Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Downsizing of Big Pharma: Brain-Drain or Blessing?

“As Big Pharma downsizes, a major loss of brain power."

The above Philadelphia Inquirer article follows several women in the pharmaceutical industry who have been laid off in the past months. The women are part of a trend that has seen thousands of pharmaceutical researchers, developers, marketers, and other employees losing jobs. The reason for the down-size is that many so-called “blockbuster drugs”-- high-earning drugs that treat common problems-- are now coming off their patents, meaning that any company (not just Merck or Pfizer) can develop generic versions of these drugs for cheaper. This equates to a substantial loss of revenue for the big players in the industry, who had gleaned most of their profit from these drugs. It also means big changes for industry-led research, which will now likely focus on developing so-called “niche” drugs that treat less common conditions.

While the content is informative, I find the tone and scope of this piece deeply unsettling.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reflections on the TFA/Penn Summer Bridge Course aka Notes on Education

Yesterday, I finished up my duties as Teacher Assistant for the Penn Graduate School of Education Summer Bridge Course for incoming 2011 Teach for America corps members.  The course is designed to be a week-long intensive introduction to the academic work corps members will engage in over the following two years at Penn GSE. Focusing on issues of pedagogical theory, it tends to be quite different from TFA's summer institute (teacher boot camp, for those non-familiar), which is more of a practical “how-to” on teaching in the classroom.

Throughout the week, we (the facilitators and TAs) demonstrated creative methods and strategies for teaching, but, more importantly, encouraged a critical discourse around issues of testing, grading, creativity within the classroom, the importance of multiple perspectives, race and racial tensions, privilege, and inquiry-based learning. We asked the tough questions. Who are we as teachers? Who are our students? How will we form the trusting relationships and community that will allow true learning to flourish? The new corps members really pushed themselves to answer these and more. At times the conversation was frustrating, as it must be when discussing the myriad of challenges that face urban teachers and students, but it ultimately forged deeper understanding and renewed commitment to exact social change within our schools.

In my opinion, we created a really positive, productive, and powerful (sorry for the alliteration; I'm an English teacher) learning community in our week together. I am left believing that the 2011 TFA Greater Philadelphia Corps is going to do great things.

With that, here were some of the take-aways from the week that deserve note:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dead meat? A Government Cover-up Story...

For those who know me, I am hardly the crunchy-granola-vegan-environmentalist-hippie-type. However, this  eye-opening exposé from Tom Philpott, food politics expert, has me thinking very hard about the detrimental effects of the industrial food system on public health. In sum, Philpott reports the cover-up of a USDA-contracted report on the problem of antibiotic resistance and its relation to the gratuitous use of antibiotics on factory animal farms.

Before delving into that subject, Philpott relates some essential background information on the nature of antibiotic use in industrial-scale meat production:

You see, keeping animals alive and growing fast under cramped, unsanitary conditions is tricky business. One of the industry's tried-and-true tactics is low-level, daily doses of antibiotics. The practice helps keep infections down, at least in the short term, and, for reasons no one really understands, it pushes animals to fatten to slaughter weight faster.

Animals raised to slaughter on large-scale farms (the very same that end up on your hamburger buns and in your frying pans) are fed a healthy dose of antibiotics as part of the daily routine. In fact, Philpott reports, over eighty percent of antibiotic use-- some 29 million pounds--- is used by the meat industry.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why It's Important to Be an Ugly Middle School Kid

"Hundreds of preteen children treated for eating disorders"
I read the article above today, which left me extremely sad, although less shocked than I care to admit. Eating disorders numbers are up among girls, ages five to thirteen, according to a British report by The Telegraph. Data from over 35 hospitals in England reveals that over 2,100 patients under the age of 16 have been treated for eating disorders, although sources acknowledge that this is a gross underestimate of both hospital admittances and the overall extent of the problem.