Edward Willett

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The case for coffee consumption

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/12/The-Case-for-Coffee-Consumption_01.mp3[/podcast]I first wrote about coffee in a science column back in the dawn of time, so long ago that it began, “Let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t drink coffee...” Since as I type this I am on my second...or maybe third... good-sized cup (oh, all right, mug) of the stuff, something has clearly changed in the intervening years. And guess what? Apparently that’s all to the good of my health. Oh, I know, anyone of adult years remembers news stories about coffee drinking being bad for you, but as more research is done, quite the contrary has emerged as the scientific consensus: drinking coffee is good for you. To the extent that ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:02, December 3rd, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

On the naming of drugs

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/01/The-Naming-of-Drugs.mp3[/podcast] If you take a prescription drug, you’ve probably said to your pharmacist something like this. “Hi, I need a refill of the hydro... chloro... thoro... acti... zine? Zanc? Something like that.” At which point the pharmacist manfully chokes back his laughter at your pharmaceutical phonetics phailure, tactfully supplies the actual name of the drug, and the transaction continues. So, why do drugs have such tongue-twisting names? Who comes up with them? An article by Carmen Drahl in the latest issue of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) explains, in the context of failed efforts by Winston Pharmaceuticals to change the generic name of a compound chemically known as (deep breath) cis-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide. Drahl ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:00, January 19th, 2012 under Blog |

A treatment for Ebola?

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2010/06/A-Treatment-for-Ebola.mp3[/podcast] A few years ago I wrote several books for Enslow Publishers in New Jersey for a series called Diseases and People. I covered meningitis, arthritis, hemophilia...and Ebola. My most recent book for Enslow, Disease-Hunting Scientist, also talks about Ebola, and some of the scientists who travel to the sites of outbreaks to help with containment efforts. Ask someone on the street to name a particularly deadly disease, and there’s a good chance he’ll say “Ebola.” Yet of the diseases I wrote about, the biggest killer by far is meningitis, the bacterial form of which kills some 170,000 people every year, according to the World Health Organization. (And if you want even bigger killers, in sub-Saharan Africa alone tuberculosis kills some 5,000 ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 23:08, June 3rd, 2010 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

Wooden bones

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2010/04/Wooden-Bones.mp3[/podcast] It’s easy to not think very much about your bones. After all, they’re securely hidden away inside your body; not visible, except as hard lumps beneath your skin. Funny thing, though: once you break one, it’s hard to think about anything else. When first I wrote about bones, back in a 1993 instalment of this column, I told the story of my own broken-bone experience, for which I blame my big brother, Dwight (mainly because it was his fault). I was seven years old and he was 12. We were both inside a big cardboard box that had held a refrigerator. For some reason, we’d decided it was fun to roll down the back steps inside this box. And it was fun, right ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 13:05, April 15th, 2010 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

I get a box full of disease detectives!

Oh, all right, not the actual detectives themselves, but my latest book from Enslow, Disease-Hunting Scientist: Careers Hunting Deadly Disease. That's the cover at left. Here's the blurb from the back: Working from high-tech labs in Canada or remote villages in Africa, epedemiologists travel the world trying to keep us safe from deadly diseases. Learn how these "disease detectives" are coming up with new wayts to fight disease, and find out if you have what it takes to become an epidemiologist, too! I'd seen that before. What I hadn't seen, until the books arrived today, was this very nice cover quote from Jonathan M. Samet, MD, Professor ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 17:03, July 10th, 2009 under Blog |

Stop that stretching!

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/07/Stretching.mp3[/podcast] There’s a perception that science is always reversing itself. If you don’t like what science has to say about, say, the health benefits or risks of a particular food (eggs, for example, or coffee), you only have to wait awhile until a contradictory study comes out. That’s because science progresses in fits and starts. Researchers put forward a possible explanation, a hypothesis, for the results of an experiment. Other researchers attempt to duplicate their results and refine the hypothesis. Sometimes the hypothesis is completely discarded, and a new hypothesis gains sway. But in the media, this slow process is seldom reported. It’s much easier to pick up on the report of a single study—particularly if it has startling results—and present the hypotheses ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:22, July 7th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

Disease-Hunting Scientist: Marta Guerra and Ebola

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/06/marta-guerra-and-ebola.mp3[/podcast] Here's one last column condensed from a chapter in my new children's book Disease-Hunting Scientist: Careers Hunting Deadly Diseases (Enslow Publishers): In the movie Outbreak, researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have to figure out how to stop a kind of super-Ebola virus from ravaging the U.S. In 1995, the same year Outbreak came out, Marta Guerra, who already had her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and was finishing her master's degree in public health. "I remember seeing that movie and thinking, 'Wow, that's what I want to do!'" Five years later, Guerra, now with a Ph.D. in epidemiology and a brand-new officer of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 13:58, June 9th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

Disease-Hunting Scientists: Jonathan Epstein and the search for SARS

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/05/jonathan-epstein-and-sars.mp3[/podcast] My next book, due out this summer from Enslow Publishers, is entitled Disease-Hunting Scientist: Careers Hunting Deadly Diseases. Each of its chapters focuses on one particular scientist whose work is related to hunting disease. The chapters are much longer than these science columns, but I thought in honour of the book’s release, I’d try over the next little while to boil down some of those chapters into columns. Call it the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books Version—not just condensed, but extremely condensed! One chapter focuses on Jonathan Epstein, a veterinarian epidemiologist with the Consortium for Conservation Medicine. In 2005, he led the first of five expeditions into China that eventually determined that bats were the “natural reservoir” of the ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:38, May 20th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

An instantaneous, universal, programmable vaccine?

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/a-universal-instant-vaccine.mp3[/podcast] Efforts to immunize people against disease go back to at least 600 B.C., when the Chinese attempted to immunize people against smallpox by putting smallpox material in their nostrils (the permitting of which, I would think, would require a great deal of faith in your doctor). Modern immunization began in 1796 when a British physician, Edward Jenner, noting that people who had had the much-less-deadly cowpox did not catch smallpox, inserted material from cowpox sores into the arm of a healthy eight-year-old boy. The boy caught cowpox, but when he was exposed to smallpox eight weeks later, he did not contract the often-fatal disease. Vaccines have since become a mainstay of public health. Their impact has been enormous. Consider measles: in 2007, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 18:04, March 24th, 2009 under Science Columns |

The old gray hair, she ain’t what she used to be

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/gray-hair.mp3[/podcast] Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re growing older. Every second. Even worse, so am I. There are many manifestations of the aging process, most of which are far too depressing to go into, especially on a morning in late February. Still, we must all face facts sooner or later, and for many of us, the “sooner” arrives when we look in a mirror and notice...a gray hair. It’s the advance scout of an army of pale invaders to our scalp, and it’s been the focus of speculation and research for a long, long time. Now a new paper has been published that claims to have solved the mystery of why we go gray. The culprit, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:54, February 23rd, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |