Saturday, October 30, 2010

Update on Sperm Bank Product Liability Lawsuit

A belated update on a story from a year and a half ago concerning a lawsuit brought against a sperm bank under product liability laws after a child conceived with that sperm developed Fragile X syndrome.

Under the laws being tested, it seemed all that needed to be shown was that injury (in this case, genetic disease) occurred as a result of using the product (in this case, sperm), not that negligence or lack of testing was a factor. At the time, I wondered whether genetic disease even qualified as "injury" since the alternative to injury is not being born at all. It turns out the courts had the same consideration.

A few months after the initial ruling by a judge that the case could go forward, the judge reversed his decision - a reversal that was upheld by a federal appeals court, on the basis that the situation basically amounts to a "wrongful life" case:
"Simply put, a cause of action brought on behalf of an infant seeking recovery for wrongful life demands a calculation of damages dependant upon a comparison between the Hobson's choice of life in an impaired state and nonexistence," Barry wrote. "This comparison the law is not equipped to make."

Barry, who was joined by Judges Theodore A. McKee and Morton I. Greenberg, quoted from Becker v. Schwartz, a 1978 decision of New York's highest court, that said: "Whether it is better never to have been born at all than to have been born with even gross deficiencies is a mystery more properly to be left to the philosophers and the theologians."
In addition to "wrongful life" considerations, the decision also points out other ways that treating genetic disease as injury is problematic.
The difficulties that B.D. now faces and will face are surely tragic, but New York law, which controls here, states that she “like any other [child], does not have a protected right to be born free of genetic defects.” To find the contrary would invite litigation for any number of claimed injuries and, even more problematic, require courts to identify certain traits below some arbitrarily established marker of perfection as “injuries.”
So kids, it looks like you can't sue your parents after all.


The Cancer Carnival is Coming

The Cancer Research Blog Carnival is due to arrive this Friday, November 5. If you haven't already, email us your recent cancer related posts, or submit them using this form.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The case for public science


"Today, the union that represents federal government scientists launches a campaign to put the spotlight on science for the public good.

“Federal government scientists work hard to protect Canadians, preserve their environment and ensure our country’s prosperity but they face dwindling resources and confusing policy decisions,” says Gary Corbett, president of the Institute.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada is a national union. Among its 59,000 federal and provincial members are 23,000 professionals who deliver, among other knowledge products, scientific research, testing and advice for sound policy-making.

The recent decision to end the mandatory long form census is the latest step in a worrying trend away from evidence-based policy making. Restrictive rules are curtailing media and public access to scientists, while cutbacks to research and monitoring limit Canada’s ability to deal with serious threats and potential opportunities.

A new online information and action centre launched today – – ( features interviews with the professionals who do science for the public good, experts who understand the critical importance of this work, and Canadians whose lives have been touched by public science. is part of a broader campaign to underline the importance of science for the public good and to mobilize scientists and the public to press politicians to make a clear commitment to policies that support public science.

“Our members are proud of the work that they do as independent and non-partisan scientists and we are going to work with them to tell their stories,” says Corbett. “Their work impacts on the daily lives of Canadians. It is science that is not and cannot be done by industry or by universities.”"


Friday, October 15, 2010

Alternative medicine flowchart

From this great skeptic blog...


What Should You Know About Cancer?

A recent paper published in Patient Education and Counseling tries to answer the question: What should a layperson know to be considered "cancer literate"? To do so, the authors assembled a panel of cancer experts (oncologists, GPs, nurses from oncology wards, social workers, public health experts) who refined the answer over a number of rounds. For their purposes, literacy was "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions." Below is the table of their decisions (click to enlarge)

There are some key areas that are focused on: Aspects of cancer risk, aspects of information/detection, treatments, and coping with cancer/support. Some exclusions make sense, such as how tumours develop or rules for financing screenings, which are secondary to the average person being able to make appropriate health choices. Others are a bit more confusing. For example, knowing about behaviour or environmental factors that contribute to cancer are included in the concept of cancer literacy, but not knowledge about hereditary factors. Likewise, knowing about screening tests and their benefits is included, but not knowledge about groups for whom screening is advised. Cancer symptoms and warning signs also doesn't make the list, nor did limitations of screening, diagnostic procedures, or treatments

What do you think? Keeping in mind the goal is that a cancer literate person be able to recognize the need to consult an expert, but not to become an expert themselves, what should a person know to be considered "cancer literate"?


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Deepak Chopra: The Video Game

Deepak Chopra is the author of over 50 books on spirituality and alternative medicine, liberally sprinkled with terms from quantum physics in an attempt to lend weight to what the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism at the Centre for Inquiry (Canada) has described as "new age psycho-babble" and what quantum physicist and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann calls “quantum flapdoodle".

You may be familiar with Chopra from the recent flap when he was invited to speak at the Royal Ontario Museum, his issues with evolution, or his ongoing nonsense at the Huffington Post and his distaste for skepticism
Most of my stinging darts come from skeptics. Over the years I've found that ill-tempered guardians of scientific truth can't abide speculative thinking. [...] No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others.
If you're not familiar with him, you'll soon have a chance to learn all about him on your Xbox or Playstation.

Game developer THQ, whose franchises include Saints Row and Red Faction, and licensing agreements with WWE and UFC, has bought the exclusive video game rights to Chopra's "teachings" for all the major gaming consoles.

It's unclear what the games might entail. I suppose dodging the darts of skeptics and scientists could be kinda fun.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Water Droplet Bouncing on a Superhydrophobic Carbon Nanotube Array


Coolest dad ever


Friday, October 08, 2010

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

It's Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. Despite the holiday, many people will still make their way into the lab to get some work done, whether it's big experiments or simply maintaining cell cultures. The rest will be travelling to visit family or otherwise enjoying some well earned time off, right? Or maybe they just lack passion. That's what Dr. Scott Kern of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute thinks.

In a recent editorial in Cancer Biology and Therapy, Dr. Kern takes a swipe at cancer researchers' lack of passion. Their "country-club mentality". Their desire for a life outside the lab.
During the survey period, off-site laypersons offer comments on my observations. “Don’t the people with families have a right to a career in cancer research also?” I choose not to answer. How would I? Do the patients have a duty to provide this “right”, perhaps by entering suspended animation? [...] Should I note that productive scientists with adorable family lives may have “earned” their positions rather than acquiring them as a “right”? Which of the other professions can adopt a country-club mentality, restricting their activities largely to a 35–40 hour week?
Read the whole thing if you don't mind being irritated.

Or just skip that part and read one of the many great responses by the likes of Isis the Scientist, Mike the Mad Biologist (here also), Drugmonkey, Scicurious, and Janet Stemwedel (and here).

Or just skip it all, and just watch this video:


Friday, October 01, 2010

2010 IgNobels Announced!

It's that time of year again, leaves are changing colour, people are making their Nobel prize preditions and the IgNobels, awarded by the Improbable Research are announced. Here at the Bayblab, we have a decent track record of hitting these stories before the announcement. How did we do this year?

PEACE PRIZE: Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain. (Bayblab link: F-ing Pain)

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Manuel Barbeito, Charles Mathews, and Larry Taylor of the Industrial Health and Safety Office, Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA, for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists. (Bayblab link: A History of Beardism and the Science that Backs it)

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Libiao Zhang, Min Tan, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, and Shuyi Zhang of China, and Gareth Jones of the University of Bristol, UK, for scientifically documenting fellatio in fruit bats. (Bayblab link: Fruit bat blowjobs)

Other highlights:
MEDICINE PRIZE: Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University, The Netherlands, for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.

See the full list of this year's winners.


Cancer Research Blog Carnival #38 - Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The latest edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival is up at Highlight HEALTH.
Welcome to the 38th edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival, the monthly blog carnival that discusses what’s new in cancer research. In recognition of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this edition’s focus is on breast cancer.
As usual, Walter has done a fantastic job hosting, with a carnival loaded quality posts. Go check it out.