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Josh Bloom, Ph.D. Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Ph.D. at the American Council on Science and Health, New York. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Virginia, and... Read More »

Is life great or what?

We have all kinds of wonderful choices available to us. Yankees or Mets (better still, neither), Frosted Flakes or Cap'n Crunch, Homeland or The Walking Dead. Awesome. 

And now we get to choose between an old artificial sweetener that was perfectly safe and a new one that is perfectly safer. 

For more than 30 years, aspartame (aka NutraSweet), has been the target of conspiracy crazies and those who profit from the crazies. Speaking of whom, supplement mogul Crazy Joe Mercola calls aspartame "By far the most dangerous substance added to most foods today." 
After 20 years of grueling research, unimaginably effective drugs to treat hepatitis C are hitting the market. They are so good that cure rates (aka sustained virological response, or SVR)—defined as the absence of detectable hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA six months following cessation of treatment—are approaching 100 percent. Even ten years ago this would have been regarded as science fiction.

These drugs are quite expensive. But, are they worth it? 

It’s been all over the news. 

Depending on the accuracy of the headline, you may conclude that worms live longer when exposed to glucosamine, mice live 10 percent longer when fed glucosamine or that YOU will live 8 years longer if you take the stuff.

As usual, the devil is in the headlines.

Some were pretty accurate: Glucosamine promotes longevity in worms and mice, study says (from the L.A. Times). 

According to the FDA, a drug is a substance (other than nutrients) intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure or function of the body. Seems clear enough -- that is, until politics and big money get involved. 

Then you get special dispensation. It’s called the dietary supplement industry. And what they get away with is astounding.

Last May a cluster of liver failure was attributed to a supplement called OxyElite Pro, sold by USPLabs of Dallas.

In the mood to off yourself? I sure hope not, but if you are contemplating it, there is no need to use a gun, poison, or pills. Just take a sip of Diet Coke.

Because anyone who takes headlines seriously—a universally bad idea—will be afraid to even look at a bottle of diet soda, let alone drink from one. 

We can equally thank Dr. Ankur Vyas and his group for publishing the quintessential example of garbage science, and an all-too-willing press, obviously looking for juicy headlines. Or can't be bothered to read the study. Or have their own agenda. Probably all three.

As usual, there is a strong correlation between junk studies and misleading headlines. Here are some examples:

"Diet soda associated to women's heart risks" (ABC News)
Life is just packed full of surprises.

You just never know when you'll get stuck in an elevator with the finalists for the new Victoria's Secret Catalog (all of whom just happen to be in estrus). 

You never know when you open your door if Ed McMahon will be standing there with a $1 million check from Publishers Clearing House.  (OK, this one you do know, since he's somewhat dead). Or a paroled member of the Manson Family. Or Paris Hilton with a parakeet on her head. 

So,  just when you think you've already seen the worst possible science paper in the entire history of multicellular life, life pulls the rug out from under you.