E. coli, grass, and pasteurization

Nina Plank, the author of the NY Times article I commented on in this post, stopped by to comment. Rather than just having this lost in the comments to a week-old post, I wanted to take a moment and quickly address two of her points (with potentially a follow-up post next week when I have a bit more free time).

First, to Nina, thanks for stopping by. I’ll just say that I very much disagree with your stance on raw milk and dairy. Indeed, contamination can also happen after pasteurization and nothing replaces vigilance, but having seemingly healthy cows is no guarantee of healthy milk. Remember that many organisms that are harmful to us cause no disease in cattle.

Apropos of this, just since I arrived back at my computer from teaching I found these announcements in my email inbox:

E. coli cases linked to unpasteurized milk

Two children have been sickened by E. coli bacteria in a case associated with unpasteurized milk, the [Washington] state Health Department said Thursday.

Testing confirmed both cases were caused by the same strain of the bacteria, E.coli O157:H7 – also the strain at issue in the recent spinach recall.

The children were identified only as a King County boy and a Snohomish County girl. The boy remains hospitalized in Seattle.

“Consuming raw milk can be risky,” especially for children, the elderly and people with other health problems, said Janet Anderberg, a specialist with the agency’s Food Safety Program.

and

State revokes dairy farmer’s license

The state has revoked the milk-producing license of a western Ohio dairy farmer whose farm sold raw milk, the agriculture department said.

Farmers in Ohio cannot sell raw milk for human consumption, although they can drink the unpasteurized milk from their own cows.

Carol Schmitmeyer’s farm in Darke County also did not properly label its product and processed milk without a license to do so, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said.

Agriculture officials said they began investigating after a 63-year-old man and a 4-year-old boy who drank raw milk from the farm became ill.

and

Raw milk still quarantined

State officials yesterday continued their quarantine of raw, unpasteurized milk products produced by Organic Pastures of Fresno because four children, including two 8-year-olds in San Diego County, became ill after consuming them.

The quarantine began Sept. 21 after stool samples from three of the four youngsters revealed 0157:H7, a type of E. coli bacteria. People affected by this bacteria can suffer severe diarrhea and other potentially fatal complications.

I’ll note that it’s not yet been 100% determined in this latter case that the milk was the source of the E. coli, but if it is, both of these outbreaks were completely preventable with pasteurization. If you’re so worried about losing the vitamin C from pasteurization, eat some fruit. If you want beneficial bacteria, eat some yogurt. There’s simply no justification for drinking something as potentially harmful as raw milk.

Second,

Being a skeptical sort, in every case I look for objective evidence to back up my choices – and my advice.

Yet you seemingly ignored studies which go against your statement that you “…[are] confident that reducing grain-feeding would reduce O157.” As I pointed out, results have been mixed when that was implemented, and O157 shows up even in mostly grass-fed cattle. I simply think it’s a lot more complicated than you make it out to be, as I noted in the post.

More anti-evolution rumblings in the UK

Via Dean and Science, Just Science comes this story about a new group trying to get ID into class in the UK:

Parents are being encouraged to challenge their children’s science teachers over what they are explaining as the origins of life.

An organisation called Truth in Science has also sent resource packs to all UK secondary school science departments.

It promotes the idea of intelligent design – that there was an intelligence behind the creation of the universe.

On their website, Truth in Science notes that they’ve already sent ” a mailing to all Secondary School and College Heads of Science in the United Kingdom.” Busy little bees, aren’t they?

And boy, doesn’t this sound familiar:

It quotes the Edexcel examining board as explaining that students “need to adopt a critical, questioning frame of mind, going ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the workings of science and how it impacts on society and their lives”.

The Truth in Science website says: “We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons.”

Something sure has evolved: the anti-evolution catchphrase. “Critical analysis” and its kin are obviously being positively selected!

(More below…)
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Must-read posts

I was travelling over the weekend and I’m incredibly busy up through Wednesday, so new material from me will have to wait until later in the week. In the meantime, I’ll point you to a stellar post I wanted to highlight last week, from Revere on H5N1 and the evolution ov virulence, and another excellent one from Mike regarding the importance of surveillance when it comes to detecting and containing outbreaks (such as the recent O157 outbreak). He also describes a timeline for how long many of the common procedures take; quite a bit different from what you get watching CSI or similar shows where every test is finished in a hour.

Tripoli six–more info

The more I read about this, the worse it gets. In addition to the links I mentioned yesterday, Laurie Garrett mentioned she’s been covering this for years. One example is this piece from this past June.

One of the newly charged Bulgarians, Smilian Tachev, an engineer, told Bulgarian journalists last month that he was originally arrested in Benghazi at the same time as the nurses and doctor, and during 174 days of captivity witnessed gruesome torture of the health care workers.

“The nurses were beaten with many-stranded wire, for a long time and painfully,” Tachev said. “Then they were made to run, crawl, stand on one leg with their hands stretched up. When they collapsed totally, they were dragged somewhere and brought back in a helpless state.”

Tachev witnessed the use of probes to force unidentified objects down the women’s throats, electrocution, and dogs loosed on the screaming victims.

Garrett notes that this type of behavior has the potential to have a chilling effect on foreign doctors working in underserved countries:

It is hard enough to create viable incentives to draw American and European doctors and nurses toward service in Africa. Adding the risk of torture and execution amid fallacious charges of deliberately spreading disease only worsens an already dire situation: The World Health Organization estimates the world is now short of four million health care workers, with Africa suffering a deficit of one million.

Mike Dunford has amassed a great list of contact information here, so if you’ve not sent out a letter, I urge you to take just a few minutes and shoot one off.

Is stopping E. coli O157 contamination as easy as changing cattle diet?

That’s certainly the claim in a new New York Times editorial (via The Frontal Cortex). The author, Nina Planck (author of Real Foods: What to Eat and Why), claims that it’s as easy as just feeding cattle grass, and poof!–E. coli O157 will vanish.

More on this and why organic farming won’t necessarily stop such outbreaks after the jump.
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When denying science is a matter of life and death

I write a lot here about science denial, and it’s been pointed out previously that denying that HIV causes AIDS, for instance, is deadly quackery. Now, via Nature write and blogger Declan Butler and Nature magazine comes news of another form of science denial revolving around HIV: the 7-year imprisonment and torture of six medical workers in Libya (the “Tripoli six”), falsely accused of deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV. In his blog post, Butler asks, “Can the blogosphere help free the Tripoli six?”

(More below…)
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Wells’ Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and ID, Chapter Seven: quote-mining, trivializing, and generally getting it wrong

The seventh chapter of Wells’ book could be summed up in a single sentence: “biology doesn’t need no steeekin’ evolution!” Wells argues that, because medicine and agriculture were already doing just fine prior to Darwin’s publication of Origin, clearly then, these fields (and others) haven’t benefited from an application of evolutionary principles in the time from 1859 to present day, and that Dobzhansky’s “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is one big joke.

Wells focuses on medicine and agriculture because these are two fields that we all benefit from, and are more easily understood than biological disciplines that are a bit more removed from the common man. Animal and plant breeding and domestication is something that resonates more with middle America than the speciation events Wells describes in Chapter 5 (review of that yet to come), and certainly the great strides made in medicine are familiar even to those who don’t have much of an interest in the field. Wells claims that these fields have been “darwined”; that “Darwinists steal credit for scientific breakthroughs to which they contributed nothing,” and calls it a form of “intellectual larceny.” (pg. 80-81):

Generations of breeders have been darwined. Mendel has been darwined. Jenner and Semmelweis have been darwined. Fleming, Florey, Chain, and Waksman have been darwined. So have the real pioneers of modern biology. They’ve all been darwined. (pg. 81)

Wells claims this because, as I noted in the first paragraph, it is his contention that modern biology owes nothing to evolution, but instead, evolution owes everything to other fields.

Yet most of the fundamental disciplines in modern biology were pioneered by scientists who lived before Darwin was born. These pioneers include the sixteenth-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, the sixteenth-century physiologist William Harvey, and the seventeenth-century botanist John Ray. They include the seventeenth-century founders of microbiology, Robert Hooke and Anton van Leeuwenhoek; the eighteenth-century founder of systematics, Carolus Linneaus; and the eighteenth-century founder of modern embryology, Caspar Friedrich Wolff. Even paleontology, which Darwinists now treat as theirs, was founded before Darwin’s birth by Georges Cuvier.

Of course, no one is making the argument that Darwin discovered biology! Wells doesn’t once mention, however, another famous quote by Ernest Rutherford: “In science there is only physics; all the rest is stamp collecting.” In the days before Darwin, biology was not united behind a common, unifying theory, and it was much like “stamp collecting:” figuring out knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but not having a puzzle upon which to place the pieces to form a more logical, coherent pattern. Evolution gives us this.

This is why some scientists are still dismayed that an understanding of evolution doesn’t guide some biology-dependent fields in the way that it should. Wells seizes on one such lamentation by quote-mining Harvard biologist Marc Kirschner:

“Over the last one hundred years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself.” Although he lamented this situation, Kirschner acknowledged: “Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all.” (pg. 80).

Of couse, as usual, putting the previous paragraph alongside Kirschner’s quote gives it the context needed to understand where Kirschner is coming from:

If anything, Kirschner and Gerhart hope their book will have an impact at least as substantial on their colleagues in biology. For too long, they say, researchers in its different domains-from evolutionists in the field to cell biologists in the lab-have remained isolated. ”I wouldn’t call it an antagonism as much as one not knowing anything about the other,” Gerhart offers.

So they’re calling for biologists to pay attention to disciplines outside their own niche a bit more, which makes a huge amount of sense (and even moreso if one realizes that Dr. Kirschner leads a department of systems biology, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to investigating biological research). Additionally, this article was written in the midst of the Dover trial, where Michael Behe–a biochemist who clearly feels that evolution doesn’t benefit his own work–was testifying.

So, what of Wells’ specific claims about medicine and Darwinism? I will address three here in more detail: hospital pathogens, antibiotics, and influenza vaccination, all of which Wells claims owe nothing to evolution.
Continue reading “Wells’ Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and ID, Chapter Seven: quote-mining, trivializing, and generally getting it wrong”

Anthrax attack anniversary

David over at Orcinus has an excellent post reminding about the anniversary of the that passed largely without mention, and its stark contrast to the anniversary of 9/11.

…today also marks the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that followed — the anthrax letters mailed to a variety of media figures and liberal senators, killing five people and convulsing the nation with fear of similar attacks elsewhere for several weeks afterward.

But there are no network specials planned. No wreath-laying by the president. No ABC docudramas blaming the Clinton administration with made-up sequences. No discussion of the implications of these attacks in the “war on terror.”

He concludes:

It’s not, as I’ve said before, that domestic terrorism should be the focus of our anti-terrorist program. Rather, the failure to focus on it at all, to give it any kind of serious role in the “war on terror,” leaves us vulnerable in a way that also reveals the incoherence of our antiterrorism policy.

After all, the killer who had the entire nation on edge in the wake of 9/11, like Osama bin Laden himself, is still at large. And it is equally telling that no one in the Bush administration seems to consider finding either of them a significant priority.