Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Infuriating Edition

This week, I've got a collection of links that make me rant-y. I promise not to rant too much... and since it is the weekend and we all want to be in a good mood, I'll end with two videos that made me laugh, courtesy of Mr. Snarky.

First, antibiotic use in farm animals is on the rise. This is the food issue that make me most angry. While we're busy fretting about a hypothetical risk from GMO food, we have a catastrophe waiting to happen in antibiotic resistant food borne illnesses. Gah. (This issue is the sole reason I buy mostly organic meat, milk, and eggs- because those are usually also antibiotic-free.)

Next, the attitude Seth Godin quotes in this post is frustrating, and the fact that it came from someone who helps to run a community college is sad.

I still had this in the back of my head when I came across Tressiemcphd's post about for profit colleges. She writes from both her perspective as a graduate student in sociology and her personal experience work as in admissions at a for profit college. That post wasn't infuriating so much as thought-provoking. I have hired people with degrees from for profit colleges in the past, and I've hired people with undergraduate degrees and PhDs from top institutions. It is true that these two groups of people are not usually in competition for the same jobs, but it is also true that in my experience, a for profit degree provides fine preparation for an entry level computer support position, and I know people whose degree is from a place like University of Phoenix who have gone on to have highly paid careers in computer administration.

But it is also true that I will steer my own children to traditional colleges. I think those give a better, broader foundation to prepare someone for the twists and turns most career paths take these days.

So my opinions on this are muddled, and it was really interesting to read Tressiemc's post. 

Back to the purely infuriating... Avivah Wittenberg Cox's post about gender attitudes/expectations in Generation Y argues against the "all we have to do to get gender equality is wait" idea. This quote, in particular, rang true:

"But for today's young men, it's a whole different story. They have been to female-dominated universities. They have had girls out-performing them in schools their entire lives (the OECD Pisa studies show girls outperforming boys at almost every grade level, in almost every country). They have a deep understanding of the potential competition they face every day from the ladies. If they find that today's male dominated corporate cultures give them a competitive edge, I think it is wishful thinking to assume they will be big promoters of balance. They will, like most ambitious men before them, be big promoters of themselves."

(Emphasis is mine.)

My final infuriating links are the demonstration of the double standard for male and female business leaders that had me ranting recently: can you imagine the stories we'd have read if Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg talked about parenting the way that Elon Musk did? And why has no one written any articles or posts pillorying Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly as anti-woman?

Double gah.

So let's end with some fun things Mr. Snarky has found.

First, this is an excellent rapid fire debunking of many commonly held beliefs:

And this ventriloquist act had me laughing out loud:

Happy weekend, folks!


  1. Anonymous9:11 AM

    Totally agreed on all points. *sigh*

  2. I had an aha moment when I saw this research paper:
    Tetracycline Resistance in the Subsurface of a Poultry Farm: Influence of Poultry Wastes

    * You, Y (, Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University and a whole bunch of other people, including her PhD advisor.

    To read more about this paper and how I discovered that it wasn't chicken that was causing my allergic rashes, but the tetracycline in the chicken:

  3. I want to tell you that there's really no difference in antibiotic content of animal products that are certified organic or that are not.

    Antibiotic residues are regulated and tested in the US. This is one of the many awesome government functions that I think people just don't know about. Actually if you are interested or concerned, anyone can learn from the USDA website about antibiotic residue violations; I've been a subscriber to their digest for years, and I will tell you that the vast majority of violations (not that there are many; there are few) are in the kidney of veal calves.

    Another thing to consider is that organic certification of food and food-producing animals really means that if that animal gets sick, the animal cannot be treated with appropriate medication for the illness. Thus, organic certification presents a major problem for anyone concerned about animal welfare. This includes most farmers, so they will often solve the problem by maintaining two herds, one organic and one not. Any animal that needs treatment can then have it, and be transferred into the non-certified group. There are two downsides; one is that because organic feed and husbandry is expensive, there is a financial incentive to delay treatment (which, again, is a welfare concern). The other is that this model doesn't actually result in the decreased use of antibiotics for treatment of disease.

    If your real concern is the use of antibiotics for growth promotion, that is possibly (but not certainly) another story. Some animals are routinely fed antibiotics where no disease is present, in order to achieve production gains. A big problem in public perception is that many antibiotics used this way have no relationship at all to antibiotics used in treatment of human disease. Another problem is that there are European nations (Belgium, I think? as well as possibly others) that outlawed the use of antibiotics in livestock production for any reason other than treatment of disease. They did this long enough ago that we have started to be able to do outcome analysis, and pretty surprisingly they did not see any decrease in the growth of antibiotic resistance in that region. (I can find links to some of those papers, or at least citations, if anyone is interested.)

    Here is a fact: we do not understand very much about antibiotic resistance other than that it is happening. We do not have a good understanding of risk factors, let alone causes; we also do not have many good ideas about interventions that might help.

    One very simple thing that would probably help is restricting the use of antibiotics to "by prescription from an MD or DVM only" - but not only do I not have any evidence that that would actually help, there is weirdly no public or legislative will to make that happen. (Do people even know that you can go down to your local farm store and buy antibiotics off the shelf?)


    Buying organic animal products is probably not helping anything, I'm really sorry to have to tell you. Also, there are not antibiotic residues in your non-certified-organic food either.

    1. My concern is that it is unbelievably stupid to feed antibiotics to ANY creature- animal or human- that does not need them. This breeds antibiotic resistant microorganisms. We know that exposing microbial populations to antibiotics increases resistance because (1) we observe it in the lab and (2) that is how evolution works. Antibiotics are a selective pressure.

      The country you are trying to think of is Denmark. Here is a quote from a recent address on the topic by Dr. Margaret Chan, who is the director general of WHO:

      "In fact, Danish government and industry data showed that livestock and poultry production actually increased following the ban, while antibiotic resistance on farms and in meat declined."

      (Here's the whole address:

      Here is a paper from the Purdue Extension (which I'd expect to be biased towards antibiotic use, if anything) which shows a decrease in antibiotic resistance in animals in Denmark since the ban on non-treatment use of antibiotics:

      Perhaps you are thinking of the fact that they don't see a decrease in antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans? That doesn't surprise me, since I suspect the main cause of that is overuse of antibiotics BY humans.

      However, since bacteria can exchange resistance factors relatively easily, I think it is good to try to reduce antibiotic resistance bacteria in all animals (including humans).

      If an animal is sick, give it antibiotics. If it is not sick, do not. End of story, in my book.

      Feel free to come back and leave links to peer-reviewed journal articles that dispute this.

      I personally do not care about antibiotic residue in my foods, but since some antibiotics are known allergens, I can see how some individuals would care about that.

    2. Oh, and I buy non-organic when I have reason to believe the farms are using good practices- i.e., only using antibiotics when animals are sick. I can get chicken like that easily. Only way for me to get beef like that I have found is from a local farm, and I rarely have time to do that.

      I would absolutely be behind a law that outlaws non-medicinal use of antibiotics in animals. But as you say, there is no public pressure for that, so I buy organic as my next best option.


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