Primed for resignation

The scandal-ridden field of social priming research has taken yet another blow. Leading social psychologist Jens Förster has resigned his prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) after being found responsible for data manipulation.

Förster, formerly a leader in his field, was investigated by a Dutch national research integrity panel in 2014 and found to have manipulated data in a 2012 study about the effect of auditory and olfactory ‘priming’ on cognitive ability.

Förster’s resignation comes following another broader reaching investigation conducted by his former employer, the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The results of that investigation are yet to be published, but a UvA source says that the report is finished and that Förster has been informed of the findings.

Förster denies any wrongdoing and feels like he is “the victim of an incredible witchhunt”. In a blog-post on his personal website following his resignation,… click here to read whole article and make comments


German IVF mum to give birth to quadruplets

A 65-year-old German woman has fallen pregnant via IVF to quadruplets, to the surprise of some and the anger of others. 

Annegret Raunigk, a language teacher and mother of 13, travelled to a clinic in the Ukraine to receive IVF – German laws prohibited her from receiving the treatment in her own country. She was implanted with eggs and sperm from donors. Seemingly contrary to the doctor’s expectations, all four of the eggs developed into embryos. The chance of a natural quadruplet pregnancy is otherwise one in 13m.

Raunigk, now her fifth month of pregnancy, said she decided to have more children after her youngest daughter, Lelia, nine, asked her for a sibling.

Significant risks accompany pregnancies like Raunigk’s. The pregnant mother is susceptible to high blood pressure, pregnancy diabetes and pre-eclampsia, all of which impact on each other. Risks for the babies include cerebral bleeding, paralysis, and… click here to read whole article and make comments


The complexities of brain death

A forthcoming article in the journal Neurology provides insight into the complexities of achieving international consensus on brain death. 

The article by a team of neurologists and medical researchers from clinics and universities around the US catalogues conceptions of brain death in medical institutions around the world. 

The authors found that institutional protocols were absent or poorly understood in a significant number of low-income countries. They also found that “substantial differences in perceptions and practices of brain death exist worldwide” and that “whether a harmonized, uniform standard for brain death worldwide can be achieved remains questionable.”

The study – the first to examine opinions in a broad range of countries – involved an electronic survey which was distributed globally to physicians with expertise in neurocritical care, neurology, or related disciplines who would encounter patients at risk of brain death. Physicians from 91 countries responded.

The results were quite… click here to read whole article and make comments


Feverish vaccine debate spreads to Australia

Last Sunday the Australian government announced a controversial new immunisation policy that makes welfare support for families conditional on child immunisation.  

“The no jab, no pay” welfare plan, which has bipartisan support in the Australian federal parliament, will require of parents that they immunise their children against serious infectious diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and polio.

Parents who refuse to immunise their children could lose up to A$2100 per child per year in welfare payments.

Social services minister Scott Morrison, who announced the plan, said that the medical community was united in its support for universal vaccination, and that “objections” were no long acceptable.

“The overwhelming advice of those in the health profession is it’s the smart thing and the right thing to do to immunise your children.”

Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten agreed:

“We believe fundamentally in the science… click here to read whole article and make comments


Unreported clinical trial data “unethical”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the disclosure of results from clinical trials for medical products, whatever the result. The move aims to ensure that decisions related to the safety and efficacy of vaccines, drugs and medical devices for use by populations are supported by the best available evidence.

“Our intention is to promote the sharing of scientific knowledge in order to advance public health,” said WHO official Marie-Paule Kieny. “It underpins the principal goal of medical research: to serve the betterment of humanity.”

According to WHO, there is increasing empirical evidence to suggest that the results of many clinical trials are suppressed from the public. One study that analysed the reporting from large clinical trials (more than 500 participants) registered on ClinicalTrials.gov and completed by 2009 found that 23% had not reported any results. These unreported trials included nearly 300,000 participants.

Even where results are… click here to read whole article and make comments


Bad ideas never die; they just plea bargain

A series of cases in Tennessee suggests that women may be trading sterilization for reduced jail sentences in the US. According to a report by AP, Nashville prosecutors have done deals with women at least four times in the past five years.

In the latest case, a 36-year-old woman with a long history of mental illness, Jasmine Randers was charged with neglect after her 5-day-old baby mysteriously died during the night. Her lawyer alleges that the prosecution refused to discuss a plea bargain unless she agreed to be sterilized.

In conjunction with similar incidents in Virginia, West Virginia and California, lawyers think that many sterilizations may be organised out of view by the public and the courts. "It's always been more of 'If your client is willing to do this, then I might be inclined to talk about probation,'" one lawyer commented.

"The history of sterilization in this… click here to read whole article and make comments


Gene of the Week 2: voting preferences

According to researchers at TwinsUK, a registry of identical and non-idential twins, genes are the best predictor of how people will vote. “Our choices at the polling booth may not be as free or rational as we would like to believe,” they conclude in The Conversation.

“We found that voting Conservative (or not) is strongly influenced by genetics. When it came to voting Tory, we found that 57% of the variability (differences or similarity) between people’s voting preferences were due to genetic effects,” writes Professor Tim Spector, of Kings College London.  The percentages for UKIP were 51% and for both Labor and the Green Party 48%.

Only a vote for the Liberal Democrats could not be explained by genetics.

“Previous studies have also shown strong genetic influences on right-wing views – be they for or against. We and others have demonstrated consistent genetic influences… click here to read whole article and make comments


Gene of the Week 1: sex offending

The father of modern criminology, the Italian sociologist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) believed that criminality was genetically determined. A “born criminal” could be detected by the presence of a long list of “stigmata” such as an asymmetrical faces, sloping forehead, large ears or left-handedness. This idea has been largely discredited, but, it flowers as soon as water floods the desert sands.

Newspapers last week featured headlines like: “Sex crimes may run in a family's male genes” or “Genetic factors were found to increase the risk of a sex crime conviction” or “Sex offending is written in DNA of some men” after the release of a Swedish study of the genetic link to sex crimes.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in collaboration with Oxford reported in the International Journal of Epidemiology that close relatives of men convicted of sexual offences commit similar offences themselves more frequently than comparison subjects.… click here to read whole article and make comments


Should medicine leave the gold standard of randomized trials?

When you google “randomized controlled trials”, you find an abundance of news stories and government agency websites which describe them as the “gold standard” of medical research. Take, for instance, a recent press release from Johns Hopkins University: “They found that only 11 of the programs met the scientific ‘gold standard’ for reliability in the studies—using randomized clinical trials.”

However, the medical profession is far less confident. Adding to the chorus of researchers and clinicians is an article in The Lancet which calls for a more “ecumenical” and flexible approach to acceptable study designs.

David S Jones and Scott H Podolsky, both from Harvard Medical School, point out that randomized trials do not have a long history. The first one took place in 1948 and the first instance of describing them as the “gold standard” dates back to only 1982.

While RCTs are clearly useful, they argue that… click here to read whole article and make comments


Canadian bioethicist attacks conscientious objection

The Canadian Medical Association is digging in its heels to protect doctors’ right of conscientious objection to euthanasia and assisted suicide, which will soon become legal. In an interview with the National Post, CMA president Chris Simpson  said recently, “we simply cannot accept a system that compels physicians to go against their conscience as individuals on something so profound as this.”

Don’t listen to him, warns one of Canada’s most prominent bioethicists. No doctor should have the right to conscientious objection, he says.

Professor Udo Schuklenk, of Queens University and editor-in-chief of the journal Bioethics, delivered a blistering attack on conscientious objection in medical practice in his blog:

The very idea that we ought to countenance conscientious objection in any profession is objectionable. Nobody forces anyone to become a professional. It is a voluntary choice. A conscientious objector in medicine is not dissimilar… click here to read whole article and make comments


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