Forge Wednesday Roundup - October 2, 2019

October 2, 2019

In today’s Roundup: Beef over beef (and other red meat) rocks nutrition science; querying the automation of user comments; breastfeeding moms face workplace discrimination despite law; trial of vitamin C for sepsis yields complex picture; FDA warns on critical cyber vulnerabilities; reflecting on what makes a “good death”; poetry: good for what ails you; missteps and misinformation give impetus to disease outbreaks; much more:

AI, Statistics & Data Science
  • In his In the Pipeline blog at Science Translational Medicine, Derek Lowe assesses the claims of AI therapeutics company Deep Genomics that their AI-based drug discovery platform identified a genetic mutation and novel treatment for Wilson disease.
  • “Computer security has a long history of double-edged consequences of research. Security conferences these days require submissions to describe ethical considerations and how the authors followed ethical principles. Machine learning conferences should consider doing this.” In a recent tweetorial, Princeton’s Arvind Narayanan weighs the ethical implications of a new preprint available from arXiv that has been accepted and approved for publication at Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) where Chinese researchers present a new machine learning technique  for the automated creation of online user comments that Narayanan describes as  eeming to be primarily useful for “trolling and disinformation.”   
  •  “If words like “gay” and “lesbian” changed to random words like “happy,” the “status of the video changed to advertiser friendly” every time.” At The Verge, Julia Alexander reports on a recent investigation into YouTube’s machine learning bots by three YouTube creators and researchers who assert that significant bias in the platform’s algorithms result in the systematic demonetization of LGBTQ content.

Basic Science, Clinical Research & Public Health
  • “A McDonald’s worker was yelled at and ordered to return to work before she was done pumping. A Family Dollar worker asked for more time to pump and got demoted to part-time. A spa employee was required to sign a piece of paper agreeing that she wouldn’t take any more breaks. Her inability to pump caused her to leak milk from her breasts while she worked.” An in-depth Huffington Post investigation into the U.S. Labor Department records reveal how working mothers are harassed and retaliated against for pumping breastmilk at work, especially in low-wage fields such as retail and food service, despite federal laws designed to prevent such discrimination.
  • “By better understanding the interactions between the virus and the host, we will be able to develop better therapies and vaccines to treat or prevent infections, and contribute to public health outcomes.” An important new PLOS Pathogens study co-authored by researchers from the Duke-NUS Medical School – a collaboration between Duke and the National University of Singapore – identifies a mutation through which the dengue virus develops resistance to drugs and vaccines. The findings might help direct vaccine development and other treatment for dengue disease. Duke Today’s Lekshmy Sreekumar reports the findings.
  • Scientists and the public alike have been in an uproar this week following the publication of a systematic review article, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that challenges a large body of long-standing dietary advice against the consumption of red meat (essentially, the review found no compelling evidence for a substantial health effect associated with eating red meat – in any case, nothing strong enough to justify a blanket recommendation against consuming it). The recommendation has been met with strong pushback from some quarters. Some worthwhile reporting on the study includes Gina Kolata’s writeup at the New York Times and the Health Nerd’s explication of why research about diet and nutrition is so darn hard to do.
  • For asthmatics, an inhaler which combines three different  types of  medications has been shown in a large study published in Lancet to be beneficial in reducing exacerbations and improving lung function. The study, funded by the manufacturer of the inhaler, included 2,500 patients across 17 countries. Knuvil Sheikh covers the trial for the New York Times.
  • “When your doctor recommends an outpatient test or procedure like a biopsy, be aware that the hospital may be the most expensive place you can have it done.” In a story for Kaiser Health News and NPR collaboration Bill of the Month, Cara Anthony shares the story of how an abdomen cyst biopsy for a 27-year-old woman came with a hefty medical bill from the hospital despite her having an insurance policy – a charge that was not disclosed to her prior to receiving services. 
    weeds growing out of a pavement
    Image credit: distelpics via Pixabay
  • Science Magazine’s Jocelyn Kaiser reports on a new “watchdog” report by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services urging the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to check inconsistencies in how the individual institutes vet information on reported conflicts of interest. The report’s findings show that 3% of all NIH grants have investigators or co-investigators with a financial conflict of interest (H/T @Duke_OSI).
  • Recent case reports that documented the use of high-dose vitamin C (along with corticosteroids and thiamine) in the treatment of severe sepsis after other options had failed stirred hopes that a new therapeutic modality for an intractable problem might soon be at hand. However, vitamin C’s checkered history as a would-be panacea also prompted widespread skepticism. Now, the results from the randomized CITRIS-AL trial of high-dose vitamin C for sepsis have been published in JAMA, and the top-line results show that the therapy did not significantly affect the primary endpoints of reducing organ failure scores and inflammation biomarkers. However, secondary endpoints including overall survival were significantly improved in the group receiving vitamin C – but these findings were from exploratory analyses that were not adjusted for multiple comparisons. An accompanying editorial by Brant and Angus sifts through the evidence and suggests that a larger trial may be warranted.
  • “No drugs took away all my father’s physical pain and nausea. But in the care he was given, the morphine, the quiet words, the repositioning and cool cloths on his forehead, his suffering was addressed even if it couldn’t be “managed.” And that, I think, is what we all want. The solace of being seen and heard and acknowledged brings comfort even in the face of deep suffering.” In a perspective for the Washington Post, Harriet Brown shares the humbling story of her father’s difficult illness and how it affected her ideas of what constitutes a “good death.”  
  • Researchers from the Center for Research Outcomes and Evaluation at Yale University look at both sides of the push to use biomarkers as surrogate endpoints in regulatory approvals for drugs and devices. They publish their viewpoint in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics.
  • “The sobering reality is that some well-intentioned, initially plausible improvement efforts fail when subjected to more rigorous evaluation,” writes Mary Dixon-Woods, director of The Healthcare Improvement Studies (THIS) Institute at the University of Cambridge, in a feature for BMJ about how the field of quality improvement could be improved further and made more effective.
  • Clip this one out and send it to the HOA: “Weeds have the superpower of being incredibly self-sufficient. They send out deep roots, deeper than grass, which allows them to pull in more water and nutrients. As a result, we humans don’t need to water or fertilize them.” Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco are putting weeds back in fashion through their Lawn (Re)Disturbance Laboratory project, part of their collaborative Next Epoch Seed Library initiative, where they recover “leafy green goodness” from undeveloped seeds in yard soil. Citylab’s Allison Meier reports the story.
    a girl on her cell phone
    Image credit: Jonathan Cooper via Unsplash

Communications & Digital Society
  • “What we tend to see today are not ambitious fraudulent publications that try to escape detection thanks to their sophistication—the “perfect crime” scenario. The recursive fraud discussed here is closer to making many sloppy knockoffs of Levi's blue jeans than one masterful forgery of Leonardo.” In a Guest Editorial for Angewandte Chemie, the journal of the German Chemical Society, UCLA’s Mario Biagioli highlights how software like fake computer science article generator SCIgen and Photoshop are doing a disservice to ethical, original scientific research, giving way to scientific and “postproduction” misconduct (H/T @RetractionWatch).
  • “It is unthinkable that a child will suffer from a disease that is highly preventable by vaccination.” Wired’s Peter Imbong reports on how vaccine hesitancy – at first prompted by a fumbled vaccination campaign, then amplified by misinformation and propaganda - has left the Philippines in the grip of multiple disease outbreaks, the most recent being a dengue epidemic which government officials have now declared a national emergency, following a similar measles outbreak earlier in the year (H/T @CaulfieldTim).
  • Findings from a new study led by Duke’s Dan Ariely (author of New York Times best seller The Honest Truth about Dishonesty) published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, show that turning off cell phone notifications led research participants to experience increased anxiety and fear of missing out (FOMO), but delivering them in predictable intervals throughout the day a(“batching”) made the participants feel more in control, more attentive, productive and elevated their mood.
  • “Discrimination can come in forms other than those based on visual indicators like skin tone or gender appearance. It can also hinge on the question of wealth and belonging. As the number of homeless people in U.S. cities continues to rise, Nextdoor’s definition of who constitutes a member of neighborhood isn’t matching the reality on the ground.” An article by Rick Paulas at Medium’s OneZero describes the intensely problematic nature of online hate-speech towards the homeless on neighborhood social media platform Nextdoor, which has previously received public criticism for enabling racial profiling. 
  •  “More doctored photos have altered the wording on Thunberg’s protest signs, placed her posing next to the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations, and even edited her background to make it seem as though Thunberg ate lunch next to a group of starving children.” Poynter’s Daniela Flamini reports on the precarious amount of misinformation, hoaxes and conspiracy stories surrounding Sweden’s teenage-superstar climate activist, Greta Thunberg, who is being trolled for her strong stance against climate change.
  • “It's clear that the idea that political spam is a good money-maker hasn't gone away since 2016. Pages like this add confusion and polarization to the online debate.” Via his Popular Information newsletter, Judd Legum reports on how a viral for-profit Facebook page titled “Police Lives Matter” that purports to be run by U.S. police officers but actually appears to be originating from Kosovo is spreading misinformation and “repurposed” media and news reporting. Until Facebook shut it down, the page had accumulated over 170,000 followers.
  • “A lot of journalism has behind it a moral mission. Reporters want to tell stories that are important. Reading a story may improve people’s lives. It may lead to changes in law, shifts in political priorities, or improvements in how people treat each other or the environment. Writing can indeed change minds. But first you must recognize that many of your readers may not think the way you do.” Science writer Carl Zimmer shares necessary wisdom from his recurring class on writing about science, medicine, and the environment for Yale, covering everything from intros to storytelling and transitions to timelines, reporting, style, and even jargon and rhetoric.
  • We’re betting William Carlos Williams would approve: in a Career Column for Nature, science communication expert Sam Illingworth underlines how writing poetry can benefit scientists and researchers by providing an alternative mode of communication with their patients and their caregivers as well as a way of seeking refuge from the daily scientific grind. 
  • In an interactive visual essay for The Verge, Casey Newton analyzes two hours of leaked audio recordings of Q&A sessions from two open Facebook employee meetings where Mark Zuckerberg gets up-front about critics, competitors, and the prospect of federal regulation.  

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an URGENT/11 medical device warning/advisory against 11 cybersecurity vulnerabilities identified by the agency in a third-party software called IPnet that might expose certain medical devices and hospital networks to online attackers. The agency provides a list of recommendations for manufacturers, healthcare providers and patients/caregivers to exercise safety measures in order to protect those using the devices as well as hospital systems that might become vulnerable.  
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a draft guidance, second in the series of four guidance documents on patient-focused drug development, that lays down methods to identify what matters most to patients regarding their disease and treatment.
  • “Given how relevant science is to everyday decisions such as when to vaccinate your child or whether it is safe to consume genetically engineered foods, especially in this age of misinformation, scientists and the journals that publish their work should do more to clearly and consistently signal which studies have satisfied standards that convey trustworthiness.” In a First Opinion for STAT, National Academy of Sciences president Marcia McNutt and University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center’s Kathleen Hall Jamieson call for scientific publications to consider the use badges and checklists to signal quality and credibility.