Talking points: endless genomes and microbes, natural products industry, drunk animals, earthquake waves

By Grant Jacobs 05/03/2012 4


For a little light relief, a short collection of talking points that I wrote some time ago but for some reason never published. (I’ve no idea why.)

More genomes than you can shake a stick at

This summary of a news report from Science headlines how BGI aims to dominate the world of genome sequencing, including setting up centres outside of China and plans to sequence a million human genomes. Not to mention a million plant and animal genomes and a million microbial genomes. (The full report is subscription-only.)

More microbes that you might think

Food for thought via twitter:

Sandra Porter @digitalbio

Uncultured microbe session #AAASmtg There are more [oceanic] microbes than stars in known universe.

When animals binge.[1a] Not something you see everyday: an elk stuck up a tree. Admittedly not very far up a tree. It’s not so much that this elk has climbed the tree, so much as drunkenly tangled itself up in it. Some of the comments are entertaining too:

that moose is so drunk it thinks it’s an elk (ooh456)

Hello…my name is Barney and I’m an ELKaholic. (ashays)

Accounts of drunken animals abound,[1b] including this more scientific-based account of alcoholic intake by Malaysian shrew who apparently don’t suffer much for it.

Would abandoning useless ‘natural’ health remedies save money? Reports put the value[2] of the natural products industry at approximately $NZ760 million per annum, for example:

There are more than 6000 natural health products on sale in New Zealand and over 450 natural health companies. Those companies have an estimated annual turnover of $760 million.

This would put the natural products industry in roughly the same ballpark as New Zealand’s wool industry.

We have a fair financial burden in New Zealand. (Some would say much more than fair.)

The government is looking to ways of curbing the national debt.

Hypothetically speaking–stirring the rod a little here–how much would be saved if punters abandoned useless ‘natural’ remedies? No homeopathic remedies. Ignore herbal remedies that lacked substantive evidence backing their use. Stop taking unneeded vitamin supplements. And so on.

I’ve no idea what specific fraction of these remedies have no substantive evidence backing their remedial use, or what fraction of the total have evidence showing they have no remedial value. Even if ineffective ‘natural’ remedies were a minority of the total, it’d be a substantial amount of money.

Seeing earthquake waves. I reported on this Canterbury earthquake tweet:

@RunDogRun
Out walking dogs at Gov bay for that last one. Saw black shadows streaking across the mudflats. Imagined millions of startled crabs.

It reminded me of looking up and seeing the force from the Boxing Day (2010) aftershock ripple from west to east ripping out the western ends of all the strip lights (fluorescent tube lights) in the store I was in.

Footnotes

[1]

a. Before anyone points it out, there are moose and there elk; it’s a word usage issue that differs in different parts of the world. To confuse matters further, there is also Wapiti… If you want to debate this, go right ahead – just don’t expect me to care much! (I suggest you read the comments in the article I linked to first – it’ll save you some time…)

b. Some on-line accounts about drunk animals strike me as needing a little skeptical verification.

c. I’ve two minds about adding this, but if you’re into heavy-drinking parties and you think drunk animals look stupid – so do you. Last night taking a (sober) couple home, I had some morons–hard to describe them any other way–try hitch a ride by extending arms with raised thumbs and stepping out on the road in front of the car. Fortunately for their sakes I was well on top events and was aware that the lane to the left was empty and that I could rapidly move to the left…

[2]

a. Cynics might write: value (sic) for at least some of the products.

b. Note that’s natural health products, which you’d think covers more than just ‘natural’ health remedies.


4 Responses to “Talking points: endless genomes and microbes, natural products industry, drunk animals, earthquake waves”

  • Grant says, “I’ve no idea what specific fraction of these remedies have no substantive evidence backing their remedial use, or what fraction of the total have evidence showing they have no remedial value. Even if ineffective ‘natural’ remedies were a minority of the total, it’d be a substantial amount of money.”

    And yet, Grant, you offer such an authoritative voice. Even Professor Sir Peter Gluckman acknowledged the benefits of NHPs at the Health Select Committee this past week… he supported the legislation before the committee… did not oppose it at all.

    Grant, ask yourself this question. How much would the economy benefit if all useless pharmaceutical drugs were not funded by the State?

    Grant, the sciblogs website states, “The website is for scientists who want to reach out to a general audience to explain their science and how it relates to society. Some Sciblog contributors spend most of their time in the lab or buried in research. Others are authors or entrepreneurs. All of them know what they are talking about and have an interest in engaging in discussion on the big science-related issues facing society.”

    http://sciblogs.co.nz/about/

    It’s ironic that many of the bloggers are self-claimed skeptics who, as you have acknowledged above, write about things they have not much knowledge of… ie, sciblog itself is selling a product based on false claims.

    Stick to your knitting, please.

    For what it’s worth, the Natural Health Products Bill defines NHPs as natural or nature identical (their synthetic equivalent.)

  • Ron,

    I think you’ve made it clear to everyone that your real interest in writing on sciblogs is to harass people. Spare us the childish nonsense, eh?

    This was very noticeable in your previous comments on my blog, too; where you cut’n’pasted a passage from another’s blog and tried to hassle me rather than ask the author. When I pointed out that if you were interested in the subject to take your questions to the person who wrote them you didn’t.

    the sciblogs website states,

    This doesn’t say posts/articles have to suit you. If they don’t suit you, read something else. There’s only the whole internet out there.

    For what it’s worth, […]

    This doesn’t address the distinction I made. Read footnote 2b carefully, noting the words emphasised there. My distinction was between products in general and remedies.

  • and my point was that you are doing what you claim to be opposed to… make claims and statements that have no basis… even the fact that you quoted an anecdotal media report highlights reporting false evidence… I am aware of 12 companies alone who market 5,300 products between them… my guess is that there are upward of 20,000 products… many would not be remedies… remedies fix things… a multivitamin is not [usually] a remedy… just a food supplement… there is no doubt… you don’t have to think about it… remedies are a subset of products…

  • Ron, don’t make excuses. Throwing inane accusations at people doesn’t make them right.

    “and my point was” – to hassle me. Your comment set up a straw man and pointedly refers to me throughout.

    “many would not be remedies… remedies are a subset of products” – Please at least try read what people have written before replying. I wrote that products would cover more than remedies.

    No more of this, please.

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