Web Roundups

Web Gleanings 2

While putting together this post, I’ve come across a number of interesting articles which unfortunately require a subscription to view. Instead of only listed open-access articles, as I’d originally intended, I’m going to list both in “Web Gleanings.” All links will be to open access sites, articles and posts with the exception of those marked with an asterisk * which require a subscription.

I know that this may be seen as undercutting efforts to promote open access in academia, but given that many of us have access to a large number of journals through our respective institutions, I thought it would be unfortunate not to cover this material.

Secrets and lies

On the Bioethics Blog, Summer Johnson links to a story from Nebraska’s La Vista Sun. Apparently a number of US hospitals have taken another page from the retail industry, sending “secret shoppers” – people posing as patients – into waiting rooms and even emergency rooms to evaluate “customer service” (not medical decision making). Question: wouldn’t using ethnographers to evaluate patient experiences potentially obviate some of the ethical problems posed by this practice?§ BBC’s Radio Four presents two programs on the placebo effect and its implications for medicine.§ Michael Fitzpatrick reviews Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, by Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst, and places it in a broad intellectual and political context. § A clinical trial of a stem-cell procedure carried out by urologist Hannes Strasser at the Medical University of Innsbruck was so ethically and methodologically flawed that it should be considered invalid, says a report from Austria’s Agency for Health and Food Safety. Among other serious breaches, the researchers apparently failed to inform patients about the experimental nature of the treatment.

In the run-up to the US presidential election, the New England Journal of Medicine features a video of this year’s Shattuck Lecture: a panel discussion on U.S. health policy and health coverage. Panelists included a number of people from the spheres of academia, clinical medicine, business and politics. An article by Jonathan Oberlander covers McCain and Obama’s respective plans for health care reform. § NPR presents Health Care for All, a series covering national health care systems in a number of different countries, including France, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. (No Canada?!)§ In American Ethnologist P. Sean Brotherton gives us an ethnographically-grounded account* of Cuba’s health care system and its relationship to political subjectivities.

John Caldwell reviews* Matthew Connelly‘s Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population. An earlier review by Nicholas Kristof is available as well as a podcast of Connelly discussing Malthus and population control.§ Susan Greenhalgh’s book about China’s one-child policy is reviewed* in Science by Erik Mueggler as well in a special issue of Nature devoted to China. § At the opposite extreme of biopolitical anxieties, Paul Vallely reports on Europe’s declining birthrates and demographic transformation.

A report on the exorbitant cost of a “new generation” of bioengineered drugs. § The Annals of Internal Medicine has published an article providing documentary evidence of a pharmaceutical corporation designing a so-called seeding trial — a clinical trial designed to promote drug prescription under the guise of research. An accompanying editorial condemns the practice; Howard Brody examines the evidence; and Merrill Goozner finds the Annals’ editorial naive in underestimating the prevalence of seeding trials.

An article and editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine question the cost-effectiveness of the rush to promote HPV vaccines, particularly given that the duration of the vaccines’ effectiveness remains unclear. An article in the New York Times brings attention to the enormously successful marketing and lobbying campaigns carried out by Merck and GlaxoSmithKline to promote these vaccines as necessary public health measures. § JAMA reprints Jonas Salk’s 1953 article reporting results which lead to the development of a polio vaccine and traces polio eradication efforts over the past 55 years as well as the resurgence of the disease during the past five years. § The New York Times reports on an increase in rates of measles infections, linked by public health officials to some parents’ decision to opt out of mandatory vaccines for their children (which certain jurisdictions allow in the case of “philosophical objection”) motivated by arguments which link the MMR vaccine to autism.

The new and the old
Rutgers University Press’s series Studies in Medical Anthropology has two new titles out this autumn, both concerning new medical knowledge and technologies: Janelle Taylor’s The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram and Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age edited by Barbara Koenig, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, and Sarah Richardson. § Peter Smith reviews The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought, by Robert Richards.

Seeing brains
Seed Magazine presents a video of an interview between author Tom Wolfe and neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga. § Sociologist Kelly Joyce‘s new book, Magnetic Appeal, looks at the science and visual culture of MRI. §Jonah Lehrer gives us another article describing the limits of what fMRI technology can currently tell us about the mind and brain; worth reading along with this older article by David Dobbs.