Young and fearless

We were driving home from Florida – to escape the Canadian winter for a week – and back then we’d do the 24 hours with four kids in one shot in early 1996, and this song came on an American radio station.

I thought it was awesome.

Then I said, is that Sloan?

We didn’t have Google or phone tethering back then, so just argued, as you do.

This youthful enthusiasm encapsulates everything I miss about universities and why I hate  the smothering bureaucracy they have become.

Over 100 ill with noro at USC

Norovirus kind of sucks, unless you are a virologist. The perfect human pathogen (a term coined by my NoroCORE colleague and all-around good guy, Aron Hall) is shed at a crazy high rate of virus particles per gram of vomit or feces and sticks around in the environment for a long time. So outbreaks tend to persist and hit college campuses where lots of people live and eat together.

Like USC, where, according to LAist, a lot of students are sick.la-sp-usc-recruiting-update-20141021

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has confirmed that they are currently investigating a norovirus outbreak at the University of Southern California. A representative from the Department of Public Health told LAist that 103 cases have been reported since October 26, which is when the university reached out to the department about the situation. 

The university has asked students to remain home from classes or social events until they’ve been symptom free for at least 24 hours, according to a post on the USC Engemann Student Health Center website. This isn’t the first time the student body has been struck down by the virus—in 2008 hundreds of cases were reported in 2008, and there were a number of outbreaks around the L.A. area last year, as well.

Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I had a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Health about some research we conducted in the Winter of 2006. The study came about because a whole bunch of kids in the University of Guelph’s residence system started puking from an apparent norovirus outbreak. There were lots of handwashing signs up and we wanted to know whether they changed hygiene behavior (especially if kids were using the tools available when entering the cafeteria). Turns out that students weren’t doing as good of a job at hand hygiene as they reported to us.

The Men Who Stare at Goats: University of Alberta edition

According to wiki, which is always right, The Men Who Stare at Goats is a book by Jon Ronson concerning the U.S. Army‘s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The title refers to attempts to kill goats by staring at them. The book is companion to a three-part TV series broadcast in Britain on Channel 4 — Crazy Rulers of the World (2004) — the first episode of which is also entitled “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. The same title was used a third time for a loose feature film adaptation in 2009.

spoon-bendingHallucinogenic drug use to make more aggressive soldiers in Vietnam was much more plausible – see Jacob’s Ladder.

Yet the intersect of science and the silly continues.

Universities are supposed to lead, not accommodate.

My buddy Tim Caufield, an academic lawyer who has found fame as the author of Is Gwenyth Paltrow Wrong About Everything (we served together on a biotech advisory committee for the Canadian government back in the day) was the first to call out his own academic institution for promoting bullshit.

According to CBC, after a healthy dose of online ridicule, the University of Alberta has cancelled a workshop at which doctors were supposed to learn to bend spoons.

With their minds.

When Tim Caulfield first spotted a poster for the event, he didn’t understand what he was seeing.

“When I first saw the post I thought it might be a magic show,” said the professor of health law and science policy at U of A. “But this wasn’t being presented as that, or as satire, it was being presented as a real event where you’re supposed to use the power of your mind to bend spoons.”

The seminar, titled simply “Spoon Bending and the Power of the Mind,” was arranged by the university’s Complementary and Alternative Research and Education program or CARE, as part of the Pediatric Integrative Medicine Rounds, a series of monthly seminars presenting a specialist in the field of integrative medicine to a clinical audience. 

goat.startingWhen Caulfield heard about event, he immediately tweeted about it causing many on social media to ridicule the workshop and the university.

It was to be taught by Anastasia Kutt, an Edmonton “energy healer” who specializes in reiki, a form of therapy in which the practitioner is believed to channel energy into the patient in order to encourage healing. 

On her website, Kutt said she “has been studying [and] experiencing techniques such as yoga, meditation, and other energy healing techniques for over 10 years.”

Her website explains energy healing as “removing issues and stress from your energetic field, to bring it into balance and its original state of good health.”

She has taught similar seminars on spoon bending, also described as PK bending — psychokinesis bending.

Kutt is also a research assistant in the CARE program and co-ordinates the education arm of the program.

The poster boasts that at the end of the day, 75 per cent of the doctors, with guidance from Kutt, would be able to bend spoons solely with their minds. 

It’s a notion that Caulfield, along with many others online, scoffed at.

“Spoon bending is kind of ironic because it’s been debunked so often,” said Caulfield.

“There is absolutely no physical way you can bend a spoon with your mind. That’s why it’s so frustrating that it’s being presented in this legitimate way at a science-based institution.” 

tim.caufieldThe event poster featured the disclaimer that states, “This workshop is experiential and is meant to spark interest. This will not be a scientific evaluation of the process.”

The University of Alberta released a statement saying the workshop had “been withdrawn by the presenters.”

For Caulfield, the issue is that programs like CARE lend legitimacy to these sorts of ideas, something he doesn’t believe an institute of higher learning should do.

“That’s my sort of umbrella concern with this,” Caulfield said. “Is these kind of programs legitimize the pseudo-science. The problem is, it always sort of slides into the embrace of pseudo-science.

“It’s always presented in a legitimate fashion. You don’t have that critical component to it, you’re working arm in arm with energy healers, reiki experts and homoeopathy practitioners.” 

He said he’s not sure what exact role the University of Alberta played in the organization, but it doesn’t matter anyway. The poster featured the university’s logo, which links the event directly to the institution. 

“It really does seem like they are part of academia and that, to me, is problematic.”

The program echoes of the now disbanded and disgraced University of Toronto Sick Kids’ MotherRisk program.

They’re the brilliant folks who said it was OK for moms-to-be to eat deli meats and soft cheeses as long as they came from reputable sources, in the wake of the Maple Leaf Listeria outbreak that killed 23 in Canada.

Is a $5.5 billion-a-year company reputable?

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown identifies norovirus outbreak, takes steps to limit virus exposure

A few years ago fellow graduate student Brae Surgeoner had a fun idea to collect behavior data in the midst of an outbreak. The University of Guelph was dealing with a bunch of illnesses that seemed to be linked to residence halls and the symptoms looked like norovirus. The local health folks worked with the universities housing group and placed alcohol-based sanitizer at the entrance to one of the cafeterias (which was thought to be ground zero). Looking back, the hand sanitizer step wasn’t the greatest public health intervention (not with commercially available products), but what we wanted to know was whether students heeded the warnings and advice. student-cafeteria-02

By using ethnography, we found that only 17 per cent of the observed students followed the hand hygiene recommendations, but self-reported surveys of the same population showed that 83 per cent of students said that they had been following the guidance (we published the results in the Journal of Environmental Health, abstract below).

Health officials often put up posters and signs and rely on self-reporting to determine whether interventions are effective. People may say they are washing their hands more, but our study showed that the behavior and reports don’t always match up.

Faced with a bunch of students ill with norovirus, the decision-makers running the show at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, according to Global Dispatch, made a good disease management call by canceling all events and closing the cafeteria to limit virus transfer.

Several University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown students have reported an illness–with the symptoms of  fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and general abdominal discomfort, to campus Health Services during the past 48 hours prompting the university to cancel all in-door social events for the weekend. In addition, the decision has been made to suspend cafeteria services at all dining facilities on campus. Instead, prepackaged meals will be available in the Student Union for pick-up.

In an effort to respond to students who feel that they need medical attention, the Office of Health and Counseling will be open on both Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

University Students’ Hand Hygiene Practice During a Gastrointestinal Outbreak in Residence: What They Say They DO and What They Actually Do

Journal of Environmental Health, 72(2):24-28

Brae V. Surgeoner, M.S., Benjamin J. Chapman, Ph.D., Douglas A. Powell, Ph.D.

Abstract

Published research on outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness has focused primarily on the results of epidemiological and clinical data collected postoutbreak; little research has been done on actual preventative practices during an outbreak. In this study, the authors observed student compliance with hand hygiene recommendations at the height of a suspected norovirus outbreak in a university residence in Ontario, Canada. Data on observed practices was compared to postoutbreak self-report surveys administered to students to examine their beliefs and perceptions about hand hygiene. Observed compliance with prescribed hand hygiene recommendations occurred 17.4% of the time. Despite knowledge of hand hygiene protocols and low compliance, 83.0% of students indicated that they practiced correct hand hygiene during the outbreak. To proactively prepare for future outbreaks, a current and thorough crisis communications and management strategy, targeted at a university student audience and supplemented with proper hand washing tools, should be enacted by residence administration.

Ivy league hit with illness

The Ivy League. Home of desired educational importance, home of so much food safety incompetence.

In May 2010, Haaaaaaavard managed to sicken over 300 people at its faculty club, with 14 belushi.animal.housestaffers working while ill (see Heston Blumenthal).

Now, there are several outbreaks of norovirus at higher education institutions on the East Coast.

Brown University, in the rarefied air of Rhode Island, reports at least 19 students sick.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is reporting an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis on campus, and at least nine individuals have come down with symptoms of foodborne illness apparently linked to the Ivy Club at Princeton.

In January and February of 2013, 115 students came down with gastroenteritis at Princeton. The year before, 275 students came down with gastroenteritis, the largest outbreak at the university recorded in the past decade.

University smart ain’t street smart. And we all eat.

Is college still worth it?

My two eldest daughters graduated university with $30,000 in debt, each. For Canada, with its exclusively public system, that’s a lot.

backtoschool-01I only became aware of this about five months ago.

But it dovetails with my observations and own experiences of the intransigence of the university system.

When it makes The Daily Show, which most American university kids go to for news, even though it’s a fake news show, it’s not just me going on about something.

The system is broken.

 

Food porn, NY Times college cafeteria edition; blowing rhetorical chunks

Why do people no longer read newspapers? Because despite flashes of brilliance, the quality control just isn’t there anymore with all the slashed budgets and too few people.

The New York Times today published a blog entitled, That cafeteria cheese steak might be antibiotic-free, a supposed reflection on college admissions by some mom, Caren Osten Gerszberg.

Antibiotic-free is a bogus claim.

Last month, Gerszberg apparently spent the day at the University of Pennsylvania with her daughter, and her “ ears immediately perked up when our tour guide mentioned the school’s new, sustainable-minded, organic-leaning dining service provider. …

On the Penn Web site, (new provider) Bon Appétit’s food is described as follows: “made from scratch; purchasing practices are seasonal, local and sustainable; meat and dairy antibiotic free, rGBH free milk, featuring cage free eggs; unique menus per cafe; vegetarian, vegan & international options; following Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines.” Without being able to comment on taste at this point, it definitely sounds like a much better direction along nutritional lines — and is so unlike my days of college dining.”

Those claims have little or nothing to do with nutrition. And absolutely nothing to do with microbial food safety – the things that make students barf every week at some campus across America.