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Academic thievery and a labelling win for Big Food

Academic thievery and a labelling win for Big Food

In this week’s edition of Second Opinion, scenes from a science crime, a food label win for industry, and the curious odour of human urine after eating asparagus.

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How many ways can you say ‘sugar’?

Did you know there are 152 ways to say “sugar” on a food label? That includes mysterious ingredients like potato syrup solids, agave and isomaltulose — all names for different types of sugar in processed food.

Under new food label rules announced this week, Health Canada says that all sweetening ingredients will be grouped together under the heading “sugar.”

Liberal Caucus 20160514

Minister of Health Jane Philpott announced new rules for food labels in Canada this week. The food industry has until 2021 to make the changes. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Big Food won’t have to disclose how much extra sugar they’re adding to processed food, even though consumers, health professionals and even the provinces and territories all wanted a separate category on the label for “added sugar.”

The food industry argued against it. And it won.

It’s part of a series of label changes intended to prompt healthier food choices and save an estimated $ 275 million a year in the economic cost of disease. But there’s no apparent urgency, even with so many health benefits at stake. Health Canada has delayed the label change until the year 2021, to give the food industry time to use up the old labels and save money.

‘Dear Plagiarist’: A researcher confronts his academic thief

“An egregious case of scientific misconduct.”

“Deeply disturbing.”

“Heinous intellectual theft.”

Dr. Michael Dansinger

Dr. Michael Dansinger wrote a letter to the scientist who stole his research. (Tufts Medical Centre)

Those were just a few of the characterizations used by Dr. Christine Lane, the editor in chief of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, in a scathing editorial published this week. In it, she explains the horror of discovering that a peer reviewer had ripped off research that had been submitted to the journal, and then published it under his own name in another journal.

The original research was led by Dr. Michael Dansinger, a well-known weight loss expert and a nutrition doctor on the TV show The Biggest Loser. His own letter to the academic thief was also published this week, under the headline Dear Plagiarist: A Letter to a Peer Reviewer Who Stole and Published Our Manuscript as His Own. It’s a deeply personal account of the 4,000 hours of work that went into the research and what it meant to have it stolen.

You can listen to our conversation with Dansinger about his decision to go public here (runs 5:26).

Deadly gap: Canada’s First Nations people have lower cancer survival rates

Researchers have discovered an alarming gap in health care after comparing results from four separate databases, including the long-form census. They found that Canadians from First Nations communities had a lower rate of survival in 14 different cancer types, including breast, colon, and lung cancer. And that poorer survival rate persisted even when the researchers adjusted for low income and remote geography. Kas Roussy spoke with one of the study’s authors, who said the findings are disturbing.

Also this week, CBC’s Peter Mansbridge sat down with Canada’s first female Indigenous surgeon, Dr. Nadine Caron. She talks about how she got her start in medicine, and how she feels the medical system is failing Canada’s Indigenous people.

Canada’s dark scientific secret: academic misconduct

report in the high-profile journal Science this week shines an uncomfortable light on Canada by raising questions about how we handle academic misconduct. It criticizes UBC for not disclosing the case of a prominent cancer researcher who was found to have falsified and fabricated data.

UBC Sex Complaints 20151124

UBC didn’t publicly release a report showing one of its researchers committed acts of academic misconduct. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The watchdog blog Retraction Watch got its hands on internal UBC documents confirming “29 instances of scholarly misconduct” by the offending scientist. But Science says UBC never made the results of that investigation public or named the researcher in question. It points out that Canadian policy doesn’t require universities or governmental funders to disclose the information — and institutions often keep the misconduct secret, citing privacy concerns.

The problem? Disgraced scientists get to continue researching and receiving funding from unwitting sponsors. Science says the scientist in question continues researching in private, and none of the 12 published papers identified as containing the tainted research has been retracted (and that means the tainted research remains part of the scientific literature).

Free science initiative gets a multimillion-dollar gift

Last week we told you about a bold Canadian experiment in Open Science at the Montreal Neurological Institute where scientists are giving their research away free to anyone in the world who wants to use it — no strings attached. On Friday researchers at the Neuro were given a $ 20-million gift from philanthropist billionaire Leonard Tannenbaum, who wants to support their decision to stop patenting the discoveries they make in treating Parkinson’s disease, gliomas and other brain diseases.

Do you smell that?

The last time you ate asparagus, did you notice your pee had a funny smell afterward? That’s the question a group of scientists were discussing over a dinner of — you guessed it — asparagus, when they realized some of them smelled the unusual odour, while others didn’t. So they decided to turn their attention to one of science’s great puzzles, and their results appear in a paper cleverly titled Sniffing out significant “Pee values,” in this week’s lighthearted Christmas issue of BMJ.

Roasted Asparagus Salad - Preparing to roast

A new study in BMJ examines how some people can detect a funny smell in their urine after they eat asparagus, while others cannot. (Rebecca Siegel/Flickr)

They looked at data previously collected from nearly 7,000 men and women, and found that three in five didn’t report malodorous urine after eating asparagus. They then compared the genetic makeup of those asparagus anosmic (the technical term) individuals, and were able to determine more than 800 genetic variations associated with the inability to smell asparagus metabolites in urine in several of the genes responsible for the sense of smell. The research supports the idea that asparagus anosmia is caused by genetic variations in our smell receptors.

The CBC’s Carol Off spoke with one of the study’s authors for CBC Radio’s As It HappensYou can read the transcript or listen to the interview here.

We recommend …

Here are a few other stories we found interesting this week:

  • The Sugar Wars | The Atlantic
  • The fentanyl crisis is so deadly in Canada that even funeral directors need the antidote | The Washington Post
  • Clinical trial tragedy:  A father tells how immunotherapy killed his son | STAT

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