Chase Purdy reports for Quartz:

Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe[…] Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, 72, got his start decades ago, loading boxes onto the back of an ice cream truck in Central Europe. He has witnessed changes in agricultural production practices, the rise of and rebellion against processed foods, and the scourge of chronic illnesses left in its wake. In rising to the apex of Nestlé, he has become the chief architect of the company’s vision for the future, a reality in which food operates more like medicine.

Nestlé, of course, has been fortifying food since founder Henri Nestlé began selling an iron-enriched infant cereal called “Farine Lactée” in 1867. And the company will still make chocolates, ice cream, and most of the pizzas and meals found in supermarket freezer sections. But it is also investing billions of dollars in healthcare firms. In steering the company in this direction, Brabeck-Letmathe has forged into new territory, carving out a “nutrition, health, and wellness” industry.

This is a shift from what food companies such as Danone, PepsiCo, and Kellogg have done for decades. The biggest companies have focused mainly on one goal: getting calories to people. They created new technologies to do it, drying and freezing food, then shipping it across the trade routes of an increasingly connected global economy. But as Brabeck-Letmathe would discover around 1995, that crude vision for calories only worked to a point.

To continue carrying out Brabeck-Letmathe’s vision, Nestlé in June named Paul Bulcke, its current CEO, to replace Brabeck-Letmathe after he retires in April 2017. In taking the reins, Bulcke will inherit a role that requires firm resolve as Nestlé seeks to assert its dominance in this new industry that sits squarely between food and pharmaceuticals. The company also chose Ulf Mark Schneider to take over as CEO. Schneider was lured to Nestlé from Fresenius, a German healthcare firm.

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35 States Set to Vote on 160+ Initiatives on Pot, Universal Healthcare, Minimum Wage, Death Penalty

As voters in the United States go to the polls, Amy Goodman is joined by Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, and Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, for a look at some of the most important decisions they will make—not for president, governor, Senate or congressional races, but on more than 160 ballot initiatives in 35 states, more than in any election in the last decade. Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in nine states, and income inequality and economic insecurity are at the heart of many other measures, along with initiatives on guns, public education, the death penalty and Colorado’s Amendment 69, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment which would finance universal healthcare. (Democracy Now!)

Will Donald Trump Appoint White Supremacists If He Gets Elected?

Thom talks about an open white supremacist associated with the Donald Trump campaign and asks whether these are the types of people the Republican nominee will appoint if he wins the election. (Thom Hartmann Show)

We Never Voted for Corporate Rule

David Korten writes for YES! Magazine:

Corporate-Rule-Korten.gifLast week, Bayer, a transnational drug and pesticide company, secured funding for its $66 billion offer to acquire Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of agricultural seeds. This follows the announced $130 billion merger of chemical giants Dow and DuPont, and ChemChina’s proposed $43 billion purchase of the seed and pesticide firm Syngenta.

Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Monsanto, and Syngenta are five of the world’s six biggest pesticide and seed corporations. There are claims, which I find credible, that the “Big 6” and their products bear major responsibility for pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, and are implicated in impoverishment of small farmers, collapse of honeybee colonies, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity and soil fertility—all serious attacks on the common good. And similar consolidation continues in most every sector of the economy.

As individual corporations grow in size, global reach, and political power, we see a corresponding shift in the primary function of national governments—from serving the interests of their citizens to assuring the security of corporate property and profits. They apply police and military powers to this end, subsidize corporate operations, and facilitate corporate tax evasion. They let corporations off the hook with slap-on-the-wrist fines for criminal actions. Rarely, if ever, do they punish top executives.

We the People never voted to yield our sovereignty to transnational corporations. Nor was the corporate takeover a response to public need.

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Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness, That’s What’s Wrenching Society Apart

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

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Is the Bayer-Monsanto Merger Too Big To Succeed?

David Francis writes for Foreign Policy:

Image resultIt took $66 billion — the largest all-cash transaction in history – for German biotech giant Bayer to win control over Monsanto, the global seed market leader. The takeover creates a very unique — and to some, very unsettling — kind of corporate beast, one tasked with feeding billions as temperatures rise and farmlands shrink.

If the merger goes through — and that’s a very big if, given that both EU and American regulators are likely to carefully scrutinize the deal — the new firm would corner more than a quarter of the world market for seeds and pesticides. In the United States, it would control some 58 percent of cottonseed sales. According to Vox, the new company would be the largest agribusiness in the world, selling 29 percent of the world’s seeds and 24 percent of its pesticides.

That puts one firm in a pole position to influence, and potentially control, how the world feeds itself. Regulators are likely to investigate whether the merged company will be too big and able to squeeze farmers and shoppers at the price register. And it comes as the rest of the agribusiness industry is also consolidating, in part to counteract slumping commodity prices due to the economic slowdown in China, which trickles down and forces farmers to spend less on supplies.

The specter of greater market power for firms that make the seeds that many poor farmers need to buy each spring before planting is sparking panic in the developing world.

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Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year

Lydia Mulvany reports for Bloomberg:

Image result for monsanto bayer historyTwo giants of the farming and chemical industries agreed to merge Wednesday in a $66 billion deal: the U.S.’s Monsanto and Germany’s Bayer, the original maker of aspirin. It’s the year’s biggest deal and will create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals, with $26 billion in combined annual revenue from agriculture. If the merger goes through, it will combine two companies with a long and storied history that shaped what we eat, the drugs we take and how we grow our food.

Bayer: Then & Now

Two friends making dyes from coal-tar started Bayer in 1863, and it developed into a chemical and drug company famous for introducing heroin as a cough remedy in 1896, then aspirin in 1899. The company was a Nazi contractor during World War II and used forced labor. Today, the firm based in Leverkusen, Germany, makes drugs and has a crop science unit, which makes weed and bug killers. Its goal is to dominate the chemical and drug markets for people, plants and animals.

Monsanto: Then & Now

Monsanto, founded in 1901, originally made food additives like saccharin before expanding into industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products. It’s famous for making some controversial and highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, now banned and commonly known as PCBs, and the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. It commercialized Roundup herbicide in the 1970s and began developing genetically modified corn and soybean seeds in the 1980s. In 2000, a new Monsanto emerged from a series of corporate mergers.

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The Shady History of Big Sugar

David Singerman writes for The New York Times:

On Monday, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.

This revelation rightly reminds us to view industry-funded nutrition science with skepticism and to continue to demand transparency in scientific research. But ending Big Sugar’s hold on the American diet will require a broader understanding of the various ways in which the industry, for 150 years, has shaped government policy in order to fuel our sugar addiction.

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Harvard’s Sugar Daddy

Michael Cook reports for Bio Edge:

Harvard nutrition researchers in the 1960s were suborned by the sugar industry to deflect the attention of the public away from its baneful role in chronic disease, claim hard-hitting articles in JAMA released this week.

Based on studies of the archives of the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), researchers found that in the early 1960s three Harvard scientists were paid US$6,500 (about $50,000 in today’s dollars) to write a review of research into the role of sugar and fat in heart disease. The sugar industry selected the papers and the resulting two-part review, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the role of sugar and painted saturated fat as the villain. Its conclusion was that “there was ‘no doubt’ that the only dietary intervention required to prevent CHD was to reduce dietary cholesterol and substitute polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat in the American diet.” The SRF’s intimate involvement in the study was not disclosed.

The links of the scientists to the sugar industry were scandalously close. Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department at the time, and the senior author of the 1967 research review, was an ad hoc member of the sugar industry’s scientific advisory board.

This lack of transparency and conflict of interest may have had far-reaching effects. For the next 50 years, nutritionists focused on fighting fat while underestimating the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. For years they warned of the dangers of fat, leading people to eat low-fat, high-sugar foods which have contributed to America’s obesity epidemic.

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Former EPA Head Admits She Was Wrong to Tell New Yorkers Post-9/11 Air Was Safe

Joanna Walters reports for The Guardian:

Image result for EPA 9/11Christine Todd Whitman, who as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George W Bush at the time of the 9/11 attacks told the public the air around Ground Zero in New York was safe to breathe, has admitted for the first time she was wrong.

Among those who were exposed to toxins released when the World Trade Center collapsed, the toll of illness and death continues to rise.

Speaking to the Guardian for a report on the growing health crisis to be published on Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the attacks, Whitman made an unprecedented apology to those affected but denied she had ever lied about the air quality or known at the time it was dangerous.

“Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge and people should be helped,” she said, adding that she still “feels awful” about the tragedy and its aftermath.

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9/11’s Second Wave: Cancer and Other Diseases Linked to the 2001 Attacks Are Surging

Leah McGrath Goodman reports for Newsweek:

Image result for 9/11’s Second Wave: Cancer and Other Diseases Linked to the 2001 Attacks Are Surging[…] Placido Perez is one of the thousands fighting deadly diseases as a result of exposure to Ground Zero. Doctors with the World Trade Center Health Program, which the federal government created in the aftermath of the attacks, have linked nearly 70 types of cancer to Ground Zero. Many people have fallen victim to cancers their doctors say are rare, aggressive and particularly hard to treat. “The diseases stemming from the World Trade Center attacks include almost all lung diseases, almost all cancers—such as issues of the upper airways, gastroesophageal acid reflux disease, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic and adjustment disorders,” says Dr. David Prezant, co-director for the Fire Department of the City of New York’s World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program.

With the exception of the Civil War battle of Antietam, more American lives were lost on September 11, 2001, than on any other day in U.S. history: 2,996 people were killed—265 on the four hijacked planes, 125 at the Pentagon and 2,606 at the World Trade Center and surrounding area. More than 411 emergency workers died on 9/11, and the total number of rescue and recovery workers who have died has more than doubled since the attacks, to 1,064 as of July, according to data obtained exclusively by Newsweek from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The wider population is also suffering: As many as 400,000 people are estimated to be affected by diseases, such as cancers, and mental illnesses linked to September 11. This figure includes those who lived and worked within a mile and a half of Ground Zero in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the vast majority of whom still don’t know they’re at risk. Mark Farfel, director of the World Trade Center Health Registry, which tracks the health of more than 71,000 rescue workers and survivors, says, “Many people don’t connect the symptoms they have today to September 11.”

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Bayer Bids $65b for Monsanto, One of the Most Hated Companies in the World

Angelo Young writes for Salon:

There are many companies whose very names have become synonymous with the evils of their industries, if not blatant examples of general corporate turpitude: Halliburton (Iraq war profiteering), Goldman Sachs (“The Vampire Squid“) and McDonald’s (a super-sized contributor to the obesity epidemic) to name but a few.

Naturally, the bioengineering sector has its own Voldemort-like villain: Monsanto Co. If liberal HBO talk-show host Bill Maher, Occupy Monsanto activists and monoculture opponents are to be believed, the St. Louis-based agricultural giant is poisoning the planet with mutant crops and herbicides and threatening the world’s food safety and security.

But if German pharmaceuticals and chemicals maker Bayer AG is to be believed, Monsanto is a moneymaking prize like no other. On Tuesday, Bayer came one step closer to becoming the new bad boy of GM crops, upping its bid to acquire Monsanto to more than $65 billion. In response, Monsanto has agreed to allow Bayer to review its books as part of a due-diligence check, a signal that the companies are closing in on on a friendly (rather than hostile) acquisition.

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Full Metal Racket

Ryan Bradley reports for New Republic:

[…] Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs ranks hearing loss as the number one disability among vets. At least 60 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—some 600,000 vets—suffer permanent hearing loss or tinnitus, a chronic ringing in the ears. It’s also the fastest-growing of all postwar disabilities, more than doubling over the past decade, and among the most costly in terms of lost productivity. Lose your hearing and you’re more likely to lose your job, suffer from high stress, or experience social anxiety, depression, and early-onset dementia. And though it can be treated, there is no cure.

Soldiers are suffering from hearing loss for a simple reason: War is loud, and getting louder. The F-35 fighter jet, which was declared operational in 2015, is among the most deafening flying machines ever created—four times louder than the F-16. It’s so loud that aircraft carriers need to be specially outfitted with extra sound-dampeners to protect the ears of sailors, even below deck. In Vermont, where the F-35 is scheduled to be deployed in 2019, an initial Air Force evaluation found that the jet’s decibel level during takeoff and landing would render 1,366 homes in the area “unsuitable for residential living.”

More firepower also means more noise. The crack of the military’s standard-issue pistol, the M9, is nearly as loud as the F-35. And the Mach 7 boom of the Navy’s new rail guns and other “kinetic weapons systems” are eight times louder than traditional artillery systems.

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Diagnoses of 9/11-linked cancers have tripled in less than 3 years

Susan Edelman reports for the New York Post:

More than 5,400 Ground Zero responders and others who lived, worked or went to school near the fallen Twin Towers have come down with 9/11-linked cancers, a grim tally that has tripled in the past 2¹/₂ years.

As of June 30, 5,441 people enrolled in the WTC Health Program have been diagnosed with 6,378 separate cancers, with some struck by more than one type, officials said.

That’s up from 1,822 victims in January 2014.

“You see an alarming increase,” said Dr. Michael Crane, medical director of the WTC Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“It’s been steady for at least the last year and a half — we’re seeing new people here being certified for cancer 10 to 15 times week. That’s every week. ” Crane told The Post.

The program now monitors more than 48,000 cops, hardhats, volunteer firefighters, utility workers and others who toiled at Ground Zero. The FDNY has its own 9/11 health program with 16,000 members.

In all, at least 1,140 have died, officials said.

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Diversity, Disability and Eugenics: An Interview with Rob Sparrow

Xavier Symons writes for Bio Edge:

Australian bioethicist Rob Sparrow has written extensively on topics ranging from political philosophy and minority rights to the ethics of war, robot ethics and even the ethics of nanotechnology. Yet he is arguably best known for his work in bioethics. While in one sense part of a mainstream bioethics academy, Professor Sparrow often provides a refreshingly unique perspective and challenges establishment opinions in the field. As Richard R. Sharp has noted, “Sparrow’s scholarship exemplifies the value of the intellectual gadfly – even when that work ruffles a few feathers among the bioethical elite.”

In the following interview Professor Sparrow and BioEdge’s Xavier Symons discuss current controversies in bioethics and, in particular, questions surrounding genetic diversity, the elimination of disability, and the so-called new eugenics.

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Study showing decline in dog fertility may have human implications

Tim Radford reports for The Guardian:

[…] Richard Lea, of Nottingham University’s school of veterinary medicine and science, and colleagues collected samples of semen from a carefully monitored population of labradors, border collies, German shepherds and golden retrievers used as stud to breed dogs intended to help the disabled. They tested 1,925 samples of ejaculate from a total of 232 different dogs at the rate of between 42 and 97 dogs every year.

And they found a drop in sperm motility – the ability to swim in a straight line – of 2.4% per year from 1988 to 1998. Even once some dogs were excluded from the study because their fertility was in some way in question, from 2002 to 2014 the scientists still measured a decline of 1.2% per year.

They also confirmed the presence of environmental chemicals known as PCBs and phthalates in the canine semen, and in testicles of dogs castrated by veterinary surgeons in the course of routine neutering treatment. These chemicals are ubiquitous, and have been linked to both fertility issues and birth defects.

At the heart of the research is not the dog, but the question of male human fertility. Repeated tests over more than 70 years have shown a downward trend in male fertility, but there has always been argument about the consistency and accuracy of the findings.

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Plastic manufacturing chemical BPS harms egg cells, study suggests

Science Daily reports:

Bisphenol S, a chemical used to manufacture polycarbonate water bottles and many other products such as epoxy glues and cash receipts, is an increasingly common replacement for bisphenol A, the of which was discontinued because of concerns about its harmful effects on the reproductive system. In a new study, UCLA researchers have found that BPS is just as harmful to the reproductive system as the chemical it replaced. BPS damages a woman’s eggs and at lower doses than BPA.

While looking for replacements to toxic chemicals, manufacturers tend to choose substitute chemicals that, while technically different, often share similar physical properties. Due to increasing consumer pressure, companies have replaced BPA with other related compounds now found in many “BPA-free” products. However we do not know how safe these substitutes are. These uncertainties led the researchers to ask whether BPS could impart detrimental effects on reproduction similar to BPA’s.

The researchers exposed a common laboratory model, the roundworm, to several concentrations of BPA and/or BPS that approximate the levels of BPA and/or BPS found in humans. They followed the worms through the duration of their reproductive periods and measured their fertility.

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Diagnosing the Urge to Run for Office

Scott Lilienfeld and Ashley Watts wrote for Politico Magazine late last year:

Psych_sidebarlead2.jpg[…] Research going back as far as 1998 suggests that modern politicians are more narcissistic than people in other professions. But in fact, politicians—at least those in positions of high power—might also be more narcissistic than ever. In a 2013 study published in Psychological Science, we and several colleagues examined a trait called grandiose narcissism, which comprises immodesty, boastfulness and interpersonal dominance (a certain presidential candidate in a gold-plated tower in Manhattan comes to mind). For every president up to and including George W. Bush, we asked eminent biographers and experts to complete extensive personality ratings for the five years before each president took office. The ratings revealed an intriguing trend: Grandiose narcissism levels are higher in more recent presidents than in earlier ones. Despite some caveats to this result, we also found that levels of several other traits, such as those linked to interpersonal oddity, were not higher in more recent presidents. Ultimately, our findings raise the possibility that the mounting pressures on candidates to be telegenic and adept at self-presentation may be selecting for heightened self-centeredness.

Rising narcissism levels in our politicians might be cause for concern. But today’s grueling campaigns might also select for such adaptive traits as emotional resilience, stick-to-itiveness and impulse control. Of course, even if a presidential candidate is driven partly by ambition, this does not mean he or she is not also driven by love of country. Even egomaniacs can be animated by a higher calling.

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Pope attacks culture of ‘perfect people’

Michael Cook reports for BioEdge:

Pope Francis has made a stinging, if familiar, attack on the bioethics of a consumer society in an address in Rome. He decried the tendency to search for the perfect body and to warehouse the disabled out of sight to avoid offending the sensibilities of the “privileged few”.

In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model.

Such persons should best be kept apart, in some “enclosure” – even a gilded one – or in “islands” of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being. In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis.

Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.

The world does not become better because only apparently “perfect” people live there – I say “perfect” rather than “false” – but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase.

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Are We All Becoming Pavlov’s Dogs?

Larry Rosen Ph.D. writes for Psychology Today:

MIT Press[…] I do a lot of people watching and I have noticed that we are now spending more time with our faces staring at our phone than we spend with our faces looking around the world or looking directly at another person.

In a recent study colleagues and I asked 216 undergraduate students to use an app called Instant Quantified Self that tallied the number of times the student unlocked his/her phone during the day and how many minutes it remained unlocked. Strikingly, the average student (and our students are typically older, averaging about 25 years old instead of the usual 20-year-old college student) unlocked his/her phone roughly 60 times a day for about 4 minutes each time. In all, the phone was in use 4 hours! And this does not count time spent on a laptop, tablet, or any other device.

What are they doing on their phones? Mostly accessing social connections including text messaging, reading or posting on social media, dealing with email or any app that involves connecting with another human being.

Pavlov paired food with a bell; we seem to be pairing our human connection with our phone. We may not salivate but our brain is certainly responding to those internal and external alerts.

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The Happiness Industry: How Corporations Are Obsessed With Making Us ‘Happy’

An excerpt of The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being by William Davies recently appeared at Alternet:

Since the World Economic Forum (WEF) was founded in 1971, its annual meeting in Davos has served as a useful indicator of the global economic zeitgeist. These conferences, which last a few days in late January, bring together corporate executives, senior politicians, representatives of NGOs and a sprinkling of concerned celebrities to address the main issues confronting the global economy and the decision-makers tasked with looking after it.

In the 1970s, when the WEF was still known as the ‘European Management Forum’, its main concern was slumping productivity growth in Europe. In the 1980s, it became preoccupied with market deregulation. In the 1990s, innovation and the internet came to the fore, and by the early 2000s, with the global economy humming, it began to admit a range of more ‘social’ concerns, alongside the obvious post-9/11 security anxiety. For the five years after the banking meltdown of 2008, Davos meetings were primarily concerned with how to get the old show back on the road.

At the 2014 meeting, rubbing shoulders with the billionaires, pop stars and presidents was a less likely attendee: a Buddhist monk. Every morning, before the conference proceedings began, delegates had the opportunity to meditate with the monk and learn relaxation techniques. ‘You are not the slave of your thoughts’, the man in red and yellow robes, clutching an iPad, informed his audience. ‘One way is to just gaze at them . . . like a shepherd sitting above a meadow watching the sheep’. A few hundred thoughts of stock portfolios and illicit gifts for secretaries back home most likely meandered their way across the mental pastures of his audience.

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