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December 2009

Why not use robots for home health care assistance?

My latest HND piece describes the new CareBot™ from Gecko Systems, and how products like it could save money and lives.

As the baby boomers get older and sicker, more people will be homebound, and require care. Even the most dedicated human caregiver can't be there all the time, so who would be watching the patient when that happens?

Moreover, as the Feds start taking over health care, and even now with Medicare paying for much that involves seniors, there will be continuing pressure to reduce costs. Machines like the CareBot™ can remind the patient to take their meds, interact with them in all sorts of ways, and even notify emergency services, should human interaction be required.

While providing care services for the homebound is not usually considered part of the high-tech world, with robots entering this space, it is now.

Read the complete article.

We take a look at the health effects (mostly positive) of coffee

My latest HND piece catalogs some of the verified health effects of coffee, and even traces its history back to an Arabian goatherd.

Owing—no doubt—to the caffeine buzz, coffee ranks second only to water in popularity worldwide. Also included is information on a unique low-acid coffee product, and details on one of the dumbest coffee scares of all time.

Yep, blaming pancreatic cancer on coffee is about as bad as junk science can get, and this was from Harvard, of all places.

Read the complete article.

When movies could create mood without FX: A look at "The Other"

Some folks under 30 may not believe it, but there once was a time when a movie could create excitement—and just about any other mood—with a great story, direction, production design, music, and acting. That is, without special effects.

Certainly, FX have improved the visual impact of film, but far too often, a movie heavy with FX has little else going for it—although that may be enough for some audiences. Still, people can tire of visual candy.

That's why I took a look at golden oldie: The Other, from 1972.

The story of how a supposedly idyllic New England summer can go all bad, replete with murders, family secrets, and practiced denial, The Other creates a creepiness pretty much unrivaled in modern cinema.

Now available on DVD, although missing any special features other than the original theatrical trailer, this one is highly recommended.

To avoid spoilers in my retrospective, stop reading after "...just a tragic accident."

Will your digitized health care data be secure?

Probably not, unless there are some big changes in the culture of how health care organizations operate.

My latest HND piece examines this issue, and details some of the latest horrific data breaches. Yes, it is way worse than you probably thought. How about a "missing" hard drive with seven years' worth of personal financial and medical info on 1.5 million Health Net customers, for example?

The Feds have mandated that medical records go digital by 2014, and naturally, all the IT companies are offering their (very) expensive solutions. Unfortunately, though, technology is only a small part of the answer, and unless the health care industry figures out a way to bring DOD type data security to your local hospital—and get the little people on board—things could get ugly.

Read the complete article.

The public speaks out against crummy formaldehyde science

We got a few direct e-mails in response to the "More bad science on formaldehyde health effects" posting. In composite, they asked the following questions:

  • Are many others—besides your blog—speaking out against crummy and politicized science?
  • Where are the objective scientists? Don't they care about this state of affairs?
  • Is everyone on the take to bend science in the direction of where the money is flowing?

Here are my answers...

1.     There are certainly some others out there, but most of them work for trade associations that are quite narrowly focused, whereas the opposition (EWG, NRDC, USPIRG, GoodGuide, etc.) simply focus on "evil industry." Thus, we see the effects of divide and conquer.

Also, the trade associations hardly ever get aggressive in attacking the fear entrepreneurs. If they did, maybe they wouldn't get invited to all the right cocktail parties.

One exception is the American Council on Science and Health.

2.     Most scientists don't care because the bar has been set too low, and they have to play the game to survive. The holy grail is simply getting the paper published. Whether or not it is a crock does not matter. Editorial standards are non-existent, since there are too many journals that need material. Consequently, almost anything can now be published somewhere.

3.     Yes, virtually everyone IS "on the take" to bend science in the direction of where the money is flowing.

I would add that most of the granting agencies are very PC, and know surprisingly little about practical science. Indeed, some agencies such as the EPA make their impractical approach a badge of honor. Making matters worse is that Congress, like most Americans, know little of science, and can be easily buffaloed. After all, who wants to be against "children's health" or the "environment"?

Time to rename GoodGuide the BSGuide

By now, everyone in the toy industry has heard of the absurd junk science work done by poseur Dara O'Rourke. O'Rourke used X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) to measure antimony on the surface of the Zhu Zhu Pet Mr. Squiggles Toy Hamster, and determined that they exceeded federal standards.

However, this is nowhere near the correct way to do the test! In essence, what he did is the equivalent of touching a steak to determine if it is at the proper temperature, rather than using a thermometer.

After garnering all the publicity that could be mustered by attempting to take down the most popular toy of the season—and one that people can easily afford—the clueless O'Rourke had to issue a "correction."

Note that O'Rourke lists his credentials as follows:

Dr. Dara O'Rourke is a professor in the Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley, and formerly a professor at MIT. He studies the environmental, social, and health impacts of global supply chains.

Too bad he doesn't know anything about appropriate testing methods, but runs half-ass tests, as part of his scare tactics. Aren't you glad that someone who didn't even take the time to check how the feds test a toy, before running his media scare, has had appointments at two prestigious universities?

This is very reminiscent of what the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics also does. For what it's worth, his pitiful lack of practical scientific knowledge, and lack of attention to detail, are pretty much in keeping with many of the green radicals.

Thankfully, the comments on GoodGuide's blog are almost completely negative.

That such a phenomenal mistake could have been made should destroy whatever credibility he still has, and I hope the Zhu Zhu people are considering litigation.

More bad science on formaldehyde health effects

Now that the research dollars for benzene/cancer have dried up, people like Dr. Luoping Zhang—of UC Berkeley's School of Public Health—have to find another cash cow. Lucky for her, formaldehyde is under great scrutiny, and lucky for her that formaldehyde is far more ubiquitous than benzene ever was.

My latest HND piece examines just how The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) made the leukemia/formaldehyde connection. If you want to cut to the chase, let's just say that the fix was in. If you want some of the gory details, please read the complete article.

You'll discover that normal results in an individual somehow become "statistically significant" when that same individual is part of Dr. Zhang's cohort. You'll also discover how the mean in a series of numbers can be higher than the largest value in a set.

You might have trouble finding Zhang's paper, entitled "Occupational exposure to formaldehyde, hematotoxicity and leukemia-specific chromosome changes in cultured myeloid progenitor cells," since it has not even been published yet. BUT--since it was "accepted for publication," just before the IARC meetings in October, that was sufficient for a bare majority of the chemophobes at IARC.

Finally, you will marvel at what I call the incandescently stupid risk assessment on formaldehyde done by EPA. I have already received e-mail asking me if I made this up.

Sorry, but I couldn't make up a risk assessment whereby the safe level of formaldehyde is about 6 percent of what you have in your breath at all times--because of normal metabolism.