Weekend Reading


It’s the May Long Weekend – in Canada at least. The flower above is the Trillium, commonly seen in cottage country at this time of year.  Here’s some links, articles, and podcasts I enjoyed this week:

Dirty Medicine. If you read one link, make it this. I don’t think I’ve ever read an article about a pharmaceutical company that made me as furious as this one about Ranbaxy. Some excerpts:

Fortune’s investigation yields the first comprehensive picture of how one under-policed and far-flung generics company operated. It is not a tale of cutting corners or lax manufacturing practices but one of outright fraud, in which the company knowingly sold substandard drugs around the world — including in the U.S. — while working to deceive regulators. The impact on patients will likely never be known. But it is clear that millions of people worldwide got medicine of dubious quality from Ranbaxy.


Thakur knew the drugs weren’t good. They had high impurities, degraded easily, and would be useless at best in hot, humid conditions. They would be taken by the world’s poorest patients in sub-Saharan Africa, who had almost no medical infrastructure and no recourse for complaints. The injustice made him livid.

Ranbaxy executives didn’t care, says Kathy Spreen, and made little effort to conceal it. In a conference call with a dozen company executives, one brushed aside her fears about the quality of the AIDS medicine Ranbaxy was supplying for Africa. “Who cares?” he said, according to Spreen. “It’s just blacks dying.”

The fact that no one is in jail because of this international fraud makes this even more infuriating.

Other reading:

The quack view of preventing breast cancer versus reality and Angelina Jolie. And see Part 2. Angeline Jolie’s case has brought out the worst from alt-med promoters, all seeking to profit from her story, as Josephine Jones documents.

Why You Should Worry about a Case of Polio in Somalia: Scientific American

For years, major pharmaceutical companies have been testing new drugs in developing countries like India. The practice is forbidden, but the use of subcontractors makes it difficult to detect.

Missed Warnings on Cold Medicine for Children – WSJ.com – note that cough and cold products for children are not only useless, they may be harmful. The ones that remain are inert – homeopathic remedies without any active ingredients. You’re buying sugar syrup.

Most parents who opt-out of vaccinations are being guided by “irrational fears” that are a luxury of living in the developed world, a leading world health expert says.

What we can learn from one of the worst charities in the world, “Homeopaths Without Borders”?

The homeopathy aisle is an organized, state-sanctioned scam.” Homeopathic Pain Medicine Contains Poison

The Eradication of Smallpox is a Blueprint for Polio’s Demise.

Compare and contrast! What a naturopath says about cupping versus a skeptic. Who has the better grasp of science?

The FDA vs. supplement manufacturers: Jack3d, Round 2.

Complementary and alternative medicine seems to have no effect on cancer outcomes, and users report lower quality-of-life compared to non-users.

More on the dubious naturopath study published recently in the CMAJ: The deceptive rebranding of aspects of science-based medicine as “alternative” by naturopaths continues apace.

I want to see better evidence. Antibiotics for back pain: hope or hype? On the same story, Reporters fall prey to back pain study’s shady PR push. And check out Harriet Hall’s take on the study.

Gluten elimination diets: Facts for patients on this food fad. Unfortunately, pharmacies promote unnecessary elimination diets through the sale of clinically unvalidated “food intolerance” tests like Hemocode.

Like science? Like exercise? Check out Evidence-Based Fitness.

Mark Bittman may be a popular columnist, and people tell me his cookbooks are good. But his grasp of science is tenuous.

Herbal Happenings

Ginkgo biloba: not only does it not work, there are suggestions it may be harmful.

No-one is thrilled with using steriods for eczema, but they work. The same cannot be said for evening primrose, which seems to have no effect.

There’s a new website that looks at CAM and cancer therapies. Looks promising.

Heinous quackery: Calif. doctor who promised fake herbal cancer cure sentenced to 14 years in prison.


Chiropractor Ad Will Make You Wince


The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

Genius. Sad Cat Diary.

Gorgeous Black-and-White Photos of Vintage NASA Facilities

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats – in pictures

Photo from flickr user Bob from Caledon used under a CC licence.