30 January 2008

My dad always said, don't take medicine if you can stand the pain. Maybe he's right

The pharmaceutical industry these days has so much to worry about. If it's not the threat posed by the universal healthcare plans that could potentially be implemented by the Clinton/Obama/[?] administration in the near future, and it's not increased exposure of scandals involving doctors being paid off to promote and prescribe drugs and biomedical devices...then it's faulty and counterfeit drugs. Lots of them.

The front page article of the New York Times today features a new uncovering of faulty drugs being made in--surprise?--China and being administered to unwitting patients. The worst part? The drug is ordinarily used to treat leukemia patients, and impurities in the drug manufactured by Shanghai Hualian are causing leg pain and paralysis. Apparently, another drug, vincristine sulfate (which inhibits formation of the mitotic spindle--and thus cell division) was being stored in the same refrigerator as a bunch of other drugs, and managed to contaminate them all. The problem was that vincristine sulfate is too strong to be administered by injection into the spine, which is how they were injecting the other leukemia drug.

This case was a real drug being manufactured by a real, certified company. But what about all of the counterfeit drugs? In my class on contemporary China we've been talking a lot about the economic benefits of Special Economic Zones like Shenzhen. It turns out that these free trade zones are one of the main problems in the counterfeit drug trade. Drugs are being shipped through places like the Euro Gulf Trading area in Dubai and aren't being double-checked by customs officials. These drugs go to places like Panama, where hundreds of people were killed recently by cough medicine tainted by diethylene glycol, and the Bahamas.

This problem is in the hands of the FDA and other national agencies that regulate the production and distribution of drugs. But what we really need now is some kind of international organization to bridge the disconnect between global trade and regionalized regulations. Or would this cause too many problems, having to decide on a set of rules that every country could abide by in terms of manufacturing and distributing drugs? I'm not sure, but it's a major problem when you can't even trust the drugs that your doctor tells you to take because you're afraid they might have a financial incentive for prescribing the drug to you, and when you hesitate before you take your Robitussin cough syrup because you're not sure if there's antifreeze in it.

25 January 2008

They'll call me Miss C

I'm going to be a chemistry teacher in DC starting next August. I just accepted the offer from Teach For America, and I'm going to be a chemistry teacher in less than 9 months. Am I excited? Am I happy? Am I worried? Am I half scared out of my mind? All of the above.

If I have the privilege and misfortune to run an in-class lab, I'm going to have a lot of fun. Kids setting themselves on fire, setting the table on fire, me not knowing what to do because I am terrible with lab safety.

If I teach high school (which I probably will, since I'm assigned to be strictly a chemistry teacher), some of my students will be taller than me. Some of them might even be almost as old as I am. I think I'm too young for this.

But it could be great. I opened a new blog on TeachFor.Us where hopefully I'll be able to write about my teaching mishaps and triumphs (somehow I think there will be more of the former) throughout the next two years.

16 January 2008

Worried Winston

Meet Winston Chang: full of pre-med anxieties and hopes.
Drawn by Julia & Kelley

More to come in future updates.

13 January 2008

The Origins of Morality

Aside from being swept up in election hype, this is an excerpt from one of the more interesting articles I've read in a while on the NYTimes. It's about where morality comes from:


Much of our recent social history, including the culture wars between liberals and conservatives, consists of the moralization or amoralization of particular kinds of behavior. Even when people agree that an outcome is desirable, they may disagree on whether it should be treated as a matter of preference and prudence or as a matter of sin and virtue. Rozin notes, for example, that smoking has lately been moralized. Until recently, it was understood that some people didn’t enjoy smoking or avoided it because it was hazardous to their health. But with the discovery of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, smoking is now treated as immoral. Smokers are ostracized; images of people smoking are censored; and entities touched by smoke are felt to be contaminated (so hotels have not only nonsmoking rooms but nonsmoking floors). The desire for retribution has been visited on tobacco companies, who have been slapped with staggering “punitive damages.”

At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called “bums” and “tramps”; today they are “homeless.” Drug addiction is a “disease”; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a “sexually transmitted disease” and more recently a “sexually transmitted infection.”

This wave of amoralization has led the cultural right to lament that morality itself is under assault, as we see in the group that anointed itself the Moral Majority. In fact there seems to be a Law of Conservation of Moralization, so that as old behaviors are taken out of the moralized column, new ones are added to it. Dozens of things that past generations treated as practical matters are now ethical battlegrounds, including disposable diapers, I.Q. tests, poultry farms, Barbie dolls and research on breast cancer. Food alone has become a minefield, with critics sermonizing about the size of sodas, the chemistry of fat, the freedom of chickens, the price of coffee beans, the species of fish and now the distance the food has traveled from farm to plate.

Many of these moralizations, like the assault on smoking, may be understood as practical tactics to reduce some recently identified harm. But whether an activity flips our mental switches to the “moral” setting isn’t just a matter of how much harm it does. We don’t show contempt to the man who fails to change the batteries in his smoke alarms or takes his family on a driving vacation, both of which multiply the risk they will die in an accident. Driving a gas-guzzling Hummer is reprehensible, but driving a gas-guzzling old Volvo is not; eating a Big Mac is unconscionable, but not imported cheese or crème brûlée. The reason for these double standards is obvious: people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles.