Dragon*Con Schedule Tweak

Thanks to the eagle-eyed Rick Stringer for pointing out that my Emerging Infectious Horrors panel has been moved up from 8:30pm to 7:00pm tomorrow evening, since the last version of the schedule that I was given.

In other news, we have arrived at Dragon*Con, and things are already a bit on the “glorious chaos” side, despite the fact that the con… actually doesn’t start until tomorrow. Suffice it to say that many people have been seen and hung out with, and already there are some I have somehow missed and/or not gotten back to. That’s only going to get worse as the weekend moves on, sad to say.

Also, J.C. frequently “steps out for a Siggy (maybe he meant a ciggy?), and finishes by grinding the butt.” Really, I am in no position to judge.

Dragon*Con 2008 Schedule

First, it must be noted that Playing for Keeps hit #16 overall in books on Amazon yesterday. Congratulations Mur!

Dragon*Con is almost upon us. This year, I have the pleasure of being a guest on the science track, as well as participating in podcasting track events. If you happen to find yourself at this absolute zoo of a con, please feel free to stop by and say hello. If you are in the area, and not planning on being at the con, then seriously – it’s a zoo. Stop by and feed the animals. And say hello! Events I am involved with include:

  • Science Based Medicine: Spotting the Quacks, Charlatans & Those Elixer of Life Salesmen – Physicians save lives and they learn to do so by many years of training in a variety of sciences. Hear how to tell the difference between which Doctor and/or medicine is real and which Witch Doctor will take your money – and maybe your life! Friday, 5:30pm, Henry (Hilton)
  • Emerging Infectious Horrors! – What new viral apocalypse or creeping deaths are keeping the CDC busy while we are partying at Dragon*Con? Come hear the latest about infectious horrors, both old and new, and what’s being done about them. Friday, 8:30pm, Henry (Hilton)
  • Aliens You Will Meet Puppet Show, Live! – It will be made of felt, fur, and awesome. (Obviously, not the description stolen from the program.) Saturday, 5:30pm, Rockdale (Hilton)
  • The Third Annual Parsec Awards – Join us for the Third Annual Parsec Awards hosted by some your favorite podcasters. The Parsec Award is available for Sci-fi & Fantasy Original Content, Speculative Fiction and a variety of other categories dealing with the new frontiers of Portable Media. Saturday, 7:00pm, Regency V (Hyatt)
  • A Bloody, Burning, Painful Death . . . Is Coming for You! – Viral hemorrhagic fevers are among the most horrible infections to die from. What different kinds are there? What makes them so nasty? And, I’ve got nothing to worry about here in the USA… right? RIGHT?  ***** GRAPHIC PICTURES, NOT FOR CHILDREN ***** Sunday, 5:30pm, Henry (Hilton)
  • Strange but True Scientific Research: Inspired by the IgNobel Prizes & the Annals of Improbable Research – Elephants on acid?  Glow in the dark kittens?  Fainting goats?  Hamsters on Viagra?!  The world of scientific research includes many strange and fascinating phenomena.  Come and be amused and perhaps a bit enlightened about what the strangest areas of research have to teach us. Sunday, 7:00pm, Henry (Hilton)

There will be a con report, I promise. (You will ignore the previously absent con reports. Yes, you will.)

Playing for Keeps On-Sale Tomorrow

Playing for Keeps, Mur Lafferty‘s brilliant debut novel that sets the entire superhero genre on its ear, goes on sale tomorrow on Amazon. Go buy it then. It may cure your maladies, purify your genes, or give you honest-to-goodness superpowers. Or, failing that, it’s an excellent book and an imperatively entertaining and thought-provoking read.

There’s also an amazing amount of free Playing for Keeps related content that Mur has made available, as a run-up to the book’s release:

  • Still uncertain if the novel is a worthy purchase? (Oh, it is!) The full book, including all of the comic book-style covers from it’s initial podcast run, as well as an all-new short story, are available as a free pdf download.
  • The Playing for Keeps music video that I discussed previously has been released. Sadly, Mur did not recieve enough entrants to spur her to dance for the camera, but plenty of people did send in clips… including me. You just know you want to see me, uh, dance, or something…
  • Last and most certainly not least, Mur revived the Stories of the Third Wave fan podcast, which can be found on the Playing for Keeps website and feed, and has been putting out content for the last several weeks. Episodes include imaginings of what different radio shows might sound like during the daily commute in Seventh City, as well as original fiction set in the Playing for Keeps universe from J. C. Hutchins and Matt Wallace, and the Seventh City version of existing podcasts. Mur generously invited me to contribute, and I decided to riff on NPR’s Faith Matters program and explore how the existance of heroes in the world of Playing for Keeps might impact on exisiting religious faith, and perhaps create new belief systems entirely. I’m pleased with the result, and invite you to check out that episode as well as all the amazing content that has been contributed.

Playing for Keeps. Be a Hero of the 25th, and buy it tomorrow. YES.

EPIC Finger of Shame – Merck

Work has been brilliantly busy of late, more so than usual, which has kept me off-grid far more than I’d like. One of the main culprits has been the Evidence-Based Medicine rotation I run several times a year for my residents, which is both a highlight of my job and inconveniently-timed with the start of Dragon*Con. 🙂

A conveniently-timed article, however, hit this last week with the start of the course, and is worth mention. In the August 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, The ADVANTAGE Seeding Trial: A Review of Internal Documents was published. The authors were consultants to the attorneys representing plaintiffs in two lawsuits brought against Merck pertaining to its product Vioxx. What they found from access to Merck’s internal correspondence during the trial sheds some documented light on drug company practice when it comes to scientific studies, and serves as a reminder to examine such studies with a thorough and skeptical eye.

By way of background, Vioxx was a medication that was marketed in the US from 1999 to 2004, and primarily used for the treatment of osteoarthritis and acute pain syndromes. It was of a class of medications called COX-2 inhibitors, similar to common NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naprosyn, but designed to have less stomach irritation as a side effect. Vioxx was pulled from the market by Merck in 2004 due to evidence of increased risk of cardiac events and stroke in patients taking it on a long-term basis. Much controversy focusing on the integrity of study publication in major journals, the FDA approval of medications, and pharmaceutical company marketing practices resulted.

The Annals trial from last week examines an aspect of the case that hasn’t yet been documented in detail – the concept of a seeding trial, and whether one of Merck’s studies of Vioxx was of this type. A seeding trial is a study that isn’t intended to actually result in meaningful scientific information, but instead is to increase the exposure of a new medication among physicians participating in the trial, with the hope that these physicians will then preferentially prescribe said medication and boost sales. While often suspected, this type of study is difficult to prove without access to a pharmaceutical company’s internal materials, as the trial itself is outwardly marketed as having scientific merit.

In this case, the ADVANTAGE (Assessment of Differences between Vioxx and Naproxen To Ascertain Gastrointestinal tolerability and Effectiveness) trial was created by Merck to ostensibly show that Vioxx had less stomach irritation than naprosyn. At the time of it’s publication in 2003, there were several aspects noted that made the true intent of the study dubious – it was conducted at the same time as the FDA was approving the medicine in 1999; it involved 600 investigators, many of whom had no experience in clinical trials; it had a relatively short duration of only 12 weeks; it was being published four years after it was completed, implying that the scientific results of the study were not important for immediate publication; and the same outcome was already being looked at in another Merck study, the VIGOR trial, which was much larger and more “definitive.” Said another way, it looked like the ADVANTAGE trial was not being done to seek FDA approval (which was already in process at that point) or to investigate a certain side effect (that was the role of the VIGOR trial), but instead was getting many potential prescibers “hands-on” experience and positive exposure to the medication at the time it was coming on to the market.

What did last week’s Annals publication show? Internal Merck correspondence demonstrated that the study was designed by the marketing department (not the research and development department) for a marketing purpose, with the intent to boost familiarity with Vioxx among potential prescribers, and as a result, sales. Essentially, this is confirmation that ADVANTAGE was a seeding trial, not designed to generate meaningful science, and that this true purpose of the study was not disclosed to investigators or institutional review boards involved (for obvious reasons). ’nuff said.

Merck, at you I point the EPIC Finger of Shame.

Drug companies are not all evil, and not all pharmaceutical-funded studies are deceptive. That said, the primary goal of the drug industry is to do profitible business as opposed to engage in pure science, but this does not absolve them in any way from their responsibility to do so with the utmost ethics, especially as their products have such a potential for health… and harm. Studies funded by pharmaceutical companies deserve extra scrutiny in terms of their data, conclusions, and context.

2008 Hugo Award Winners

It would be remiss of me not to point out that the 2008 Hugo Awards were given out this past weekend at Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention. Here the results, from the official site:

  • Novel: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)
  • Novella: “All Seated on the Ground” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
  • Novelette: “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press; F&SF Sept. 2007)
  • Short Story: “Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s June 2007)
  • Non-fiction Book: Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)
  • Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Stardust Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Charles Vess Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)
  • Semiprozine: Locus, edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi

While I will admit to great joy at the winners of some categories, and some disappointment at the winner of at least one other (don’t ask, because I’m not telling 😉 ), a hearty congratulations is extended to all for the recognition.

More linkage:

  • The final list of nominees in each category can be found here, and the the final tally of the breakdown of voting is here. The nominee page contains links to where all of the Novella, Novelette, and Short Story finalists can be read freely online.
  • Also, continuing what is now a Official Tradition, many of the nominated short stories, including four of the five final nominees, are available in free audio format in recent episodes of Escape Pod.
  • Finally, John Scalzi gives his irreverent take on his Hugo win and Hugo loss here, and io9 serves up a Hugo recap with pictures here.

Get Into Double Trouble Tomorrow

…in which I will point to how Brave Men Run did on its Amazon release day, and tell you of “Double Trouble” tomorrow.

Matthew posted his two part recap, here and here, of how Brave Men Run did on Amazon on it’s release date. Bottom line: it hit #53 in “Books” overall for the day, and #3 in the “Action & Adventure” category, which was a great showing. For interesting comments and analysis, as well as the video archive of the video web-a-thon from that day, hit the above recap links. Speaking of book releases…

Double Trouble 8/8/08Tomorrow is the culmination of “Double Trouble,” the co-promotion by authors Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris of their latest novels from publisher Dragon Moon Press. Digital Magic is the followup to Pip’s acclaimed debut novel Chasing the Bard, and Billibub Baddings and The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant is the sequel to what, for my money, is Tee’s best work to date – the previous Billibub Baddings adventure, The Case of the Singing Sword. Full details on the novels and the promotion (including podcast, pdf, and art content) can be found here. Both books feature fantastic stories with a twist, and I look forward to snagging a copy of each tomorrow for myself. Be sure to check it out!

Rounds For The Week

  • We had a brilliant time celebrating birthdays this past weekend with the Children of the 25th, the Child of the 19th, and associated family and friends – as recounted here and here.
  • Laura is currently spending a week in Barcelona for the International Space University Summer Session Program, only this time, as a lecturer. How cool is that?
  • Upon returning from the birthday festivities, we arrived home to discover our cable out. This has been a more frequent occurrence of late, and is invariably due to an “area” outage, instead of something particular to our house or account. As we both rely on the cablewebs at home to get our respective work done, and when the connection goes down, its more than just a mere inconvenience. As I am want to do, I expressed my feelings on this latest Comcast debacle via a rant on Twitter. What was interesting was that I was then contacted by someone on Twitter who is, apparently, a Comcast service representative, who offered assistance. This recent Slashdot thread points out other reports that Comcast is proactively trying to reach out to disgruntled customers through blogs and Twitter, perhaps as a way to improve it’s dismal service reputation. I chose not to follow up with said rep, as I was working with the local support people, but service wasn’t restored to our area until two days later. Sorry, Comcast – helpful customer service overtures do not make up for multiple frequent area outages and a reduced channel selection that supposedly, as per your notification letter, somehow “enhances my viewing experience.” Verizon recently installed FiOS hook-ups on our street, and I think we’ll be giving that a spin in the near future.
  • There is a seekrit project I am working on for the weekend. I’d tell you, but… it wouldn’t be so seekrit, now, would it?
  • Despite their advancing age, there are con recaps aplenty that will be gracing this space soon, and more content in the near future.
  • Dragon*Con is looming on the horizon. There will be much more to say on this.