Monthly Archives: June 2013

I should know better, do you?

Saw this and could easily pick out a bunch, but not all of them.

Designed by Kapil Bhagat.

Designed by Kapil Bhagat.

Now go and look them all up, like I did.  And if you can tell me for certain who is represented by the “Gode…” (3rd from bottom in left column), I would be grateful.  I think it’s this guy, but not 100% sure.


ETA:  I’m certain that Gode… is referring to Kurt Godel, see third from last joke here.

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Wordless Wednesday: DOMA


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June 26, 2013 · 1:21 pm

Stuff we eat is banned in other countries! Freak out!!!

Have you seen this article floating around the internets?

80% of Pre-Packaged Foods in America Are Banned in Other Countries from Food

Oh my God?!  How could this be?

The article is a laundry list of food additives/components that are linked to another laundry list of vague detrimental health effects.  For example: “linked to allergies, ADHD, and cancer in animals” or “known cancer-causing agent.”

The only “citation” (consider those sarcastic air quotes) is a book this “article” seems to be a marketing tool to promote.  (And if you check out the book on Amazon, it’s full of helpful pseudoscientific hints like “Capsaicin, found in cayenne, has thermogenic properties that increase you blood flow and metabolism.”  BS.)  That was a major red flag on the “How to recognize pseudoscience check list“- so my skepticism kicked it up a notch.

Now, I have a full time job, so I can’t debunk each compound mentioned, so I’ll just focus on the one closest to my heart, or perhaps I should say, my gastro-intestinal tract:  Brominated Vegetable Oil, supposedly found in my favorite soft drink, Fresca, which is “banned in more than 100 countries ‘because it has been linked to basically every form of thyroid dieases-from cancer to autoimmune diseases-known to man.'” (Source)

I turned my attention to PudMed, for reliable, peer-reviewed, primary literature for some actual evidence.  I found two studies with some hard data, albeit from animal models, and one that estimated how much BVO was actually in soft drinks.

First up- so how much BVO are the rats in these studies eating? (keep in mind, animal studies are a FAR cry from actual health impacts in actual humans!)

This study by Lawrence et al published in Lipids just looked at accumulations of metabolic byproducts of BVOs in the liver, heart and fat tissue of rats.  They fed the rats 0.24g/kg of body weight per day of brominated olive oil or brominated sesame oil and found the corresponding byproducts in those tissues.  Now, for perspective- if a person were to eat 0.24g of BVO per kilogram of body weight, just how much would that be?

If the average US adult male weighs 185lbs, he would have to eat 20.16g of BVOs. The average women, at 155lbs would have to eat 16.8 grams.

Vorhees et al published a study in Teratology way back in 1983 where they fed rats BVOs in ranges of 0 to 2% if their diet.  They did find significant health effects- including weight loss, sterility, and behavioral impairments at the various doses.  Just how much BVOs would humans have to consume if they ate BVOs as 2% of their diet.  Well, if the average American consumes about 2 tons of food per year (source), one would have to eat about 1.6 ounces (or 45.4g) or BVOs per day.

So how much BVO is in my favorite soft drink?  I found an estimate from Yousef et al here. They estimated that “several commercial soft drinks were found to contain BVO in a range 1.8-14.52mg/L.”

This begs the question- how much soda would a person actually have to drink to get near the doses used in the animal studies?

Based on my previous calculations and Yousef et al’s range, the average man would have to drink between 1,379 and 11,200 LITERS OF SODA PER DAY to replicate the Lawrence et al study!  That’s 689 to 5600 2-liter bottles of Fresca IN A SINGLE DAY!  For the average woman, that would be between 1,159 and 9,333 liters.  We are talking on the order of 1000 times a person blood volume of soda.  Even water can kill you if you drink enough of it (see water intoxication aka hyponatremia).

It’s even crazier if you look at the Voorhees et al study, which actually showed health impacts, not just accumulation.  To replicate the doses in the Voorhees study, using Yousef’s measured range of BVO in soda, a person would have to consume between 3,131 and 25,222 liters of soda in a single day!

Am I saying that BVOs are A-OK?  No, I did not find a study to support that, and most studies concluded that given their results, further research was needed to figure out the health impacts in humans.  Further, it is possible that BVOs are more potent in humans or have entirely different health effects than in rats.  BVOs may also be in other foods (although a PubMed search for ‘brominated vegetable oil’ only turns up estimates of BVO amounts in soft drinks as top line hits, see here). The point of this exercise was merely to illustrate how far removed rat studies are from actual, actionable human behaviors.

Remember that a study in rats is never directly applicable to humans- especially when you are talking of massive, biologically irrelevant doses of a compound (nobody is drinking 10,000 liters of soda a day).

So, overall, I wouldn’t waste my money on that book the article is marketing, and I won’t lose sleep over the 5mg of BVOs in the can of Fresca sitting on my desk.

Shame on you Babble and Yahoo Shine for using scare tactics to parade marketing materials as an evidence-based news article.

This kind of schlock has been peddled before by these kinds of sites.  Click to see take downs of:  Fukushima radiation causing infant mortality in the US, deodorant causing breast cancer, adverse effects of pitocin on newborns, anti-obesity campaigns scaring kids into eating disorders, and sleep training/crying it out causing brain damage.

For some level-headed advice on how to spot BS/pseudoscience, see here.


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Dissertation Length: I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours

A grad school classmate of mine tweeted a link to this blog post:  “How long is the average dissertation?

Having written a dissertation, I was curious to see how mine stacked up.

Obviously some of this probably varies by school, but I figured this would be a ball park.

My dissertation.

My dissertation.

My dissertation is 106 pages, including the citations and appendices and all.  My degree is in Molecular Biology, so stacking that up against biochem/molbio/biophysics theses, it’s in the shortest 25th percentile (if I’m reading that box plot correctly).  Similar for Molecular, Cellular and Developmental biology.

Considering how painful it was to write, and that longer isn’t always better, I’m fine with being on the short end.

Now, I will return my dissertation to the shelf above my desk, where it shall remain (unless I have to look up a protocol or something specific) because I live in fear of finding a typo.

How long was yours?  What field?  How does it stack up in terms of length?


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Vaccines Work Infographic: Why I will vaccinate my daughter AND my son against HPV

A striking illustration in just how successful we have been in decreasing instances of vaccine-preventable illnesses.

Source: IFLS

Source: IFLS

While the infographic is just raw numbers of cases, there is evidence that these reductions are due to vaccination and not better hygiene for instance (see here for data on measles).

When I saw it, I thought, “There’s no reason that pertussis circle can’t be as tiny as the others!” (except maybe Small Pox, which has been completely eradicated).  So, get your kids (and yourself) vaccinated.  If it’s been a while, get a DTap booster.

Vaccines work.

For example, just this week, did you see/hear the recent news about the dramatic drop in rates of HPV? That drop is also attributed to vaccination.  You can see the original peer-reviewed article from The Journal of Infectious Diseases here.

Human Papilloma Virus causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer in women and certain oral, anal, and throat cancers in both men and women.  The HPV vaccine (which is recommended for both girls AND boys) was introduced in 2006 to protect against the strains of the virus that are most associated with cervical cancer (although it now also protects against genital warts).  By 2010, HPV infection rates had dropped by FIFTY PERCENT!  That significant drop was achieved in only 4 years with only 30% of kids getting the vaccine.

Results. Among females aged 14–19 years, the vaccine-type HPV prevalence (HPV-6, -11, -16, or -18) decreased from 11.5% (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.2–14.4) in 2003–2006 to 5.1% (95% CI, 3.8–6.6) in 2007–2010, a decline of 56% (95% CI, 38–69). Among other age groups, the prevalence did not differ significantly between the 2 time periods (P > .05). The vaccine effectiveness of at least 1 dose was 82% (95% CI, 53–93).

Conclusions. Within 4 years of vaccine introduction, the vaccine-type HPV prevalence decreased among females aged 14–19 years despite low vaccine uptake. The estimated vaccine effectiveness was high. (Source)

Could you imagine what could happen if our vaccination rates were higher?

Think how many of these children would have grown up to develop cancer?  Now, they will be protected.

There are about 12,000 cases of cervical cancer and 4,000 deaths a year in the United States. At current vaccination rates, the vaccine would prevent 45,000 cases of cervical cancer and 14,000 deaths among girls now age 13 and younger over the course of their lifetimes, according to C.D.C. estimates. Increasing the rate to 80 percent could prevent an additional 53,000 cancers and nearly 17,000 deaths. (Source)

45,000 women won’t have to face a cancer diagnosis because their parents chose to get them vaccinated against HPV.  That is astounding.

I’ve written before about the BS assertion that vaccinating kids against a sexually transmitted virus would make them promiscuous, here.  It’s not relevant, it’s not real, it doesn’t happen.  And let us not forget,  children don’t only participate in consensual sexual activity- how badly would it compound the victimization if a child were to contract HPV and later cancer, as the result of sexual abuse or assault?  Be real.

What is real is knowing my daughter won’t call me up on the phone one day, crying that she’s got cervical cancer.  What is real is knowing my son won’t face losing his voice because he needs surgery to remove throat cancer caused by HPV.

I can’t protect my kids from everything.  I can’t always keep them healthy and safe.  However, I can keep them from contracting a cancer-causing strain of HPV*.

Just like I do with all the other vaccines, I will be vaccinating both of them according to the CDC recommended schedule, including the HPV vaccine.


*Note:  As always, no vaccine is 100% effective (studies have shown between 93 and nearly 100% efficacy in preventing pre-cancers due to HPV).  The available HPV vaccines don’t protect every single person from every single strain of HPV.  Even if vaccinated, there will still be a minuscule, non-zero chance that my kids will still contract a cancer-causing strain of HPV.  You can read more about the efficacy of the vaccines here.

Also, I’m not a real doctor, just a PhD.  This isn’t medical advice.  It’s data and the story of how I made the decision to vaccinate my kids.  Talk to your real doctor.

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You might be a #scimom if…

You might be a #scimom if… your kids have freebie waterbath floats as bath toys.


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Wordless Wednesday: Nature’s Rockin’ Females

Love this one from Beatrice the Biologist:

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My superpower: I can hover 10^-8 meters off the ground.

Source:  IFLS

Source: IFLS

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Nemo’s First Birthday Party

A few weeks ago we celebrated Nemo’s first birthday.

We had a get together at our house- lots of kids, lots of friends, lots of food, lots of family.

It was a lot of fun- although the weather didn’t cooperate.  About halfway through the party, it started to rain- which meant I had over a dozen kids eating watermelon and cake with blue icing.  Poor planning on my part.

Nemo slept for the first hour and a half until we woke him up.  He seemed to have fun.  Mabel definitely had fun running around with all her friends and cousins.

GJL partyI didn’t really have a ‘theme’- but after ordering the cake, I kinds of went with an airplane/sky/clouds kind of theme.

The cake was blue with white clouds and white writing to look a little like skywriting.  I then got these little airplane candle holders and put one on the cake to look like it was doing the writing.  It would have been way cooler if I hadn’t put the holder on in advance and closed the lid of the cake box- smashing it down through the icing.

Since the cake had the skywriting and airplane, I also picked up this box of 72 gliders.  In case you didn’t know, that’s A LOT of gliders.  They were simple to put together, so lots of the kids put them together and flew them around.  They made great favors.  That said, we have like 50 left- so here’s hoping next year’s theme is airplanes again!

I also ordered these cloud balloons.  I went to the local dollar store and got the plain blue and white balloons and they filled the cloud ones to (for the same price, scammers!).  And yes, I did feel guilty about it.

As a gift/decoration, I got Nemo an airplane (this one).  Combined with an airplane planter that had been a gift when he was born, we completed the ‘theme.’

I also reused the name portion of the bunting I made for Nemo’s Christening, and made a “Happy Birthday” bunting to go with it.

It was still fun.  Of course I can only think about the things that didn’t go well (weather, cake, etc.), but overall it was wonderful to have our friends and family together.  It was reminiscent of the family parties I remember from being a kid- where my cousins and I just ran around like maniacs until it was time to go home.  Ah, childhood.

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Wordless Wednesday: Like father, like son

One of these is my son, the other my husband.

One of these is my son, the other my husband.  Meiotic recombination is amazing.


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