Category Archives: Technology and Society

A New Class Of Cholesterol Drugs

I wish I had more confidence that they’re not just treating a symptom:

As for the efficacy of the drugs, it is not yet proved that very low LDL levels produced by drugs lead to sharp reductions in heart attacks, strokes and deaths from cardiovascular disease, as researchers have seen in people with the naturally inactive PCSK9 gene.

Many cardiologists, though, are persuaded by a large body of evidence supporting the idea that the lower the LDL, the lower the risk.

“I believe lower is better and do not believe that a very low LDL is harmful,” said Dr. Daniel Rader, a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Others, like Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale, urge caution. “We are in a period of exuberant enthusiasm about these drugs,” he said. “We could just be performing cosmetic surgery on a lab value.”

If it were certain that the PCSK9 inhibitors were safe and effective in preventing heart attacks and deaths there would be no need for clinical trials, he noted.

$14,000/year is a lot of money for a treatment for which we have no idea whether or not it’s effective. I think improving diets would be much more cost effective.

[Update Tuesday morning]

Here’s a longer piece about the new drugs and the issues. Note: 1) It is assumed that the goal is to lower cholesterol, and that this will in turn result in lower mortality and 2) No mention of diet as a potential solution. Of course, it’s hard to get people to change their diets. But I suspect that to the degree that doctors are telling people to do so, they’re still telling them to cut out sat fat and cholesterol, despite all the actual science, and probably still telling them to follow FDA food-pyramic advice, which is junk science.


Mark Steyn’s New Book

A detailed review:

The problems encountered publishing the valid criticisms of Dr. Mann’s hockey stick are a serious indictment of the current peer review system, especially the systems at Nature and at the IPCC. Professor Hans Van Storch (University of Hamburg) went so far as to say “Scientists like Mike Mann, Phil Jones and others should no longer participate in the peer-review process.” Reform is needed and some suggestions by Professor Ross McKitrick are made here. The current peer review process can and has been used to suppress valid and important papers. This is why I applaud the internet and scientific blogs, they prevent self-serving and arrogant scientists from blocking the truth. One thing we have seen since the time of Copernicus and Galileo, no deception of this magnitude lasts forever.

Contrary to the myth that 97% of climate scientists believe we are headed toward a man-made climate doom, the truth is that a very small group of second rate climate scientists have captured the attention of some prominent political and media figures. They have also isolated themselves from the rest of the scientific community and suffer because of it.

Not enough to suit me.

The Timothy Hunt Witch Hunt

I don’t think I’ve ever commented on this, but almost three months later, it’s pretty clear now what happened, and there’s a good description over at Commentary. His treatment was shameful:

Like most of the science journalists who covered Hunt’s solecism, Zadrozny and Ferguson were content to rely on a handful of tweets as the only evidence in an obviously controversial story. Sadly, the Hunt affair provides ample ammunition for those who believe Internet reporters are a tribe of third-raters with little or no ethical standards or training in Journalism 101.

But there’s another explanation for the fact that reporters such as Zadrozny and Ferguson felt no obligation to verify the facts of the case or do any old-fashioned reporting. In their cases, the temptation to cut journalistic corners may have been overwhelming. That’s because for anyone with an ax to grind about gender equality or sexism in science, this was one of those stories that the tabloids used to label (jestingly for the most part) “too good to check.”

Kudos to Louise Mensch on exposing this initially. I’d also note that my respect for Deborah Blum has plummeted.

[Update a few minutes later]

And then there’s this burn:

The most generous interpretation of Connie St. Louis’s bizarre behavior is that she was too intellectually limited to recognize irony that was somehow obvious to an audience composed mostly of people who spoke English as a second language. A leak of the unedited version of her “Stop Defending Tim Hunt” piece for the Guardian is so garbled and incoherent that this actually seems plausible, though it also makes you wonder how and why she came to be teaching journalism even at a third-rate institution like London’s City University.

The science journalism community has not covered themselves in glory here.

[Update a few minutes later]

Then there’s this:

One of the more depressing aspects of the affair has been the number of clever and influential people, not all of them women, who have stated that even if Hunt was joking, he still deserved to be punished. These people genuinely believe that jokes about alleged differences between the sexes are beyond the pale—the cause of anti-sexism, like that of anti-racism, being simply too important or too fragile to tolerate subversive humor.

This “even if they’re innocent they deserve to be punished attitude” is not a new one. Christina Hoff Sommers documented it in her book in the nineties, in which in 1991, Catherine Comins at Vassar (who, sadly, may be a childhood friend of mine, though I’ve never seen a bio) said: “Men who are unjustly accused of rape can sometimes gain from the experience.”

Growing Metal Structure

like a tree:

Modumetal uses nanotechnology — manipulation of matter at the molecular level — to micromanage at a very small scale to better control the conditions and substances through which electroplating occurs. Basically, the company grows metal on a surface in a way that makes it easier to shape and tinker with the material’s characteristics. Lomasney says it’s similar to how nature controls the environment related to a tree’s growth— sunlight, soil, location, temperature—and then creates a tree that is a product those conditions.

This is the sort of thing that Eric talked about in Engines of Creation almost thirty years ago. It’s one of the reasons that any plans NASA has for Mars missions decades from now are already obsolete.