The board of Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, agreed to acquire a rival, Wyeth, for $68 billion, the companies announced Monday. 
This is huge news in  pharma.  Pfizer is already the biggest player  out there, and this will consolidate their position, and diversify their product line.  Like all pharma companies, Pfizer has a laundry list of patent expiries coming up in the next five years, with not much coming the R&D pipeline.

[via: NYT]





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The Quebec education reform has been the source of much strife, and spilled ink.  Poor planning and poor execution have hampered what might have  been a bold and forward-looking enterprise.  Mario Dumont has called for a return to the old ways of teaching and learning, saying that children don't know anything anymore, and that boys are disfavoured under the current system.  As a scientist and educator, I for one am excited to see if the new curriculum makes science more approachable to students. 

There is a fundamental, self-defeating flaw in the way that science has been taught until recently.  The traditional method focuses on content; having students memorize facts and formulas.  As the accumulated knowledge of humanity grows exponentially, this failure of this method becomes apparent.  In order to keep up with the new knowledge, more and more material must be crammed into the available time.  For a practicing scientist, the accumulation of knowledge is secondary.  The most important skills in practicing science are critical thinking, the ability to synthesize concepts and being able to analyze evidence.   Science is not a collection of facts.  That's what encyclopedias are for.  Science is a way of looking at the world, of being able to evaluate ideas based on the evidence presented.      Most scientific journals have their archives and current issues online -  I remember the thrill of reading the first issue of Journal of the American Chemical Society, published  in 1879 and now available online - which means that essentially all of the collective knowledge of human kind is instantly accessible and searchable.  Anywhere.  Anytime. Even on my phone.

Most scientists know lots of stuff.  I can recite most of the elements in the Periodic Table by heart, but I never sat down and memorized it.  I know it because it is useful for me in my everyday life as a teacher and chemist. This accumulation of facts is not what inspires scientists.  Scientists are motivated by awe and wonder, by wanting to know more about the majestic universe which we inhabit.  In my opinion, teaching students the fundamentals of the scientific method and critical thinking are far more important than any collection of facts. Obviously students need to be taught some content.  They must acquire the basic technical vocabulary of science before they can learn anything else. However, the reality of pre-university science education is that the vast majority of students will not pursue an education in the pure sciences, and will quickly forget what they have learned.  Physicist Eric Mazur at Harvard has shown that students who are taught science in the classical method of focusing on content have very poor retention, meaning that six months after they have learned something they are most likely to have forgotten it.  In contrast, this same research has shown that focusing on concepts dramatically improves retention and increases student enjoyment of learning.

From my vantage point, it appears that students who enjoy learning about science persevere in spite of the way they are taught, not because of it. The old way of learning science may have worked for teaching a intellectual and economic elite, but the modern student body requires modern methods.  

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The Quebec education reform has been the source of much strife, and spilled ink.  Poor planning and poor execution have hampered what might have  been a bold and forward-looking enterprise.  Mario Dumont has called for a return to the old ways of teaching and learning, saying that children don't know anything anymore, and that boys are disfavoured under the current system.  As a scientist and educator, I for one am excited to see if the new curriculum makes science more approachable to students. 

There is a fundamental, self-defeating flaw in the way that science has been taught until recently.  The traditional method focuses on content; having students memorize facts and formulas.  As the accumulated knowledge of humanity grows exponentially, this failure of this method becomes apparent.  In order to keep up with the new knowledge, more and more material must be crammed into the available time.  For a practicing scientist, the accumulation of knowledge is secondary.  The most important skills in practicing science are critical thinking, the ability to synthesize concepts and being able to analyze evidence.   Science is not a collection of facts.  That's what encyclopedias are for.  Science is a way of looking at the world, of being able to evaluate ideas based on the evidence presented.      Most scientific journals have their archives and current issues online -  I remember the thrill of reading the first issue of Journal of the American Chemical Society, published  in 1879 and now available online - which means that essentially all of the collective knowledge of human kind is instantly accessible and searchable.  Anywhere.  Anytime. Even on my phone.

Most scientists know lots of stuff.  I can recite most of the elements in the Periodic Table by heart, but I never sat down and memorized it.  I know it because it is useful for me in my everyday life as a teacher and chemist. This accumulation of facts is not what inspires scientists.  Scientists are motivated by awe and wonder, by wanting to know more about the majestic universe which we inhabit.  In my opinion, teaching students the fundamentals of the scientific method and critical thinking are far more important than any collection of facts. Obviously students need to be taught some content.  They must acquire the basic technical vocabulary of science before they can learn anything else. However, the reality of pre-university science education is that the vast majority of students will not pursue an education in the pure sciences, and will quickly forget what they have learned.  Physicist Eric Mazur at Harvard has shown that students who are taught science in the classical method of focusing on content have very poor retention, meaning that six months after they have learned something they are most likely to have forgotten it.  In contrast, this same research has shown that focusing on concepts dramatically improves retention and increases student enjoyment of learning.

From my vantage point, it appears that students who enjoy learning about science persevere in spite of the way they are taught, not because of it. The old way of learning science may have worked for teaching a intellectual and economic elite, but the modern student body requires modern methods.      




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Science Daily Researchers from Université Laval's Faculty of Medicine have discovered that a compound commonly used in many antiwrinkle products causes a pathological reaction in skin cells. Guillaume Morissette, Lucie Germain, and François Marceau present their conclusions about the mode of action of this substance--called DMAE--in the latest edition of the British Journal of Dermatology







Compared to normal skin cells (above), cells in a DMAE solution show a dramatic swelling of the vacuoles (center). This swelling increases even more in higher DMAE concentrations (below). (Credit: Université Laval)



Read More :: Science Daily

The details continue to be scarce about the origins of the contamination in Menu Foods products.  However, the fact that melamine is the toxin has been confirmed.  Melamine is used in the preparation of various plastics, fertilizers and pesticides.



In addition aminopterin has also been found



While neither of these would normally bew considered problematic, it appears that the levels found in the food are abnormally high, resulting in the formation of crystals that have been isolated from the urinary tract of effected animals. The details of the mechanism of toxicity are still being analyzed, but acute liver failure has been the primary symptom.





This electron microscope image shows crystals of the type found in the urinary tracts of cats affected by recently discovered pet food contaminants. (Credit: Courtesy of University of Guelph)





Read more :: ScienceDaily





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Concern about what is fed to animals, and the impacts on human health continue to grow. 



Most recently, the use of arsenic derivatives in chicken feed has come into question, because the relatively harmless 4-hydroxy-3-nitrobenzenearsonic acid  (shown below) is converted to the carcinogenic As(III) and As(V) by bacteria in the animal's digestive system.







Read the article via ::Chemical & Engineering News







Normally I avoid too much personal stuff on this page since, frankly, I'm not sure that anybody else is interested in the minute goings-on in my life. Today is an exception.

With the PhilosopherMom rapidly approaching week 30 of the pregnancy (and me still going to the lab nights and weekends) we decided to go for a 3D ultrasound. This is baby #2, and possibly our last, so we thought it would be fun. Here in the Union of Canadian Socialist Provinces, the government picks up the tab for health care, which is great. But it means that some stuff takes its time before becoming mainstream. Like 3D ultrasounds. I'm not sure how often I'll watch the DVD once the kid is born, it's fun for now, and certainly worth the money.


Not so long ago I posted an item about the correlation between reduced SIDS risk and pacifier use. Someone (an expectant parent) posted a comment asking what the big deal about pacifiers was. As the parent of a child who simply refused to take one, let me tell you:

Imagine a whiny, cranky, even screaming infant in a car seat (or anywhere). In goes pacifier. Count to 3. Baby is asleep. That's the big deal with pacifiers. Every time I see a kid take one and drift off, or even just calm down, I want to puke with jealousy. Those things are like heroine.

BTW I just joined the very cool Daddaily site. My username is (gasp) philosopherdad. Look me up.
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