Thursday, April 30, 2009

antibiotic resistance

I had almost forgotten about the antibiotic problem in the veterinary sector until yesterday when I wrote a quick thing about the industrial farming. I remembered this morning that there is one interesting problem in all this, one thing that I as a northern European was too surprised about at my first international conference to be polite about. What I am talking about? The use of antibiotics as a regular staple in the farming of animals in the US. Not only that but which kind of antibiotics that were used before at least… (I have since I left my former field not kept as good an eye on the question, which now leads me to think that I should go back and recheck a few things.)

I remember a poster at one of the biggest conferences in the world on microbes that dealt with antibiotic resistance in the different strains of Chlamydia and Streptococcus pyogenes that spread through the small college town in one of the more farming dense states up north in the States. I remember looking at all data and being surprised it was so many vancomycin resistance… of course, going back and asking one of the vets in the area, he confirmed that the most commonly used antibiotic in the farms everyday was vancomycin. Yes, you might not give it to people – but you spread it over food for the animals every day… (Note that it I not going to spread from the meat or so, it is mainly the actual overuse of a specific antibiotic that I am against.)

Why I though about this now? Because of the pandemic discussion.. We tend to think we are so safe nowadays. It is not like the early 20th century, at least not in the industrial world, and we have antibiotics and antivirals and steroids. All which might help us out. With one exception of course… as long as the strains aren’t resistant. As of today, the strain circulating is susceptible to the two main antivirals… and we have some antibiotic that work on even the most resistant strains of bacteria in case of complications. However, it is less likely to remain like that…not dooms day but simply stating that we see an increase in resistance every day. And especially when people panic and want to “save themselves” and find medical things online etc.

My thoughts? Sit tight. Don’t panic. Be calm. Go live your life. And be alert to if you are feeling sick.

If nothing else, my prediction (which may or may not be correct or completely wrong) is that this will go on for another couple of months and come early fall we will see if the virus has picked up the aggression level or if we will have a slightly mild and nonlethal seasonal influenza. That is of course, if people can stop panic and take antivirals in advance and increase the resistance. If that occurs, then we are in deed in a pickle.

We don’t need “refresh” buttons on every web page dealing with “latest info on the pandemic” since this is going to take some time…

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The new flu…. Former swine flu… industrial farming…

I am very tired today. I really shouldn’t read the new papers, nor listen to the radio…. Or read emails for that matter. Why? Because today the crazy is really hitting me… “What do you think about this?” “Dr C, do you think we should stop travelling” “can I still eat pork?”. No, I am not that important and these are more often friends than anything who ask but still… it is a bit tiresome. Not that they ask. No. More so that the articles I read are so full of mistakes and faults. So much information that might be more harmful and scaring than other things. (“Country X only has antivirals for 25 % of the population so how are all going to be saved?” Do we really need to tell that now?! Very few countries have antivirals for 100% of their population… and yes, this might mean people will die.)

And I can’t really intervene. Why? Because I work where I work and it is not my place to let my voice be heard in the world. And this time, it will not be taken lightly to “correct information”. So, I am taking it all in and venting to some colleges with the same problem and then we wait some….

Let’s just say that I have a huge thing to say about the statement “this is fault of industrial farming”. No. There are plenty of problems with “industrial farming” but this is not due to industrial farming. This outbreak is due to the nature of influenza virus to spread, pick up segments and to find itself in new hosts since that is what viruses do.

Sure, you can argue that it wouldn’t have been “made” if it wasn’t for industrial farming. That is not true either. Reassortment viruses were found before industrial farming. Viruses have been known to mutate and move around before. Why not to this extent? Well, let’s go with that we don’t know that since we can’t really pin point outbreaks historically as well as we would want to. (I am clearly leaving out that people didn’t fly in planes nor boats to the amount of people when 1918 hit or the time we live in today.)

My key thing with bashing the “against industrial farming” however is another thing. See, I had this conversation with a British guy back in the days when I was still a slightly naïve person who wanted to save the world (yes, I am more bitter now and slightly more cynical). I firmly stated that all industrial farming should be abolished “for the sake of the animals” and that we should go back to small farming. (I still think it would be good to go to smaller farms, definitely.) The guy looked at me and said “so, poor people shouldn’t be allowed to eat meat then?”. [I’ll make this into discussion since I can’t really write it as well otherwise. I am I and British guy is B.]

I: (shaking my head) Of course everyone should be allowed to eat meat.
B: How’s that going to work though? You are going to have less meat in production.
I: well, everyone can buy meat
B: demand and supply my dear. If the demand is higher than the supply the price goes up. Therefore, the poorer will not be able to purchase meat.
I: (quiet and since I come from the leftish country…) maybe we can do food stamps. Everyone is just entitled to meat 4 times a week… then it will be not due to economic factors
B: that is what you call a Black Market. You seriously think that system wouldn’t be used for exchanging stamps… or buying stamps… it will be more like the WWII or for that matter, when I grew up we only had chicken on Sundays because we couldn’t afford it. You have to face it, in these capitalistic times, the only thing that will happen is that poor people will not be able to eat meat.

[Then we ended the conversation after I had tried to argue a bit more…]

Needless to say he was overly pessimistic and a devoted capitalistic follower. I was a tad bit naïve and didn’t really know how to attack it. Today I would say “we can take that price on meat goes up a bit – if it means better care for animals.” It is also true that we have a slight over production of meat in many countries… not to mention the key instrument for all this to happen; legislation.

What would change a lot of this industrial farming, apart from people stopping to buy the “farmed meat” and opting for the more organic option (of course this is at the moment a lot to do with money…. And if you know/care about animals), is laws from the government that forces the Industry (is there anymore negative charged word?) to make changes.

And that is what we can hope that this discussion leads to. And to be fair, some of the organic market needs to change too. All use of antibiotics is not bad…. Just not use of antibiotics all the time…

The last point of this slightly venting like post, the vaccine production for different countries. I am so very sorry that my own government has decided not to support the building of a vaccine factory in collaboration with our three neighboring countries. Instead, we are relying on GSK to provide us with vaccine when it is available. The factory of GSK in another neighboring country… even though all research so far indicates that in a real situation there is no evidence that a country would give doses of vaccines to other countries before making it available to its own population. I don’t blame them; we are all closest to ourselves in a time of crises. It is just unfathomable that the government didn’t want to join the other three to do something that would benefit not only us four but even the developing world since the factory would make vaccines for them too….

With that, I will leave work and try not to listen to the news until tomorrow morning when I will get another update on all this.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

“No, I cc:d you on that…” or “this is Passive aggressiveness”

I think I have mentioned before that one of the new experiences here in the south is that everyone is so nice all the time. It’s all about “Good morning Maam”, “how are you” and smiley faces. It took me a while to see through it… of course they aren’t nice for real. Duh… They just sound nice. It looks nice. It seems nice. But it isn’t really. It’s a nice façade.*

For anyone who grew up in the north country with the cold climate where your nationality might be described as ‘reserved’, ‘cold’, ‘non friendly’, ‘less open’, ‘hard to get to know’**… this is a slight shock to the system. I mean, I think I left junior high school and the bullies who were the gossiping girls*** when I stopped being a teenager…. I am not saying that people don’t bad mouth back home, sure they do, but not to the elaborate extent.

Not this “Hi, how are you? You look so lovely today” and then under their breath to the person next to them “seriously, where did s/he find that dress. Trash can?”. Or, as this is science “Oh, nice seminar” and then turn around to the person next to them stating “really, it was quite a shocker when s/he didn’t know the answer to those simple questions”. Or “I wrote you this email where I tell you that I can’t do this analysis for you since the samples are bad. Oh by the way, I cc:d your boss and lots of other people so they all can know that you and I are not collaborating since I can’t do this obviously… ”. Really?

I mean, my bag is quite simple (I thought). Leave the positive comments out of there if it wasn’t good. Or at least don’t elaborate as much. Just don’t lie and get tangled up in it… I can understand the sadness and irritation of the grad student I talked to last week who explained that his PI had been to his seminar and then, after stating to him that he thought the seminar was nice, turned towards some other PIs saying “I am sorry that my grad student is so lazy and useless”. Personally, I don’t really call it passive aggressive but rather “rude” or “no manners” or, my personal fave, “your self esteem is that bad so you need to push someone else down”.

I guess the key thing here is to not care about the comments. Or the behavior. Just water on a duck. And I say, be my guest to try. It will just hurt you since all of these people like to play this game. I for one, come from the “not so much game playing place” so I don’t really get it. If I don’t like you, I can behave and be polite but I will not lie through my teeth to your face. I will not, and did not, invite you to my birthday party. Why? Because I really didn’t want you there. Well, if you invite me to yours? I would probably say in a polite manner “thank you for the invite but unfortunately I am busy that night”. If you didn’t invite me, that’s perfectly fine too.

I just have this one thing, I don’t like fakeness. But now I am starting to assimilate to the overall idea, I don’t have to like the game… but I apparently have to play it more than I would’ve wanted to. And therein lies the rub.

Ah well, I guess I will have to ramp up the fake smiles, the appearances and the niceness of it all. Who cares about real in the land of invention of sucrose, aspartame and botox? After all, who likes someone who says the truth when asked and actually believes that trash talking and actively lying is something that will hurt more than it will benefit. And most of all, to have the audacity to think that the work [environment] would benefit from it.

I am so not a game player – unless I really play a game of course. Problem is, I kind of hoped life wasn’t a game…

*it is really nice, as long as you remember it. It is not true. The dinner invite is not necessary for real, it is a nice gesture. You are not supposed to say yes and expect a real dinner. Silly, at least not all the time it is said. It is grease, gravy, smoothness to make the social life easier. Nothing more than that, at least not the first time you see it… or second… or third. So please, get with the program. Just be a nice surface like the other ladies, ok. No funny independent woman thing.

**… the continuing of “hard to get to know” is “but once you do you have a good friend there”. And before anyone says anything, I have found some really good friends here in this new place. This is more the general thing I am talking about...

*** I want to say that the harm the gossiping girls did to me in junior high school was way worse than the hard hitting boys did at the same time. After all, bruising on the outside is visible. Stares, whispers and lies are just intangible and un-fightable. Enough diving into self pity history pool for now ;)

stockholm syndrome...

I am not sure if it is funny because I know some of the true stuff in them or if it just the whole thing. Maybe "the crib of Robyn, the biggest star in Sweden" is the best thing though. 

I don't know how to embed videos but I will add the links to youtube.

So, here they are "The Daily Show": Stockholm Syndrome 1 

Enjoy the fun :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Biological sciences and/or pharma next?

The story "Tech Recruiting Clashes with Immigration Rules" by Matt Richtel in the NYT clearly writes about a problem on the horizon (or something that is already here rather...). “Jobs for nonimmigrants only” [my own title of the main problem]. In pressed times more than others. And no, it is not only in the States this is happening. My own native country is probably doing the same thing (although the government actually made it easier to get a visa if you have a job now…. Then again, getting a job at the moment is not really possible with unemployment up to 10% over all. And more than 30% in the sector people aged 19-28 yrs….)

While it could be said that Mr. Mavinkurve’s case is one of a self-entitled immigrant refusing to live in the United States because his wife would not be able to work, he exemplifies how immigration policies can chase away a potential entrepreneur who aspires to create wealth and jobs here. His case highlights the technology industry’s argument that the United States will struggle to compete if it cannot more easily hire foreign-born engineers.

*this guy, Mavinkurve, did high school and all his uni studies in US. At Harvard and has a master. But of course, he was here on a student visa so he is not a citizen.

From the article again in regards to H1B visas (skilled peoples’ visa): “The limit was raised twice as the technology sector boomed, to 115,000 in 1999 and to 195,000 in 2001. But those temporary increases were not renewed for 2004, and the number of H-1B visas reverted to 65,000. (There are an additional 20,000 H1-B’s for people with graduate degrees from American universities.) Since 2004, there has been a growing gap between the number of H-1B visas sought and those granted, through a lottery. In 2008, companies made 163,000 applications for the 65,000 slots. Google applied for 300 of them; 90 were denied. “

And people wonder why I am nervous when my present visa runs out?!

“Many innovators in Silicon Valley come from overseas; 42 percent of engineers with master’s degrees and 60 percent of those with engineering Ph.D.’s in the United States are foreign-born.

I guess it isn’t until page four I get my “you are an immigrant in my country scare” by the interview with Mr Berry.

“Mr. Mavinkurve and his wife get little sympathy from Mr. Berry of the Programmers Guild, a nonprofit group with a volunteer staff that lobbies Congress on behalf of American-born high-tech workers. To Mr. Berry, 50 — who lives in Sacramento, where he was born — it is unfathomable that Google, which receives one million résumés a year, cannot find enough qualified Americans. Further, he says immigrants depress wages. By law, H-1B workers must be paid prevailing wages, but there are conflicting studies on whether some employers actually pay less when they control the fate of the sponsored workers. Even some of the supporters of allowing in more skilled immigrants say the H-1B system is flawed because it gives employers so much power over employees.

And from there we move into the real issue here. Mr Berry’s fear about his children, because as we all know… in the darkest hour we turn to ourselves and look out for us, not them or you. And, not to forget, we need to go with the generalization that “they” wouldn’t be as good as “we” at doing our job. When in reality, maybe there are more things to it than “they” and “we”, and nothing good will come out of debating us vs them, imho.

“Mr. Berry says his skills and education are denigrated by an industry that asserts that the best talent comes from overseas, via Ivy League schools[Personally I wonder if Mr Berry thinks these unis take on useless students out of the goodness in their hearts?? See, I thought they sifted out the best ones? I might be naïve but seriously....]. He worries about the employability of his children, who are studying engineering at top colleges, the University of Southern California and California Polytechnic State University. ...//… He does not believe that skilled immigrants are essential to innovation. In fact, he argues the opposite. “In my experience,” he said, “foreign software programmers are less likely to step out of the box and present alternatives to management.”

And of course the Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, from Alabama agrees with him and is opposing temporary work visas (H1B for example). I might need to state the Sessions agree with broader immigrant allowances, with aptitude test etc, but he still disagrees with the temporary visas. “….he argues have incentive to work for less and return to their countries to share what they have learned. This puts him at odds with tech companies.”

I don’t know if there is any stats about the post doc community, citizenship and salary… I have my thoughts on the matter but I might be wrong. Anyone knows any study? And it will be interesting the next couple of years when I think we will see what happens with the graduate students and post docs (and the work they/we are doing) when the visas get even fewer and harder to pass… I really hope all the American students will rush to fill the void since we evil foreigners are filling their places and taking their money. Or maybe we were actually doing something good?!?!

With that, I need to go back to my “cushion job where I just gush in money and don’t spend any time in lab at all” . Duh.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Girl - Woman

Reading this article At 16... still a girl, and yet a woman and it reminded me about a few of the conversations over the years. It links to the "are you a scientist or a Female scientist?" (maybe a bigger leap but in my head it makes sense) and a bit about a thing in Swedish where we have kind of three words for "the same thing" (aka female); flicka, kvinna och tjej. The first one translates into girl, it is also [more or less a given] that the 'flicka' is young (and innocent). The second is woman. And the third would be.... hmm... slang for both girl and woman? (help me out here anyone of the Swedish speaking people who might read this) The thing is that there are older women, you know like in their 40ies and 50ies, who uses 'tjej' as "jag och tjejerna" [me and the girls - no not those ones.] rather than "the women and I". I guess the main purpose here is that there are usually a "15 year old girl in an attack" and a "23 year old woman". It is the 19 year olds that might be both 'flicka' and 'kvinna' depending on what angle the news want to tell.... 

Ah never mind, maybe it has nothing to do with my basic train of thoughts here. There was a time when I would have said that the difference between girl and woman was the sex thing. Or the period thing. Or even, as told by a former in-law to me "you become a real woman when you finally have conceived" (yes, that was a perfect example of why I did not really fit into that circle. Also, note the "real" before woman... I guess you are faking it until then?). 

Then again, I understand that the word maybe means something more that "just" having had sex (you know what I mean). It is a "mature" thing. And heaven knows I don't think you are mature as a teenager. I guess that is why I kind of like the Britney song "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman" (yes, I know someone else wrote it most likely so sue me). It kind of sums it up.

For the record, I am also quite intrigued that it took a while for me to think of myself as woman... rather than "tjej" ... and I guess this might be why I am conflicted about the whole female scientist and scientist. I'd rather be a scientist [full stop] but I am a female scientist and I do think it has shaped me somewhat different than if I would have been a [male] scientist. Then again, maybe it has shaped me more that I am and will continue to be a [foreign] scientist?

With that, I am off in this lovely day that will be spent in a closed room without windows and people wondering around. Hopefully some good results will come my way too....