Conflicts, Paranoiacs, Scientologists, Dementia, and Cell Phone Soda

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Follow the Science, Not the Money
ACSH staffers would like to offer a seat at the table to John Tierney for his column in the Science section of today's New York Times. Tierney writes, “Conflict-of-interest accusations have become the simplest strategy for avoiding a substantive debate. The growing obsession with following the money too often leads to nothing but cheap ad hominem attacks.”

“This is a wonderful column,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “The point is that conflict-of-interest and industry money has become nothing but an excuse to avoid talking about the science. How many times have we said that? When you can't argue science you argue funding.”

Tierney offers as an example the attacks on the business interests of Al Gore and his fellow Nobel laureate Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri in lieu of actual debate about their scientific assertions concerning climate change.

“It's brilliant of him to make his point using global warming heroes,” says ACSH's Jeff Stier. “Global warming activists are often the ones pointing the industry-funding finger. Since Dr. Pachauri is one of their own, maybe they'll be more open to the 'follow the science' approach. Or not.”

“One reason discourse has fallen into this trend recently,” Tierney writes, “is laziness. It is simpler to note a corporate connection than to analyze all the other factors that can bias researchers' work.”

“To some extent, it is about laziness,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “People who make these attacks don't care to analyze science. However, oftentimes it's worse than laziness. People who have agendas can't afford to look at the science because it conflicts with their message.”

WHO Stands Up for Science
According to the Associated Press, “The World Health Organization on Monday slammed as 'irresponsible' critics who claim swine flu is a fake pandemic created for the benefit of drug companies.”

“Health officials made assumptions about the H1N1 pandemic based on epidemiology and tragic history, by which I mean the pandemic of 1918-19, in which many millions died of a related virus,” says Dr. Ross. “That their prognostication was overstated does not diminish the fact that the WHO and CDC did the best they could with data they had. You can always criticize in retrospect, but if you're going to make a mistake when it comes to vaccine supply, it's always better to have too much than to be short while people are suffering and dying. To say that the pandemic was intentionally aggrandized for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies is crackpot.”

A Touching New Cure for Gangrene
Yellow-shirt-clad “volunteer ministers” from the Church of Scientology having been touching Haitian earthquake victims in order to “reconnect their nervous systems.” A Parisian volunteer explains to AFP, “When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we re-establish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes and asking people to feel the touch.”

The report continues, “Some doctors at the hospital are skeptical. One U.S. doctor, who asked not to be named, snorted: 'I didn't know touching could heal gangrene.'”

“Some people say Haitians need all the help they can get, but we question whether this type of help will do any good,” says Stier.

Hypertension and Dementia
New research suggests that high blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia. The Associated Press reports, “Scientists scanned people's brains to show hypertension fuels a kind of scarring linked to later development of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Those scars can start building up in middle age, decades before memory problems will appear.”

“Controlling high blood pressure even more aggressively than doctors have been recommending may well turn out to be a highly effective way to lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease,” says Dr. Ross. “We know that not smoking and keeping active -- both physically and mentally -- are other ways to lower your risk. Scientists had thought that high blood pressure contributed to the type of dementia associated with small strokes, called 'vascular dementia.' Now it appears that hypertension may also be a major contributor to the risk of Alzheimer's disease as well.”

Communicating with Soda
London-based designer Daizi Zheng is attempting to build a cell-phone battery that generates energy from the sugar in sodas.

“While sugary soft drinks are under attack, some researchers are proposing a new use for sugared soda: to power your cell phone,” says Dr. Whelan. “We don't know if this is a joke, but it's whimsical.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).