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Two Doses of Crazy

I’d like to take the time this morning to deal with two conspiracy theorists, and I’ll take them in order of increasing foil-hat thickness. First up is Joe Collier, an emeritus professor who writes a blog for the British Medical Journal. He notes the recent study that suggested that cell phone emissions could have a beneficial effect in rodent models of Alzheimer’s. I didn’t give that any play on this blog – too many other things going on, and I don’t find any rodent models of Alzheimer’s particularly trustworthy to start with. But the study also showed (apparently beneficial) effects on normal rodents, and is certainly worth following up on.
But Collier takes this result and runs with it:

So what happens next? Faced with the prospect, albeit remote, of losing a lucrative market, I predict that the industry will want to quash the electromagnetic treatment theory as soon as possible. To this end, I would expect that the industry propaganda machine will go into overdrive in an attempt to undermine the credibility and findings of Arendash, and to overwhelm the decision makers (ultimately the funders) so that the use of drugs is maintained. The power of industry as an information generator and distributor is unmatched, and industry will use all its persuasive skills. . .

And so on, and so on. The problem (well, one problem) with this line of reasoning is that it could also be extended to other new drugs for Alzheimer’s. If the industry wanted to keep selling the existing Alzheimer’s drugs at all cost, why would we go to the trouble of trying to develop better ones? We are, you know – I have no idea how much money has vanished down that particular pipe, but it sure has been a lot, and I’ve helped flush some of it through myself. But we’re not the monolithic “drug industry” over here. We’re a bunch of companies climbing all over each other trying to make money, take each others’ market share, and get to the clinic faster than the other guys down the road. That’s what keeps things moving – everyone who’s done industrial drug discovery has read a new press release or seen a new patent filing and heard the footsteps coming up from behind.
So I have a counterprediction for Collier. The South Florida study will, in fact, be followed up on. It’s interesting enough. And if there’s something to it, someone will find a way to optimize the effect and make money off it. And the drug industry will not mobilize to squash it, either – honestly, we have enough to do trying to get our own stuff to work. I haven’t seen a single statement from a drug company about this study so far myself, and if Joe Collier has, I’d invite him to produce it.
Next! OK, now we move on to something that seems to be getting some more headlines in the past week or two, and that people have been e-mailing me about. One Wolfgang Wodarg, a German doctor and SPD politician, has been telling everyone that the handling of the H1N1 flu epidemic should be investigated because, he says, it’s all a “fake pandemic” whipped up by the drug companies. (You can get all the Wodarg you need, and more, at his web site). Stories in the more excitable press make him sound like the head of all the health agencies of Europe, but people are confusing the Council of Europe (where Wodarg heads a subcommittee) with the EU, among other things they’re mixing up.
The World Health Organization is now fielding questions about whether they oversold the epidemic, but it’s a sure bet that (if it taken off more drastically) they’d be fielding even more about why they weren’t prepared for it. At any rate, if you think that the Monolithic Drug Industry can simultaneously push around the WHO, the CDC, and the public health agencies of every other country in the world, I invite you to think again. If we could do all that, we’d at least be in good enough financial shape that we wouldn’t be laying thousands of people off and doing ridiculous mergers out of desperation.
Wodarg, for his part, seems to have been sounding all kinds of alarms for a long time now. Back in the fall, he was telling everyone that the vaccine was going to give them cancer, for example. In case anyone’s wondering, I treat his suggestions with the contempt that they appear to richly deserve.

34 comments on “Two Doses of Crazy”

  1. Jose says:

    Idiot politicians just need to shut up when it comes to public health matters! Just ask the WHO about the Nigerians and polio….

  2. You're Pfizered says:

    When H1N1 was starting to make itself known, the world was begging pharmaceutical companies to get on the train and save the world. Now we are the producers of a false pandemic to make even more money. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s not quite as bad as the mythology that we all have the cure for cancer locked in our ELNs, but don’t want to give it out for fear of killing the golden goose…
    It’s no wonder so few companies are involved with vaccine research, it’s almost a no-win proposition on so many levels.

  3. alig says:

    Of course the H1N1 epidemic was a fake pandemic. But it’s not the drug industry causing the panic, it’ the 24/7 new media. Before H1N1 it was bird flu, before that was SARS, before that was shark attacks. The drug industry sure loves to profit from the panic though, and you don’t see them trying to squash the hype.

  4. Seriously says:

    Are you seriously trying to tell me that the cell phone manufactures were not one bit concerned about the negative publicity related to cancer/cell phone usage?
    Derek, I don’t take you for being naive. So I’ll assume that you’re too far deep into the industry to have some perspective. As we have seen with all the fake article journals funded by drug companies, the millions of the dollars they give to doctors to push their drugs, and several other examples, this would seem like a small and very believable thing for a company to do – fund a research to show beneficial effects to cell phone usage.

  5. dearieme says:

    In Britain there is no need to blame Monstrous Pharma for the swine flu panic – we have a Government which specialises in that sort of thing. As for my own guess: I was summoned to receive a swine flu jab. I didn’t go.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Following the earlier H5N1 scare but prior to the emergence of the recent H1N1 swine flu, WHO changed the historical definition of a flu pandemic, dropping the previous requirement for a high morbidity and mortality.
    Thus as a new influenza, causing human disease, and with sustained human-to-human transmission, H1N1 swine flu became a Level 6 pandemic.
    Conspiracy? Unlikely. Incompetence? Probably, and the effect of crying wolf too many times will undercut efforts when a 1918-style pandemic comes along.

  7. weirdo says:

    Um, Seriously, seriously?
    You missed Collier’s point pretty badly. He isn’t saying that cell-phone companies may have manufactured the new study.
    He is saying that drug companies are going to refute the new study as a potential treatment so that they can continue to peddle their nasty drug treatments.
    Nice ad hominem on Derek, though. Might want to take some reading comprehension classes before trying it again.

  8. HelicalZz says:

    The only thing that is clear from the results of this study are the following:
    If your mother feels sick, it must be because you don’t call often enough.
    Zz

  9. Ty says:

    If there was any conspiracy theory that could make me ponder, it would be Gilead-Cheney connection… Of course it would have had more legs in the Bush regime.

  10. Tok says:

    Ha. I remember last year an official from the CDC talking about how it’s impossible to make people happy when preventing disease. Successfully preventing widespread disease necessarily means nobody knows how serious it would have otherwise been, so people question the resources spent. If gobs of people die, then not enough was done to prevent it. This official rightly stated they would rather have the former case than the latter. Too bad the CDC and WHO now have to waste time defending themselves because they were successful .

  11. milkshake says:

    Prof Collier household: “Poor grandpa’s getting worse – he can’t remember he already microwaved his head twice today.

  12. Wagonwheel says:

    The Alzheimer’s issue is nonsense, and I don’t mean whether there is any truth in its potential as a treatment, but rather the idea that Pharma would try and suppress it. J&J springs to mind as one health care company which has more than a passing interest in medical devices and would love nothing more than to find a non-pharmaceutical treatment to complement it’s venture into Alzheimer’s. As Derek says, if the science is good and there is sufficient market, then things will happen…

  13. Dana H. says:

    @HelicalZz: “If your mother feels sick, it must be because you don’t call often enough.”
    Best comment of the decade.

  14. sgcox says:

    What is the most puzzling in this Alzheimer study is that EM treatment markedly increases the level of both 1-40 and 1-42 abeta forms (Table II). In frontal cortex is is by 50% !
    This is the histology of soluble fraction and may indicate the dissolving of plagues. However, 1-40 does not aggregate much but still increase dramatically.
    Whatever the rest of study says, Table II scares me.

  15. Aspirin says:

    Why teenagers don’t get Alzheimer’s- because they spend way too much time talking on the phone.

  16. Dennis says:

    “As Derek says, if the science is good and there is sufficient market, then things will happen… ”
    And if the science is no good and there is sufficient market, then infomercials will happen.

  17. Sigivald says:

    alig: Well, it was a “real pandemic” by WHO standards (in that it was widespread enough to qualify).
    Derek: Well, obviously, the Council of Europe and the European Union have the same flag, so they must be the same organization!

  18. cynical1 says:

    Great, just what we need – a scientific study to encourage old farts to drive around all day talking on their cell phones. On the plus side, I finally have a way to justify phone sex to my wife: “Honey, it’s good for my brain!”
    Alternatively, when this drug discovery gig finally goes south, I can run a business where old people can call in and talk to someone for $3.99 a minute to “cure their alzheimer’s”. Hey, if the homeopathy companies can get away with it, why can’t I? (Hell, I’ll even let my mother-in-law call in for free…..as long as I’m not the one on the other end.)
    Gotta go write up my business plan and get some venture capital………..and I’ll move to South Florida (preferably on the beach) because it has only been shown to work there and there are a LOT of old people there. I don’t want to let all those wicked pharmaceutical companies get all the money………

  19. Hap says:

    I humbly suggest that foil surface area, rather than thickness, should be the measure of crazy. I think, for example, that Wodarg may have managed to cover his mouth and nose with foil and forgot to leave an air hole.
    I thought the point of the rapid rollout of vaccine was to prevent something bad from happening – if nothing bad happened, it’s hard to know whether it would have happened without the vaccine, but the test is sort of expensive to carry out. He sounds a lot like someone who bought insurance and wants his money back when he didn’t use it.

  20. Mark says:

    #10 Tok,
    You are right on the money. Just look at the latest attempted bombing on the Detroit-bound flight.
    You put in effort measures to combat terrorism, no new attacks and people bitch at you for going too far.
    You wind back the measures (release Gitmo detainees to Yemen) and people bitch at you for not going far enough.
    Such is the human condition.
    Mark

  21. Dubious says:

    Doesn’t common sense ever trump such studies? Don’t such studies ever have to give leeway to simple principles (e.g., high energy electromagnetic waves are bad?) Don’t extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof?

  22. Sili says:

    What Dennis said at #16. Big Quacka is gonna be all over this. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it promoted as a cure for electrosensitivity.

    I invite you to think again

    Far be it for me to suggest you’re naïve, but you really need to get out more. Have reading Pharyngula and Bad Science taught you nothing?

    You are right on the money. Just look at the latest attempted bombing on the Detroit-bound flight.

    You mean that one that showed that the system really doesn’t work with more than half a million people on the no-fly list and agencies actually investing the guy – who had been turned in by his father? And yet it’s regular travellers who have to jump through more hoops to be ‘safer’? TSA & al is as incompetent as management in pharma by the looks of it. Presumably some of the TSA bosses are gonna be headhuntet to lead GSK and Phizer any day now.

    You put in effort measures to combat terrorism, no new attacks and people bitch at you for going too far.

    Yeah, right. Because carrying more than a dl of water is gonna bring a plane down? It’s theatre, nothing more. Government scrambling to do stuff for the sake of doing stuff.

    You wind back the measures (release Gitmo detainees to Yemen) and people bitch at you for not going far enough.

    Yeah. Because locking innocent people up for no reason for half a decade isn’t gonna affect them in the least. But it’s a wonderful logic: “Look, he may not have done anything before we locked him up, but just look what happened the minute he was released!” Lovely.

    Such is the human condition.

    On that we can agree.
    Sorry for the ranting.
    PS: Do not wear aluminium foil hats! It’s a conspiracy for them to more easily get at your precious bodily fluidsbrains.

  23. Jose says:

    Parenthetical comment- H1N1 is a true and real pandemic. It is a novel virus that no-one on the planet has immunity. If it mixes in vivo (human, porcine or avian) with other strains and becomes more virulent via antigenic shift, we are all in massive trouble. This could still easily occur…. basically, everyone on the planet has (or will) become infected (symptomatic or not); be glad it is a mild one so far at least.

  24. Bored says:

    Idiot politicians should keep their damn mouths shut when it comes to ANYTHING involving science. Every time politics and science intersect, truth becomes the victim.

  25. Anonymous says:

    WHO’s mistake was using an epidemiological definition to communicate pandemic alert levels to a lay public through an uninformed news media.
    The US govt, which unlike WHO has the responsibility and authority to take actions from limiting travel to nationalizing critical infrastructure if necessary, retains the requirement for high morbidity & mortality in its highest pandemic alert phase.
    It is of course a balance but it seemed counterproductive for WHO to place a relatively innocuous pandemic strain in the same highest alert category as a devastating 1918-style flu.

  26. bcpmoon says:

    So we have:
    A huge conspiracy of Big Pharma using its might to suppress the beneficial effects of mobile phones…
    vs.
    A huge conspiracy of Big Telecon using its might to suppress the adversial effects of mobile phones…
    Should be interesting. And I bet that both conspiracies will be featured side by side on the same website.

  27. > Wolfgang Wodarg … says [the H1N1 thing is]
    > all a “fake pandemic”
    Fake is such a strong word. It’s an actual virus, and it really did spread quite widely, and in a fairly short timneframe, so it’s not fake in the sense of being completely fictitious.
    However, the word “overblown” certainly seems fair. I mean, fundamentally, we are talking about a flu strain. There’s one every few months, if not more often. Can you see me quaking in my boots? No? Maybe that’s because I have a normal functioning *immune system*.
    > whipped up by the drug companies.
    Now, that’s just dumb. The drug companies don’t have the resources to whip up that kind of frenzy. If anybody is responsible for the frenzy, it’s the TV news people. And if the drug companies had any real control of the TV news people, a flu pandemic frenzy isn’t how they’d exercise it. (There would be MUCH more lucrative ways for the drug companies to exploit such control, if they had it.)
    What happened was this: the people whose job it is to keep an eye on stuff like this (you know, the CDC and so forth) issued an advisories to the effect that, hey, this thing’s spreading pretty fast. This is normal. The disease-tracking people are constantly issuing advisories about whatever sniffle is going around. It’s their *job*.
    However, when they issued this particular advisory, it happened to be a slow news day, and so a bored reporter was reading through such things (normally they wouldn’t bother) and saw one that sounded interesting. Remember, they were calling it “swine flu” at that point. To a news dude who knows less than nothing about diseases, that makes it sound like a disease that was previously only attested in pigs and now has somehow crossed the species barrier into humans! He’d probably previously heard the dubious legend about AIDS coming from monkeys, and frankly it’s likely the *only* disease origin story he’d ever heard. He didn’t pay attention in science class in high school and studied communications in college. So he sees an advisory about a “swine flu” strain spreading, and his imagination conjures up a movie plot. It’s nonsense, but that doesn’t matter, because a significant chunk of the viewing public is going to think the same thing, and that means they’ll watch the segment, which is all the reporter wants. And once a story breaks, you know all the other channels have to cover it too…
    Exactly the same thing happened a while back with the “bird flu”.

  28. Jose says:

    Antigentic shift DOES NOT EQUAL antigenic drift. There is a massive difference between the two. There is a damn good scientific reason the WHO had a full bore freak out.

  29. Tok says:

    Sounds like some people commenting here would rather the CDC have waited until a few thousand people died before ordering the vaccine made.
    Jonadab, this flu was different from the seasonal flu in that initial reports showed it seemed to be killing young, healthy people more than the regular flu, just like the 1918 pandemic. Your normal functioning *immune system* was what would have killed you had this been a similar strain. With a 6-12 month lead time between ordering a vaccine and having enough doses, I say play it safe. I mean, we just got enough vaccines for the general population, well into the flu season. If this was an overreaction, I’d hate to see an underreaction. No vaccine until what, March? After everyone already has the flu?

  30. Happy Aunt says:

    And just to say, as someone who has ended up in hospital from “normal influenza”, the H1N1 strain can be particularly nasty. My nephew had a very severe case of H1N1 and went from being a happy, healthy, active and fit 23 year old, to lying in hospital on a ventilator in 3 days. 3 days. And he was on that ventilator for almost 6 weeks. He’s out of hospital now, but has a long road of recovery in front of him.
    Was the response overblown? Totally. Can H1N1 be deadly? Absolutely. Were all the facts known at the start of the outbreak? Absolutely not. I’d rather have public health officials go overboard to try to protect us than to have had them say “oh, it’s just the flu” and not do anything. Imagine if it had affected at a normal rate those usually susceptible to influenza. There would have been a lot more deaths than we saw. Mind you, I didn’t, and don’t plan to get the H1N1 vaccination. It also has not undergone nearly enough testing in my opinion.

  31. Tok says:

    “Mind you, I didn’t, and don’t plan to get the H1N1 vaccination. It also has not undergone nearly enough testing in my opinion.”
    Wow, just wow. Your nephew almost dies, but the vaccine that was made and distributed the same way as flu vaccines have been for decades hasn’t undergone enough testing. Should we test them for a few years first? Give the virus plenty of time to come and go? What exactly should public health officials do to “go overboard to try to protect us” if people won’t get vaccinated?

  32. metaphysician says:

    #21-
    Why should they? Random “common sense” often *isn’t true*. Take your example, “high energy electromagnetic rays are bad.” Is this true?
    The answer is “depends on which rays and how high energy,” as determined by actual science. In the case of microwave range, like used by cell phones, the exact answer is “don’t worry until you get physical heating,” which requires orders of magnitudes more energy than any cell tower.
    But how about, say, gamma range EM. Surely one can assume intuitively that they are “obviously” harmful. Well, yes, and just as obviously all those cancer patients whose lives have been saved by radiation therapy must not exist!
    To repeat: *NO*, you can’t discard a study because the result is ‘obviously’ wrong. You discount a study when its rigor and quality of evidence are radically insufficient to support the conclusion, and not a moment sooner. And you judge it insufficient in comparison to *actual scientific data*, not some vague sense of what should be or is.

  33. MedInformaticsMD says:

    #24 Bored writes “Idiot politicians should keep their damn mouths shut when it comes to ANYTHING involving science. Every time politics and science intersect, truth becomes the victim.”
    Science has (or should have) at its core basic honesty.
    Politics, by its very nature, is about deceit.

  34. Getheren says:

    @6:
    “Conspiracy? Unlikely. Incompetence? Probably …”
    Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from a malicious conspiracy.

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