Scientist becomes science

May 31, 2007

The man who helped discover the molecular structure of DNA has become the first person to receive his own personal genome map. It apparently shows that James Watson, 79, has variances that are cancer-inducing.

While the procedure cost E750,000, the price will probably plummet to about E750 in the fullness of time. This may still sound pricey, but seeing as it could show what illness you are predisposed — thus allowing you to anticipate and potentially catch such conditions early — it may be worth every cent.

No indication on when it’ll become a common part of healthcare, but definitely something to keep an eye on.


Holy crap

May 31, 2007

Dell’s quarterly earnings topped expectations but the company still plans to shed about 8,200 jobs — or 10% of its workforce.

Net income fell slightly but revenue was up E400 million. The company’s been slipping in recent years and has lost market share to Hewlett-Packard. But 10% of the labour force? They say desperate times call for desperate measures, but I didn’t think Michael Dell felt things were so bad. That said, the share price has shot up, so I guess I can’t really fault his business acumen…

Anthology of a slain journalist

May 31, 2007

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has helped launch a collection of articles by Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead outside her home last year.

A fierce critic of corruption and abuses within Russia, she died in an apparent contract killing last October. Politkovskaya was special correspondent for independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which has produced the 980-page book.

At the launch, Gorbachev, who is co-owner of the newspaper, joined her colleagues and family in urging the crime be solved. The IHT quotes him as saying the case was especially important because much of Russian society thinks that law enforcement officials were involved in her killing.

Gorbachev held a copy of the book and suggested that while her writing was painful for some to read – it often accused government officials, soldiers and police officers of crimes – it was ultimately helpful to the Russian state. “It is bitter,” he said. “But it is a medicine.”

Kremlin officials boycotted the event, although they were invited to speak. The launch was not covered by any official news services.


May 31, 2007

A man described as one of the world’s most prolific spammers has been arrested. He’s apparently one of the 10 worst offenders in the world, and has been charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, e-mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

From stricken Darfur, a good news story

May 30, 2007

Every week Awatef Ahmed Isaac produces a newspaper documenting the life of Al-Fasher, capital of North Darfur. It’s handwritten and pinned to the same tree every time.

Awatef’s work is inspired by her late elder sister, who dreamed of publishing a newspaper for her town. Al-Raheel (The Journey) contains stories of the two million people who have been displaced by the Darfur conflict. But Awatef wants to build on her experience — her ambition is to produce a daily paper to campaign against poor public services and other such issues.

She came to international attention when The Washington Post ran an article about her earlier this year, but Mohamed Hasni of Agence France Presse has checked in with her. Since the Post’s article, she has been inundated with support and her journal is now available in English and Arabic at

Conflict of interests

May 29, 2007

The Virginian-Pilot has an interesting biog-piece on Marcus Ross, who holds a doctorate in geosciences yet is also a creationist. I like how the spark for his internal debate was the fact he liked dinosaurs while being raised a Christian fundamentalist. His 197-page thesis was described by his supervisor as “impeccable”, yet Ross doesn’t believe a word of it.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

May 29, 2007

China has sentenced the former head of its food and drug safety agency to death. He had pleaded guilty to corruption and accepting bribes.

According to Xinhua, Zheng Xiaoyu, aged 62, was accused of taking about E630,000 in bribes in exchange for approving drug-production licences. The court said the sentence was appropriate given the “huge amount of bribes involved and the great damage inflicted on the country and the public by Zheng’s dereliction of duty”.

However, the International Herald Tribune quite rightly points out that this impending execution comes amid outcry over China’s food safety. Earlier this year, two Chinese firms were accused of shipping contaminated pet food ingredients to the US, leading to the deaths of animals across the country and subsequently a massive recall.

Meanwhile, a chemical used to make antifreeze made it into cough medicine and toothpaste exported to Central America. More than 100 people died last year in Panama after taking cough medicine containing diethylene glycol, which left China marked “glycerin”. Last week, the same ingredient was found in toothpaste in Panama, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

That China has a shoddy record when it comes to food and drug safety is putting it mildly. Counterfeit medication is rampant and mass food poisonings are common. However, I can’t shake the feeling that Zheng is taking the heat for a wider problem in the nation. His actions — if indeed he did what he has been accused of — have led to the suffering of many and the deaths of some from sub-standard medicine.

But I have to ask you: does Zheng’s punishment fit his crime?