Fight AIDS with your PC

You may have heard of SETI@home, a distributed computing project that allowed people over the world to let their computer use its spare processing cycles to help analyse radio signals from deep space in the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Now there’s a similar project that’s working on something a bit more practical: finding a treatment for HIV/AIDS.

It’s very easy to download and install and does research into genes and an illness that is killing millions around the world.

Download it from here
(Currently Windows and Linux only. No plans for the Mac have been mentioned.)

Once you’re set up you can click this link:

and join the Matazone team so we can see how we’re doing together!

More info here.

Go drugs, go!

‘Give me a D! Give me an R! Give me a U!’ Err…

Possibly one of the most amusing things I’ve read in the New York Times for quite a while:

On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynaecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infection.

Apparently cheerleaders are being recruited to be drugs sales representatives. No, that’s not ‘reprezentin’ da streets posse’ or something like that, the cheerleaders are going around to (predominantly male) doctors to encourage them to stock particular brands of pharmaceuticals. I presume that they aren’t asked to do this in their previous uniform, but from the sound of things the doctors may get to see it as a side benefit if they place a large enough order.

You’ve got to admire the optimism of this person though:

Dr. Carli, who notes that even male drug representatives are athletic and handsome, predicts that the drug industry, whose image has suffered from safety problems and aggressive marketing tactics, will soon come to realize that “the days of this sexual marketing are really quite limited.”

Yes, I think that marketing things with sex is definitely getting old, it’ll never last. In ten years everything will be sold by ugly people in dirty rags, that’s the future of marketing! … Or perhaps not.

“The cheerleaders now are the top people in universities; these are really capable and high-profile people,” said Gregory C. Webb, who is also a principal in a company that runs cheerleading camps and employs former cheerleaders.

So there’s no conflict of interests there. Call me crazy if you like, but I fail to see why a cheerleader would logically be in ‘the top people in universities’. I see no reason why physical health, a strong relationship with attractive individuals, and standardised beauty would not mean that you are intelligent enough to be among the top people, and these things do suggest that in our aesthetic world they will probably do well, but they are also people who have to train very hard and so generally will have less time to dedicate to their studies, making them less likely to be academically successful. There is also the possibility that they have survived on performed charm, so they may be academically weaker than other students. These things apparently don’t matter for a person whose job is to convince doctors of the benefits of drug choices. Are you feeling worried yet?

Speaking of conflict of interests:

“Obviously, people hired for the work have to be extroverts, a good conversationalist, a pleasant person to talk to; but that has nothing to do with looks, it’s the personality,” said Lamberto Andreotti, the president of worldwide pharmaceuticals for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Ah, so the people defending this are all coincidentally involved in drug sales? Spooky. It sounds like doctors are getting some very wrong messages too:

One informal survey, conducted by a urologist in Pittsburgh, Dr. James J. McCague, found that 12 of 13 medical saleswomen said they had been sexually harassed by physicians.

And in a final twist of feminism, here’s Novartis:

But there have been accusations that a pharmaceutical company encouraged using sex to make drug sales. In a federal lawsuit against Novartis, one saleswoman said she had been encouraged to exploit a personal relationship with a doctor to increase sales in her Montgomery, Ala., territory. In court papers responding to the lawsuit, Novartis denied the accusation. The company has also said it is committed to hiring and promoting women.

Shouldn’t that be ‘the company has also said it is committed to hiring and promoting sexy women’?

This is all a logical extension of capitalism in a health system. You make a product, then to sell the product you package it in an appealing way. When you are selling drugs the boxes are never going to be sexy (and will often be the complete opposite) so instead you get human packaging. I’m more than a little troubled by the way that these people, attractive men are in this profession too, are being turned into an extension of a commercial product. It’s not quite prostitution but these companies are pimping out people because of their bodies and looks, it’s just that the sexual acts are not strictly encouraged as dessert. How long before lap-dancers are being recruited too?

I’m sure that there are many women like Ms. Napier, the former Kentucky cheerleader:

she was so concerned about the cute-but-dumb stereotype when she got her job that she worked diligently to learn about her product, Prevacid.

I also don’t doubt that there are many others that survive simply on their looks. There was legislation proposed to make sure that drugs salespeople had a degree in the sciences, but this was rejected. I can see why, how many scientists study so that they can go into sales? Despite this logical reason, it has allowed an unsavoury practise to continue.

Unspeak: something a little bit academic?

Steven Poole, author of Trigger Happy (a very enjoyable book about computer games US link UK link), is working on a new book called ‘Unspeak’. The word is apparently a trademark, but with a bit of luck he won’t sue me…

Anyway, it’s all about ‘decoding the unspoken assumptions in public debate’. What this means is that he’s taking statements from public figures and interpreting them into plain English. This, a common satirical tool, has been done before but he does it very nicely on the fine line between humour and agression. Definitely worth a look if you like something a bit more thoughful on the web.

US link UK link

Here’s the official blurb about it:

Unspeak is language as a weapon. Every day, we are bombarded with those apparently simple words or phrases that actually conceal darker meanings. ‘Climate change’ is less threatening than ‘Global Warming’; we say ethnic cleansing when we mean mass murder. As we absorb and repeat Unspeak we are accepting the messages that politicians, businessmen and military agencies wish us to believe. Operation Iraqi Freedom did more than put a positive spin on the American war with Iraq; it gave the invasion such a likeable phrase that the American news networks quickly adopted it as their tagline for reporting on the war. By repackaging the language we use to describe international affairs or domestic politics, Unspeak tries to make controversial issues unspeakable and, therefore, unquestionable. In this astounding book, Steven Poole traces the globalizing wave of modern Unspeak from culture wars to the culture of war and reveals how everyday words are changing the way we think.

‘Sounds interesting. Although I don’t think ‘unspeak’ did turn up in Orwell’s 1984 it certainly wouldn’t have been out on place in there.