The feds have busted 12 shady STD treatment companies—and the Better Business Bureau might be collateral damage
The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission joined forces Tuesday to threaten 12 companies with legal action over the manufacture and sale of products that purport to treat sexually transmitted diseases. The FDA's webpage alone, complete with the video STD Treatments That Don't Work, will prove a devastating assault to most of these businesses. Though it lacks the authority to carry out an IRS-style raid, the FDA has been using its legal department's fearsome prose to bust bad drugs sold as supplements for decades now, and in the past few years we've seen the agency ramp up these efforts as online commerce has driven the problem to epidemic proportions.
So while I expect a steady drumbeat of deadbeat drug bashing, I was instead far more interested to discover a prominent consumer rights nonprofit linked to the mess. The Better Business Bureau lent its considerable credibility to one of the companies the Feds are slamming for endangering the country's public health. What's more, the BBB followed its normal practices and policies in doing so, the organization told me yesterday.
The BBB's involvement became apparent once I decided to take a closer look at the assortment of crappy capsules the Feds are putting on notice. I zeroed in on Medavir, produced by a central-Florida based outfit called The Arenson Group (a.k.a. TAG Health). The internet is littered with TAG's websites selling Medavir under various names. While scrolling along you'll see the usual unsubstantiated claims and endorsements from unnamed physicians that one would expect from shady operators. "Over 90% of outbreaks do not occur when you apply Medavir at first signs of outbreak," one site says. Stop the presses! For your information, that compares to about an 50 to 60 percent chance of future genital herpes outbreaks while on FDA-approved medical treatment (versus a blistering 80 to 90 percent rate without treatment) according to a 2007 meta-analysis of available trial data.
The Arenson Group preys on ashamed kids and unsophisticated adults. Your sexual partner, your doctor, and the public health department need never know!
So how's the the BBB mixed up in this? Take a look at this screen shot from one of the Medavir sites:
As shown in the above screenshot, Medavir prominently displays its BBB Accredited Business logo in the upper left hand corner of its website. Unlike the sprinkling of other certifications and logos on the site that turn out to be illegitimate, BBB's is the real deal. Until earlier today when the organization heard from me and took down their rating, consumers could click on that link to see its A+ rating from the BBB:
The BBB accredited The Arenson Group in January 2009 "based on information provided by the company and our own research," says Holly Salmons, Vice President of BBB of Central Florida.
The bottom line? The BBB is pleased to accredit questionable pill purveyors when they market their mixtures as supplements. Because The Arenson Group's website included the statement "none of these statements have been fully evaluated by the FDA" at the time they applied for accreditation (it still does), the BBB was satisfied to welcome them into its brotherhood of legitimate American businesses. In fact, Ms. Salmons says that while as of Wednesday she has frozen Arenson's status in "update" mode, the BBB will suspend or restore their accreditation only pending their response to the FDA's demands.
Arenson could potentially satisfy federal regulators by removing all medical claims from its websites and packaging and marketing Medavir in some vague manner unconnected to treating herpes sufferers. That would leave little text on their sites indeed. I find it difficult to imagine what a website attempting to sell Medavir without claiming that it treats herpes would look like (what in the world is a "herpes supplement"?), and I'd love to see the original materials the BBB reviewed in 2009.
Once BBB approved Medavir's membership, the company wasn't slated for another review for three years, giving plenty of time for its claims to become progressively more egregious without any oversight. But lack of such frequent review doesn't seem to be the crux of the problem in my own analysis. BBB protests to me that Medavir's January 2009 materials fit classification as a supplement and did not overstep bounds into FDA-regulated territory. After reviewing versions of Medavir.com from January 2009 and the oldest available version from June 2008 over at the Internet Archive, I don't buy their version of events. Take a look back, and make your own call.
The Arenson Group showed off its A+ BBB rating to its vulnerable lot of prospective consumers as an implied seal of approval. This use, even for a health care product, is routine in BBB practice. "Accredited Businesses are permitted to report their rating as long as it is accurate at all times," BBB VP Salmons tells me. Arenson had just two complaints over three years, she says, which is a low complaint volume. Another BBB policy helps explain why Medavir might have so few complaints. BBB only accepts complaints that come with real names and documentation.
People searching out genital herpes cures from the privacy of their own homes are obviously reluctant or unable to do so in the care of actual medical professionals out there in the real world. These consumers must have found some reassurance in BBB's A+ rating, which is why the Medavir site advertised it high above the fold. Medavir had a perfectly marginalized population base from which to draw its A+ record: folks too anxiety-ridden to speak up once they realized they'd been scammed; STD sufferers who didn't think admitting they have herpes to a third party was worth it when that third party took the Hippocratic Oath certainly aren't going to confide their private secrets to the BBB.
The characters behind Medavir made BBB into a Bogus Balms Bureau. To get out of this fix, BBB needs to eject itself from the field of lending credibility to unregulated drug makers entirely. This means excluding health "supplements." It's hard enough for physicians and the FDA to weigh evidence about these agents. BBB ratings are bestowed by an organization with no possible claim to competence in mediating between patients and providers in the unique health care marketplace, as the policies that led to this case prove. Moreover, BBB ratings add nothing of value to any consumer considering what pills to take for an illness. Continuing to offer accreditation to firms like The Arenson Group (aka Medavir Medical Advances) of Windmere, Florida, whether or not they barely skirt FDA enforcement does a disservice to BBB's own heritage.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
The inequality at the heart of America’s education system
HARTFORD, Conn.—This is one of the wealthiest states in the union. But thousands of children here attend schools that are among the worst in the country. While students in higher-income towns such as Greenwich and Darien have easy access to guidance counselors, school psychologists, personal laptops, and up-to-date textbooks, those in high-poverty areas like Bridgeport and New Britain don’t. Such districts tend to have more students in need of extra help, and yet they have fewer guidance counselors, tutors, and psychologists, lower-paid teachers, more dilapidated facilities and bigger class sizes than wealthier districts, according to an ongoing lawsuit. Greenwich spends $6,000 more per pupil per year than Bridgeport does, according to the State Department of Education.
If Hillary Clinton beats Donald Trump, her party will have set a record in American politics.
If Donald Trump can’t erase Hillary Clinton’s lead in the presidential race, the Republican Party will cross an ominous milestone—and confront some agonizing choices. Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the six presidential elections since 1992. (In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College and the White House to George W. Bush.) If Clinton maintains her consistent advantage in national and swing-state polls through Election Day, that means Democrats will have won the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential campaigns.
Since the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson that historians consider the birth of the modern two-party system, no party has ever won the presidential popular vote six times over seven elections. Even the nation’s most successful political figures have fallen short of that standard.
City dwellers spend nearly every moment of every day awash in Wi-Fi signals. Homes, streets, businesses, and office buildings are constantly blasting wireless signals every which way for the benefit of nearby phones, tablets, laptops, wearables, and other connected paraphernalia.
When those devices connect to a router, they send requests for information—a weather forecast, the latest sports scores, a news article—and, in turn, receive that data, all over the air. As it communicates with the devices, the router is also gathering information about how its signals are traveling through the air, and whether they’re being disrupted by obstacles or interference. With that data, the router can make small adjustments to communicate more reliably with the devices it’s connected to.
Do mission-driven organizations with tight budgets have any choice but to demand long, unpaid hours of their staffs?
Earlier this year, at the encouragement of President Obama, the Department of Labor finalized the most significant update to the federal rules on overtime in decades. The new rules will more than double the salary threshold for guaranteed overtime pay, from about $23,000 to $47,476. Once the rules go into effect this December, millions of employees who make less than that will be guaranteed overtime pay under the law when they work more than 40 hours a week.
Unsurprisingly, some business lobbies and conservatives disparaged the rule as unduly burdensome. But pushback also came from what might have been an unexpected source: a progressive nonprofit called the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “Doubling the minimum salary to $47,476 is especially unrealistic for non-profit, cause-oriented organizations,” U.S. PIRG said in a statement. “[T]o cover higher staffing costs forced upon us under the rule, we will be forced to hire fewer staff and limit the hours those staff can work—all while the well-funded special interests that we're up against will simply spend more.”
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The global education pioneer eases students into the classroom.
Heading into my first year of teaching in Helsinki I felt pretty nervous. One of my graduate-school professors—a former Massachusetts Teacher of the Year—had warned me that Finnish students were academically advanced, especially in math. Indeed, Finland’s students had excelled on international standardized tests like the PISA for more than a decade. But it wasn’t just those high-performing Finnish students that intimidated me. Their teachers did, too.
If I had chosen to pursue master’s-level training as an elementary-school teacher in Finland (instead of the United States), I would have applied to the small handful of teacher-training universities, where annual acceptance rates hover around 10 percent. These programs are so selective, claimed The Atlantic journalist Amanda Ripley in her book, The Smartest Kids in the World, they’re “on the order of MIT.” Furthermore, Finland’s classroom teacher-training programs require five years of coursework, practicum, and thesis writing. The Finnish version made my two-year master’s degree in elementary education, through a non-selective college in the Boston area, look quite humble.
A study in mice looks at the risks of vaginal infection.
It was just last month that the first case of a woman spreading Zika sexually to her male partner was documented, and around the same time that a study found the virus in a woman’s cervical mucus 11 days after infection. Before that, most of the talk about sexual transmission of the normally mosquito-borne virus focused on semen, where Zika can survive for a long time. (A recent report puts it at up to six months.)
But it’s starting to look like the vagina is very hospitable to Zika as well. Which is alarming, given the severity of the birth defects Zika can cause. So far there are only case studies in humans, but a new study in mice found that the female reproductive tract is “a highly susceptible site of ZIKV replication.”
No one will ever find a closer exoplanet—now the race is on to see if there is life on its surface.
One hundred and one years ago this October, a Scottish astronomer named Robert Innes pointed a camera at a grouping of stars near the Southern Cross, the defining feature of the night skies above his adopted Johannesburg. He was looking for a small companion to Alpha Centauri, our closest neighboring star system.
Hunched over glass photographic plates, Innes teased out a signal. Across five years of images, a small, faint star moved, wiggling on the sky. It shifted just as much as Alpha Centauri, suggesting its fate was intertwined with that binary system. But this small star was closer to the sun than Alpha. Innes suggested calling it Proxima Centauri, using the Latin word for “nearest.”
The dim red star soon entered the collective imagination, inspiring dreams of interstellar travel. Gravity has linked the star to the Alpha Centauri system, but our culture of science and storytelling has linked it to the solar system. Today, that link will grow stronger, when an international team of astronomers announces that this nearest of stars also hosts the closest exoplanet, one that might look a whole lot like Earth.
A recent scholarly paper on “microaggressions” uses them to chart the ascendance of a new moral code in American life.
Last fall at Oberlin College, a talk held as part of Latino Heritage Month was scheduled on the same evening that intramural soccer games were held. As a result, soccer players communicated by email about their respective plans. “Hey, that talk looks pretty great,” a white student wrote to a Hispanic student, “but on the off chance you aren’t going or would rather play futbol instead the club team wants to go!!”
Unbeknownst to the white student, the Hispanic student was offended by the email. And her response signals the rise of a new moral culture America.
When conflicts occur, sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning observe in an insightful new scholarly paper, aggrieved parties can respond in any number of ways. In honor cultures like the Old West or the street gangs of West Side Story, they might engage in a duel or physical fight. In dignity cultures, like the ones that prevailed in Western countries during the 19th and 20th Centuries, “insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery,” they write. “When intolerable conflicts do arise, dignity cultures prescribe direct but non-violent actions.”