Policy and Ethics

Kissing bug

Our public health system has a very bad habit of fighting the last war. This has resulted in a real-life version of American Horror Story. Like the plagues of Egypt, one exotic disease after another keeps washing ashore, catching scientists and public health officials flat-footed. 

First, it was Ebola. For decades, Ebola was a bizarre and terrifying disease associated with remote villages in Africa and a movie starring Dustin Hoffman. Out of sight, out of mind. Then, things "got real" when it killed a Liberian man in Texas in October 2014. Only after that public scare did Ebola research and prevention kick into high gear. Likewise, Zika was once an obscure virus, until...

Unlike our ancestors, who encountered it often, members of our modern society seem strangely detached from death. Many people have never even seen a dead body. When I was still an undergraduate in 2002, I witnessed four autopsies being performed at the New York City medical examiner's office. It was a life-changing experience. Watching as a doctor peels a corpse's face off its skull and systematically extracts organs (before stuffing them into a bag and shoving it in the chest cavity) has a way of bringing death to life, so to speak.

While many people may acknowledge death intellectually or philosophically, it still feels like a strange, otherworldly phenomenon that happens primarily to other people. The devastating biological process that is death -- and the...

CrossFit Inc.'s CEO Greg Glassman was once in a war on Coca-Cola - at least until it was revealed he was only in a war on Coca-Cola because Coke gave money to his competitors. Then he changed gears and claimed to be in a war against soda. But then it was revealed that he drinks a lot of soda - and a lot of margaritas - and switched gears to claiming he is not in a war on soda, he is in a war for public health, and simply believes that if a researcher has ever taken money from a company, they are unethical.

In the science community, when dealing with people who are either evangelists in a war they know little about or are simply anti-science, this is known as "moving the goalposts." Basically, you just keep changing your argument every time the old one is shown to be...

Last week we saw a video of bacteria evolving to resist two common antibiotics. It was a chillingly accurate visualization of the horrifying reality of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This week is the United Nations’ annual meeting in New York and along with the typical gridlock it causes, the UN is hosting a panel discussion and resolution regarding a growing global threat, AMR - which has been enabled by certain poor policies, as well as difficult science.  Here is the substance of the resolution:

“Acknowledge that resistance of bacterial, viral, parasitic, and...

Monsanto's takeover by Bayer must be triggering massive cognitive dissonance among organic food and anti-GMO activists because their favorite bogeyman, that American incarnation of pure corporate evil and greed, has been purchased by a reputable European company. (Bayer is regularly featured in Fortune's top 10 "most admired" chemical companies, where it earns high praise for its social responsibility.) So, what's the next step for the anti-GMO crowd? 

The New York State Parent-Teacher Association (NYS PTA), apparently. A proposed resolution (...

Last week, Hillary Clinton left a September 11 memorial service after she felt overheated and dehydrated. Her team later confirmed Clinton had come down with pneumonia the Friday before, but had not canceled any of her upcoming events; it was only after she slipped out of the ceremony early that the public was informed of her sickness. She's not the first nor the last public figure to keep working while sick. In fact, she's not the only human on the planet that keeps chugging along while feeling less than 100 percent. What is surprising though — and dare we say dumb — is that the idea of showing up to work at all costs is very much the American way. Don't believe us? We have a name for it: Presenteeism. The word is so uncommon, spell check even highlights it...

  Welcome to my first in a new series entitled:  The Shackling of the Physician.  It was that or “limitless inane continuous regulations and impositions imparted on the doctor against his/her will without his/her input that serve to embattle him/her and detract from patient care and personal well-being.”  The former seemed more effective with respect to search engine optimization, but the latter is what emanates from my soul.

  Since this topic, alone, is boundless in possibilities, I will focus the discussion today on absurd, oops, I mean illogical and impractical and often utterly hilarious and completely inefficient costly diagnostic coding measures - a sampling of which is at the end of this article.  Yes, it is intellectually edifying to know how many get struck by macaws...

There was much excitement on Twitter after it was announced that Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Jill Stein answered the questions posed by Science Debate 2016. (Gary Johnson has yet to respond.) But how seriously should we take their answers?

Perhaps more so than in any election in recent memory, the two mainstream candidates have shown a shocking willingness to abandon the truth at a moment's notice. Answers to simple questions change, sometimes in the matter of hours or even minutes, as if the candidates neither realized nor cared that video cameras and instant replay can expose their duplicitousness. The problem has become so acute that, in a...

Some quirk of human psychology compels us to categorize and rank things. Top Ten lists are always among the most popular features on a website, stimulating much discussion and controversy. In science, the overwhelming obsession to classify is what pushed Carl Linnaeus to become the father of modern taxonomy and prompted Dmitri Mendeleev to decipher the patterns that led to the current periodic table.

The scientific community carries on these legacies to this day, but not always in constructive ways. Perhaps the most problematic classification system is that of the impact factor, which attempts to rank the...

Follow the money

Glance through any sufficiently long comments section, and you will find that two things almost always happen: Somebody makes a reference to Hitler (Godwin's Law), and somebody accuses another of using a logical fallacy. The first is clearly ridiculous, but the second is troublesome because many popular writers also succumb to the same temptation.

As I wrote for RealClearScience, the problem with this approach is that not every disagreement is the result of a logical fallacy. Pretending otherwise leads to the socially subversive conclusion that, if only every person on Earth was completely logical, everybody would...