Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My health issues

So I keep trying to post info on DU, without soliciting advice, but there is at least one poster on that site that keeps messing me up and getting my threads locked so I will post my stories here.
First of all for the last couple of years I have had a couple of chronic conditions that have been pretty well controlled. One is sleep apnea. Through medications and a CPAP that is under control. The other condition is a rare blood disorder called Essential Thrombocythemia (ET for short). Its part of a group of disorders called Myeloproliferative Disorders (MPD's). Basically its a group of disorders in which the bone marrow makes too much of a particular type of blood cell. In my case, its platelets, which are the cells involved in clotting. Not only does my bone marrow make too many, but they are often made wrong (too big, incorrect structure ect) which can lead to both bleeding and clotting issues. A normal count on platelets runs between 100-400. On meds I am about 450ish. I start feeling unwell at about 700ish. To put things in real perspective on my illness my last count was an all time high of about 974! When it gets this high I get fatigue and headaches and tingling in hands and feet.
A couple weeks ago I started feeling ill. At first I thought it just was a stomach bug but it got worse. Crippling fatigue to the point now that all I can do is work on my computer in bed, just getting up and walking around is exhausting. Trying to run errands is difficult. And my job in the lab..impossible. I have been on indefinite (unpaid) leave for almost 3 weeks. Maybe I could work, but I don't want to push it and I have noticed that I seem to be good for about 2 hours before I wear out and then I pay for it later. Anyway, also I noticed it becoming harder for me to eat and then when I would eat a regular meal, I would vomit it up several hours later. For weeks I had noticed diminished appetite but had attributed that to stress. Now it is much worse and I noticed pain in my left side as well. My first thought is, my ET which I have been off meds for since last July is flaring up, simply going back on my meds (hydroxyurea) will solve it. Called my hem. Had a quick bloodwork exam. The bloodwork at that point was a little elevated (platelets at 630) but aside from the soreness in side there was nothing visibly wrong. My hem sent me for a CT scan to look at my spleen since enlarged spleen could have accounted for the symptoms. Nope. Negative. I went to my GP who had me do some bloodwork. Well my complete bloodwork showed everything is going crazy! Thats where I got the 974 platelet count along with high wbc's, high hemoglobin, high hematocrit, borderline high blood sugar, high blood pressure! My gp has simply given me meds to treat certain symptoms and referred me back to my hematologist and to a GI specialist. After confirming my blood counts with another test (and sitting there literally with his head in his hands in confusion) he also is waiting for my GI results. Finally after talking to my GI specialist he says he needs to look at both my stomach and large intestine. So on Friday I go to get not only a colonoscopy but and endoscopy of my stomach as well. In fact after 8am tomorrow morning (Thursday April 26th) I must start fasting in prep.You do not want to know what I need to do Thursday night to clean myself out in preparation...yuck! And I thought drinking banana smoothie flavored barium was bad...I will update my blog as things go on.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Scientific Bullying

So I recently posted about my experience at NIH. One of the problems there was that governmental employees felt safe and felt like they could get away with anything and therefore felt free to be lazy and dishonest because they "knew" there was no consequences for bad behavior. In order to get anything accomplished my supervisor at NIH had to use aggressive techniques, so aggressive that he was labelled "a bully". I knew he was exceedingly intolerant of bullshit. As a friend of mine who incidentally had followed him up here from Australia said that as long as "you were intelligent, honest, worked hard, and did your job competently you would not have a problem with Allan". In fact because he got tired of banging heads with idiots he brought me in to circumvent them. Which would have maybe worked if some of them hadn't had the ear of higher ups. I think it hurt that while most of the nasties were life long NIH employees, despite being tenured, Allan had only been there for 6 years. That probably didn't help. There were also rumors that he and others in the dept and NIH lost a "harassment" lawsuit about improperly hounding someone into quitting (sound familiar?). I have a feeling it was another less than honest researcher and Allan was doing what he had to get rid of them.
Up until then I always thought that a bully was a bully and it was cut and dry. Its not. I also have heard stories of true bullies who are nasty and vengeful even after people leave their positions. From what I can tell, especially in academia, bullying is very common, and at least in my case a necessary evil. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has been on either end of a bullying situation.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why I am uncomfortable with atheism

So I was having a conversation with a science orientated friend about atheism and it occurred to me that while many people in the sciences will identify themselves as atheists, I will not, and am quite uncomfortable with the whole concept for several reasons.
First let me point out, I do dislike organized religion. It certainly has been the root of a lot of evil and irrationality both past and present. And now more than ever we see how it can hinder the progress of civilization. But that's not to say I don't believe in some underlying force. I have always wondered at the efficiency of the human body and just how many things can go potentially wrong yet don't. I feel a sense of awe when I see a large natural feature (a canyon or wide river or the rain forest of Puerto Rico, the astonishing beauty of the desert landscape of Aruba in the middle of the lush Caribbean ocean) and think of all the things that had to happen to "make it so". People can legitimately argue for the sheer randomness of it all. But to me, personally it seems like randomness alone can't explain everything. This is not a rational belief, I know, but despite appearances, I can be far from a rational person, and in fact am considered quite an emotional high strung bundle of nerves by those who know me best (esp my family:)
It is cocksure arrogance to assume that we know everything through science. Things change from time to time. I am wiling to believe that there are things in this world that can't always be explained away scientifically.
Here is my biggest problem with atheists and why they can make me uncomfortable from time to time. The existence of God is something that can never be proven or disproved and many people find faith in God a simple and comforting truth. As long as nobody is attempting to impose their beliefs on others I have no problem with people believing this. However I do have a problem with blind zealotry (personally I believe the difference between a fundamentalist Christian in this country and a fundamentalist Muslim in Saudia Arabia are very minute) and sometimes atheists come across to me as zealots. See the guy who wanted to have the word "God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance- that was a bit much, to say the least.
It also hurts scientific integrity in the eyes of the general populace to be swept up into the stereotype that we are all "godless" maniacs. There are many, many mainstream folk who are not stupid and not THAT ignorant who are religious and often this misconception leads to the growth of dangerous pseudoscience (once again I was astonished to see how the religious right and the fringe left came together to attack Gardasil, even if they both "claim" to have different reasons). So I would much like to hear other perspectives on this: from those who have managed somehow to reconcile their faith with science, and those who are explicitly atheistic

Sunday, April 8, 2007

War on Science pt 3:The dogma of NIH: how internal politics and extreme othodoxy hinder good science

So if you have read about me in this blog you know that I went through a very bad political battle at NIH that pretty much ended in the removal of my boss, a world renowned malaria researcher from his position in the department at NIH, which subsequently made me leave as well. The big problem I saw is that NIH is so wrapped up in its own prestige and appearance that it has become overly political and no longer open to new fresh ways of doing things. And woe to anyone who questions the validity of data collected by "accepted" methods.
The story of my job at NIH was this. The department was moving into Stage 2 clinical trials on their malaria vaccine. They were going to be giving trial vaccines to large populations in Africa and were going to need large scale testing on those vaccines through ELISA to see how potent or effective at different time points the vaccine was. To that end large scale testing with automation was needed. Also it was necessary to move towards GLP (good laboratory practices) compliance since the FDA would be involved in approving the testing methods as well as looking to see the results as well. One group (immunology) had been riddled with issues of laziness and outright lying and incompetence, including getting inconsistent ELISA data. Believing he could never get the right mindset from a group that had time and again failed to produce my boss reached from outside to hire someone who understood not just GLP issues but high throughput ELISA testing I was hired. The old "manual" methods allowed one person to test at Max about 6 plates with 72 samples and controls per day. The new automated methods would increase that number to about 18 plates with 72 samples per day. But it was labor intensive, and certain people felt that a couple hours of concentrated work was "too difficult". My boss is still maybe the most brilliant person I have ever met, and if not a genius surely close. For certain, he was a innovative thinker, a kind of person who "thinks outside the box". Most of his colleagues were incapable of understanding all of his work and I think it made people fearful. I couldn't understand it, at first anyway, but saw the potential. The more we worked the more I understood and the more brilliant I saw his schemes were. However, it became rapidly apparent that my results could not be replicated by the old manual methods. Because my techniques were different than the "standard"way of doing things they tried to attack my results on that basis. My boss however repeatedly said that was NOT the problem as he had observed my techniques and found them acceptable. I became more and more convinced that the old methods were fundamentally flawed. What I did not realize is that would call into question years of data generated by the immunology group and out of the loop or not, they would not tolerate a newbie tech with no phD and no previous research experience doing that. They told lies about me to the other head of the department who was very orthodox but also somewhat senile and not aware of all going on. They made me report to someone else, involuntarily on my bosses part, someone whom my boss and I made the fatal mistake of trusting. She immediately stopped my project because of too many "problems". Yes there were some bugs to be worked out still but overall was going well. Nope. They couldn't reproduce the data he used in his innovated spread sheets for one with their old statistical methods unless they spent hours "fitting the data". How anyone could not understand that this is a form of data manipulation is impossible for me to understand but I think there were some who didn't see it this way. However, I am now convinced that my new boss knew exactly what she was doing with the data and didn't care. Not long after she became my boss she started "retraining me with the correct methods". When I asked why, she said everyone needed to be "certified". When I said the point was to establish new methods she said just in case at first but when pushed I said I had already been certified in methods by my boss she said (to both my and my ex-bosses shock) "Allan (my old boss) doesn't know how ELISA's should be done here". This is a jumped up tech with a Masters saying she knew more than my old boss whom had 26 years of field research including years of lab work both here and in his native country of Australia. How's that for arrogance? Anyway she also told me at one point that even though the stats on my work were perfect that my techniques were still bad even if it didn't show up on paper? Huh? How do you argue with MY WAY IS THE ONLY WAY NO MATTER WHAT THE DATA says. Anyway, there was some other stuff going on including at least one phD pretending to "believe" in my methods (lying to me and Allan) while undermining my work. Finally the deception plus the fact that he was considered a "bully" for strong arming the numb nuts in the department to get things done got him pushed out for "improper behavior" including firing and demoting people improperly. Imagine, trying to get rid of people who weren't doing their jobs! Anyway, when I found out I told everyone I was leaving as soon as I found a new job. That didn't satisfy, and they went out of their way to make my life miserable, and also did things like changing spreadsheets so I was incapable of generating decent data, and then hiding or ignoring my data while generating duplicate data using the "correct manual methods" while reprogramming the robot to fit their beliefs. It came down to me having to leave before I found anything because the stress of the dishonesty and the "tricks" were taking a toll on my health. To this day, I worry about the health of the children being vaccinated. From the little I have heard no valid ELISA data is being generated (although THEY think so) and I worry about the safety of the participants in the clinical trial, since ELISA's are key in establishing both safety and potency of the vaccines. Because I caused a ruckus leaving, screaming long and hard about all the bad science being done, I have now been labelled much like Allan, a troublemaker. Allan has tenure at NIH due to his senior scientific standing so can't be fired but is in essence in exile because they don't believe he can "properly" manage people. He now does several things with NIH including computer modeling on the spread of diseases and it gives him the opportunity to just sit and think which he enjoys. Plus like me the confrontations with the idiots in the department was taking a toll on his health (we once had a conversation where we were competing to see who had the worse BP issues-he won, my values were high but his, pre treatment were much worse!)So while damaged he is okay to some extent. And even though he is persona non grata at the department he still interacts positively with some of the others (and let me say there were MANY fine, fine people who are still there) on occasion. I on the other hand, am blacklisted and although I briefly made an appearance there late, am not welcome by the powers that be as well. Sadly, Allan, who is a fine person, mentor and friend and like a father to me, seems to have so many guilt issues with what happened to me (he always felt it was his fault, what I went through- both of us though made many many mistakes) that he can't bring himself to interact with me directly unless cornered (not a "touchy-feelie" type person doesn't help either I suppose) and won't even discuss me with others because its too painful. I am trying to reestablish contact with him, but its not easy, but someday soon. He will be more than happy to be a good reference for me, but talking or seeing painful. Here is someone who outside of the good natured jokes, was very good at the unreadable detached expression. Except now, when I am brought up...

Anyway, I thought perhaps this awfulness was an exception at NIH. The intensity and level of it perhaps was not typical but this "only one way is correct" type of attitude is common but its also fostered! I heard about similar nonsense with ELISA in a totally different department, and from what I can tell the ELISA's are being manipulated to make the data look better than it really is. To quote a friend of mine who is dealing with that ELISA and knows my story well "I would not trust any so-called breakthrough at NIH until at least 5 other scientific agencies replicate the results". And that my friends, is a very sad state of affairs in a world where the scientific method is under attack from all sides

Thursday, April 5, 2007

War on Science pt 2: The right wing/neocons allergy to the truth is leading to the supprssion of good science

So big shocker, Bush and company have been working really hard to implement gag rules so scientists can't actually share "sensitive" (anything that in any small way contradicts the old idiot in chiefs "beliefs") data . It seems that Chimpy was scared by the fact that even the notoriously conservative SCOTUS has ruled that something needs to be done to control greenhouse gasses in this country. I think this is the biggest proof of Bush's autocratic tendencies. Outside of muzzling the press (why does he need to do that when he has Faux (Fox) news to spit out his propaganda) I thing muzzling scientists and their search for the truth and knowledge (which fundamentally is what science is at its heart) is a huge indicator of someone with stong dictatorial inclinations. It seems that truly nothing is illegal to our commander in chief, he seems to think HE is the law in this country and until recently the brown nosing congress let him think that (which is idiotic on so many levels- the most being they willingly let Bush castrate them!) Unfortunately, this has had some really bad side effects outside of just squashing good science (see pt1 about the left's paranoia).
We also have to contend with the Religious fundamental movement who seem to think every frickin world in the Bible is true no matter what scientific evidence shows. Their idiocy is completely obvious to most of the secular left, but it truly does blind mainstream americans (many of whom are christians) to the true issues. Like the fact that they are no pushing that vaccinating agaisnt HPV will increase sexual promiscuity, so we shouldn't do it! Oy. I dread to think what will happen if/when an HIV vaccine comes out. OH NO! It will encourage homosexual behavior, lets ban it!
And if this wasn't bad enough their idiocy about evolution is proof of their DELIBERATE ignorance. This whole thing about intelligent design vs. evolution is so patently inaccurate but not for the reasons most people think. The right has hijacked the theory of intelligent design and equated it with Creationism. The purest earliest ID theory in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM is Creationism. ID said evolution happens but why? Randomness can not explain it. That in order for the highly sophisticated patterns of evolution to work there must be a guiding force behind it. That's like their OTHER idiotic argument on evolution (and global warming too for that matter) that not all scientists think its occur so therefore it can't be real! Ah yes, one or two loonies disagree with mainstream thought so it must be wrong. The "debate" on evolution they here is this- random or not? and also on how it occurs, slow accumulating mutations over time or short large bursts of mutations.
However that being said about mainstream beliefs vs. a few disagreements by the fringe element, science must also be careful to not let accepted belief on a subject tread into dogmatic orthodoxy and inflexibility in looking at novel concepts and I will address it in my final post about the war on science.

Monday, April 2, 2007

War on Science pt 1: How the anti-intellectual left endangers science and also helps the neocon/Bush agenda

So I keep hearing this crap from the RW/Christian Fundamentalist movement about the war on Christians (the so called "war on christmas" although Stephen Colbert's "war on Easter" is very funny). Utter and complete bullshit. How can there be a war on a group that controls much of the government? But there is without a doubt a war on science and it seems to have not one, not two but THREE major fronts. The threats are from the extreme left, the right (I would have said extreme right but there doesn't seem to be much difference these days) and even within the field of science itself. So I will be posting a series of three blogs on the subject, spaced over the next few days.
Now, because of Bush's allergy to having ANYTHING regulated, and his friendliness with notoriously unethical and greedy corporations anything new on the market scientifically seems to automatically be filed under "unsafe" and "unethical" (see Gardasil- a marvelous new way of looking at a cancer treatment- a vaccine to prevent it has been smeared as an "unsafe" product only put out to make money and is using young girls as guinea pigs. No doubt Merck screwed itself with its shady marketing strategy especially with its connection to the Republican Governor of Texas- but that's another topic.) So now it seems that to the Left any scientist who works for a biotech is a greedy unethical pig only wanting to make money at "innocent" peoples health and safety. And government scientists? They must also be bush dupes because Bush people run EVERYTHING. I am tired of Merck (who again has made its mistakes) being totally trashed (yes, Vioxx is a disaster) but they have done and are doing very helpful research. And the trashing of the FDA! The FDA has built in regs to keep greedy corps from overstepping bounds (Good Laboratory Practices,(GLP) Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)). I wish people would understand its the lack of ability of the FDA, USDA, and EPA to enforce their own regs that's the biggest problems. Its this unthinking distrust of scientists as "merkies" and "bushie dupes" that not only divides the opposition but actually in some ways empowers this horribly corrupt group of politicians. Its the uninformed that are more easily led and even though the left would deny this, the willful distrust and disinterest in rationale thinking is something the Bush administration promotes. How many people still equate Saddam Hussein with September 11th? The total misuse of the fear in this country after 9/11 made us easily led. Had more people been inclined to think things through instead of just being fearful, we would not now be in the mess in Iraq we are in.
So by discrediting scientists in general, who knows what unsafe crap (both biologically and otherwise) will be foisted on an unthinking populace or to put it a different way, what life saving biologic will be ignored because of the fear of the unknown.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Pet food recall-hysteria is blinding people

So as the mother of two cute not so little cats who USED to eat Iams food including the cuts and gravy style, I have been very concerned about the contamination although my cats are very healthy (driving me crazy at times with their active antics-as I write this I am playing fetch with one and trying to keep the other off the keyboard). Its scary and of course pet owners are very scared but some people seem to be going overboard with the hysterics. Of course the fact that there is a bunch of disagreement on exactly what the toxin is doesn't help. But the hysteria is causing people to forget some facts. It seems that only organic companies/raw pet food suppliers can be trusted while the mainstream companies can't. Now I wouldn't exactly put my faith in Menu foods at this point but these "wholesome" companies are trying to make a profit as well. If you are going to distrust companies be consistant. I am shocked by the people who are quoting company websites as the source of the reasoning why their "diet" is superior. When I reminded someone about an FDA recall for SALMONELLA in a raw food supplier the response was that companies justification for why they felt the FDA was being "too cautious". And the idea of feeding raw food, with all the contamination issues of E.Coli, Salmonella and other bacterial issues is pretty scary. Someone said that "USDA approved meat" is good. Do they not understand that the USDA does inadequate inspections as well? And raw USDA meat even has some allowable contamination because its presumed the meat is going to be cooked? Plus now its led to some nasty insinuations. On DU, I observed a cat vet get attacked again and again as "pushing menu foods" because she, like many vets regard the brand Science Diet for their cats and is skeptical of raw diets. I would think her years of treating animals would be behind her reasoning but NOOO- its all that she is a corporate shill, corrupted by years of "gifts" from Science diet. The nasty attacks that have been aimed at this person are very distressing to me. Once again the person with the scientific knowledge can't actually know what they are talking about. To be fair she has said that homemade diets (which understandably are becoming popul ar) can be done but you have to be careful, and most people don't have the time or money to do it accurately. I would post this on DU, but it would just cause a flame war no doubt.