I have lately been getting really RAGEY about certain topics, where the great unwashed masses (i.e., the sector of the general public who disagree with me) take stances that reveal what is, to me, a GROSS MISUNDERSTANDING of biology.  Because I have a LOT of schooling in biology, physiology, etc., I try to remember that what is basic to me may be completely foreign to a layperson, but it’s hard.  Other things, well, I know the underlying biology is not remotely basic, but I wish that there were a way to communicate it to laypeople more effectively.  All of these things make me crazy.  Some examples:

1. Vaccines. I am not sure I can even talk about this without hurting someone.  I will only say two things [today]: first, anecdotal evidence is not the same thing, and does not carry the same [read: any] weight as scientific and  epidemiological evidence. Second, the choice of vaccinating or not affects entire populations, not simply the individual in question.  The amount of restraint I am showing stopping with that is HUGE, let me tell you. 

2. Individual metabolism, weight issues, etc.  It pisses me RIGHT OFF when people assume that every body behaves the same way.  That if only you ate like *I* eat (as in, some asshole, not me (or you) personally), you’d be just as thin and fit!  NO. The amount we understand about diet/exercise/physiology, compared to what we don’t, is like comparing a bottle of water to the fucking OCEAN.  There are some things we know for sure, though: whole foods trump processed, some bodies tend to be heavier than others regardless of diet, exercise AND diet are both important.

3. Mixing frequently used pharmaceuticals and alcohol (e.g., tylenol/acetaminophen, antibiotics, etc.).  Some things, no big deal. Other things, HUGE DEAL.  People joke (I hope it’s a joke) about taking some nyquil and having some wine – NOoOoo.  Alcohol competes with acetaminophen for certain enzymes, forcing the acetaminophen down an alternative metabolic pathway that creates terrible toxins that can lead to liver failure.  As I type this out, I realize it probably isn’t “basic”, so I’ll chalk this up to scientists and doctors failing to communicate effectively.  BUT DAMN, acetaminophen overdose or alcohol-aggravated toxicity is one of the number one causes of liver failure in the US, the top Poison Control call issue, etc., so we should do a better job educating on this!  AND, this failure to communicate is why the dosage on acetaminophen was just reduced: instead of explaining why you shouldn’t take too much, they just reduced the dosage so when people take too much it won’t be as big a deal.  GRR.

4. Alcohol and pregnancy.  I hate this one because of how other people’s opinions end up affecting MY life.  There have been articles circulating about this recently, as a new study (NOT the first one by a long shot) was published showing that drinking MODERATELY while pregnant is not a big deal.  The comments I’ve seen relating to it have been half supportive, half “Oh well, you can hurt YOUR baby, but I won’t drink a DROP because I LOVE mine.”  Well, fuck that tone, first of all, but that aside: the great American hatred of moderation is the issue here.  Things don’t fall cleanly into “healthy” and “toxic” – the dose makes the poison. If you drink too much of ANYTHING, including goddamn WATER, it will do bad things.  But, instead of publicizing the idea of moderation, America decided to take a hard line and say none for anyone.  Like the medical and political establishments basically thought we were all idiots that couldn’t be trusted to understand things like “serving sizes” oh wait shit we can’t.  GAAh.

5.  Artificial sweeteners, slash why I will always drink Diet Coke so help me.  The volume of diet coke you’d have to drink DAILY for your ENTIRE LIFE to cause toxicity?  Well, you’d basically have to become an aquatic mammal that lives in a diet coke ocean.  GALLONS. A day.  When I was pregnant, a co-worker used to come by my office every day and judge me openly about my single DC per day habit. And he was an effing toxicologist, who smokes (see #7).  RAGE.

6.  Bisphenol A.  This isn’t basic, and some of the scientists fall into the unwashed masses camp.  But, as a toxicologist (a reproductive toxicologist at that), let me just say: calm down. “BPA Free!” has become a marketing tool.  BPA is so well-studied at this point, and any potential toxicity is so minor that no one can even come up with anything remotely definitive. The only definitive thing is that a) the levels in human blood are super low, and b) the estrogenicity of BPA is way way less than anything made of soybeans.  So, ya know, freak out about soy.  Also, the shit they are replacing BPA with? Totally un-studied.  So, if you are still freaking out about this, could you at least send me all your old plastic stuff?  Because I will totally use that shit. 

7. When people are totally insane about one of the above, but also smoke.  Like, “Oh, I will NOT use plastic, glass only for me!” as they gesticulate with a cigarette.  Smoking is about the ONLY life choice you, as an individual, can make that will have a measurable impact on your personal health (and the health of others! Awesome!).  The other shit, like BPA, pesticides on your fruit? Incredibly subtle, population level effects – like, you would need MILLIONS of people to possibly see anything, and even then, it’s usually only a weak correlation, not causation

I know that I am missing a lot of things that piss me off (I’m sure you’re super bummed to be missing out on my absurd rage), but #1 clouds my memory of anything else I’ve encountered recently.  Also, I’m kind of sorry if any of this makes you personally angry, but really I’d rather have a rage free educational discussion about all the reasons that I am right.  So, let’s do that instead.

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13 Responses to Biology

  1. beanonparade says:

    Ah yes, “the great American hatred of moderation” is the best way of putting it I’ve heard in a long time.

    Also (and I mean this as the highest compliment) you sound like my dad. He’s a pharmacokeneticist…or something spelled something like that. He studies how drugs affect bodies. Anyway, he has given us the artificial sweetner talk about a hundred times.

  2. meanliving says:

    I LOVE YOUR RANT. And I am an unwashed mass. Wait, that sounds pretty gross, doesn’t it?

  3. Carmen says:

    I have had the dose-response argument with so many people. What I get wildly ranty about is news reports that say things like “your risk of ABC is 1000x higher if you do XYZ.” Sure, your risk of ABC might be 1000x higher BUT 1000x 0.000000005% is still pretty freaking small and NOT WORTH WORRYING ABOUT OR ALTERING BEHAVIOUR FOR. (Now I’m yelling. Sorry!)

    I do remember one news article during the Turin winter Olympics. A Ukrainian skier was banned from skiing in a race because her hematocrit was >50% so her blood was too thick for it to be safe. A few days later, before another race she was scheduled to do, they spun another crit and it was <50% so she was allowed to race. The news reports said "She tested negative for hemoglobin." Oh, really? Get her to a research facility ASAP then, because she's a freaking medical miracle!

    • snoozical says:

      YES! THIS! AGHHH! I am also yelling! My all time favorite was a long involved thread on babycenter, about how you should be sure to put your baby bottles in the microwave to STERILIZE out the BPA. And then my head exploded.

  4. Jesabes says:

    How have we not met before? I love you! You’re so REASONABLE.

    Did you read Julia’s blog yesterday (Here be Hippogriffs – Quite the vaccine war in the comments. I agree with her and you that vaccinating is a public health responsibility and everyone who can get vaccines should, not only for themselves, but to protect those who can’t.

    • snoozical says:

      Yep – the comments there is what finally sent me into ranty territory. Rawr! I had to stop reading them because I was about to jump out the window.

  5. Elsha says:

    DUDE. All of this! My background is chemical engineering, so not so much with the biology side of things. But YES to the anecdotal evidence not being data. And the correlation vs causation thing drives me CRAZY. Article headline: Women who drink coffee in the first trimester are more likely to miscarry. Jump to conclusion that caffeine causes miscarriage. AND THEN MY HEAD EXPLODES.

  6. Erica says:

    I was an English major, but I swear I already knew most of this. I miiiiiiiiight be guilty of #6.

  7. Jess says:

    I love you so much. My head has pretty much exploded with the awesomeness of this post.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Thank you! This idea that vaccinating is a ‘personal decision’ is so ignorant.

  9. Cloud linked over to this article over at Nicole and Maggie and I can’t agree with you more. I’m a Chem Eng as well and work with BPA…yes, totally nuts that they are replacing plastics that they have tons of data on with new ones that have almost none. I’ve been scouring ebay for those old PC containers. I miss them.

    I also have a kid with a very mild immune disorder, so immunizations are one of my other hot buttons. I’ve actually seen with my own kid that it works. Thank you, ignoramus’s for bringing whooping cough back.

    You’re a woman of my own heart. Thank you for this rant.

    Oh, and other rants: granite counters emitting radon, banning oil based paints from stores but still selling oil based primers and polyurethane. If it’s so bad, then why didn’t you just ban everything? Oh and why can I no longer buy good floor paint, but I can still buy solvent based paint stripper? I’m thinking that stuff is a lot more toxic than my floor paint you just banned. Being universally against antibiotics in meat. What if someone’s cow gets sick?

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post.

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