McCain: “strong evidence” mercury causes autism

More grants out the door today, but check out ABC correspondent Jake Tapper’s post on John McCain’s views on thimerosal and autism:

At a town hall meeting Friday in Texas, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declared that “there’s strong evidence” that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S. — a position in stark contrast with the view of the medical establishment.

McCain was responding to a question from the mother of a boy with autism, who asked about a recent story that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had issued a judgment in favor of an unnamed child whose family claimed regressive encephalopathy and symptoms of autism were caused by thimerosal.

***

McCain said, per ABC News’ Bret Hovell, that “It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

Just what we need in the White House; another 4+ years of an anti-science president.

Administration: overdose antidote not good public health policy

Via new acquaintance Tom Levinson of the Inverse Square blog comes an all-too-familiar story of our “compassionate conservative” administration putting their own morality above proven public health programs:

Fact 1: public health officials around the country…are distributing rescue kits [containing Narcan, see below –TS] that save heroin users from overdoses. The kits cost $9.50, and they are credited with reversing 2,600 overdoses in 16 such local programs around the country. For context: NPR reports that “overdoses of heroin and opiates, such as Oxycontin, kill more drug users than AIDS, hepatitis or homicide.”

Great, right? Cheap kits, Narcan is easy to use (it can be given as a nasal spray), lives saved. What’s not to love? Well… (after the jump)
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Presidential debates with an extra helping of science

Just a P.S.–if ignorance like Mike Huckabee’s comments on HIV/AIDS drives you nuts, check out what Chris and Sheril (among others) have put together, calling for real debate on science and technology issues by the presidential candidates:

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we, the undersigned, call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Medicine and Health, and Science and Technology Policy.

Doesn’t matter what your party affiliation or candidate of choice is–if you agree these topics are important, check out the ScienceDebate 2008 website.

Discovery Institute bloviates. Again.

I mentioned that the Discovery Institute was in Iowa yesterday, accusing Iowa State University (and specifically, professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy) of conspiring against assistant professor Guillermo Gonzalez, an intelligent design advocate and fellow of the Discovery Institute. I was unable to attend, but Evil Monkey headed to Des Moines to cover the event, and has his initial thoughts on the dog ‘n’ pony show up at Neurotopia.

“Tree man” diagnosis and treatment upsets Indonesian health minister

Revere has been covering the situation in Indonesia regarding sharing of influenza viruses with the US and other countries. For those of you who don’t follow these issues, Indonesia has been the country hardest hit thus far by H5N1 (113 cases and 91 deaths as of 11/12/07). However, while one might think they would welcome outside help with diagnostics and strain typing, they’ve been very reluctant to share their viruses. Revere explains:

But Indonesia still refuses to share its human H5N1 isolates, contending they get nothing tangible from an arrangement which is likely to lead to vaccines they won’t be able to afford. Under the current system, which allows intellectual property rights to cover vaccines developed from WHO supplied seed strains to Big Pharma, they are probably right. Their position is a grim example of how the crazy patenting system can come back to bite us.

This concern reaches beyond H5N1, and intersects with Dede’s (the “Tree man”) plight to obtain a diagnosis and treatment for his weird condition. Turns out the Indonesian health minister is not happy about Dede’s samples being removed from the country; more after the jump.
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Revamping funding via powerpoint and IM?

Now that a proposed increase of funding to NIH has again been shot down, scientists have to once again face the reality of intense competition for very scarce funds.

However, the process of awarding research grants is, well, a bit crazy. Scientists work for months on a grant, drafting, revising, trying to winnow it down to fit the page limitations, finding collaborators and assembling potential research teams, obsessing about minutiae in the methods section. We then cross our fingers and send them off for review (which can take many months), and hope that they’ll be well-received. When they’re not, at least they usually come back with helpful comments and suggestions to strengthen the proposal for the next attempt at funding.

However, sometimes it’s clear that the reviewers either didn’t read the proposal carefully (somewhat understandably, as reviewing grant applications is a difficult and rather thankless job), or simply didn’t “get” what was being proposed. A problem with the latter is the time lag–again, it can take months from submission to the point where the researcher receives comments on the grant application, and by the time the grant is revised and resubmitted, another few months may go by. Therefore, quite literally years may be spent just trying to secure funding–sometimes longer than the project itself would take.

Many agree that the process is a problem. What’s more contentious is how to fix it. Michael at Only in it for the gold sends a plea to science funding agencies for a different tactic besides the traditional proposal:

I want to do what I would do in a business setting. I want to look you in the eye and explain to you why you would be foolish not to fund my proposal; i.e.;

1) that you have a problem,
2) that I know how to solve it
3) that my team has or can find the right people to solve it
4) that those objections which make any sense are already accounted for in the plan

If I can’t look you in the eye, could we at least try instant messaging?

Comments on the post range from agreeable to Michael as “another well-meaning gullible innocent to the slaughter…” What’s your take on it?

Mbeki: still in denial

In our paper on HIV denial, Steven and I started the introduction off with a note about South African president Thabo Mbeki:

This denial was highlighted on an international level in 2000, when South African president Thabo Mbeki convened a group of panelists to discuss the cause of AIDS, acknowledging that he remained unconvinced that HIV was the cause. His ideas were derived at least partly from material he found on the Internet. Though Mbeki agreed later that year to step back from the debate, he subsequently suggested a re-analysis of health spending with a decreased emphasis on HIV/AIDS.

Though he’s not been publicly vocal about his views in recent years, it has been suggested that they’ve not changed–that he still remains unconvinced, at best, of HIV causation of AIDS. An article in today’s Guardian suggests he’s ready to start speaking on it again–and it’s the same old schtick:
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