Saturday, September 13, 2014

Life is a Terminal Disease! Or “NOTHING IN LIFE IS SAFE”!

Life is a Terminal Disease! Or “NOTHING IN LIFE IS SAFE”! To live today is a risky deal. If a superbug won't get you, the bird flu or Ebola will! You eat some food and before you know it foodborne illness makes you throw up! You go to hospital and soon you reel in a bed full of Clostridium difficile! And if you go out of doors a mosquito will give you the virus from West Nile! You leave the hospital and you think you are O.K. only to find that you acquired MRSA! For some companionship you make a spiel only to find that now you got HIV and now if the TB won't get you the terrorists will! No matter how clever your bullshit is, only one thing is certain, life is a sexually transmitted, always terminal disease! And we are all together on death row on this disaster-prone globe from the moment we start to breath because even the air we breath is full of shit!

Monday, June 3, 2013


When/where bullshit gets in the way of the important the important will never get done because leaders come and leaders go but their bullshit just keeps rolling on and on .......

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Bullshit Factor .... book review

The Bullshit Factor – The Truth About Corporate Disguises, Lies & Denial by James Bellini and Kati St. Clair, 2006, Artesian Publishing LLP ( . Almost without fail, every morning when I open my local news paper, I find example articles that demonstrate amply the operation of ‘The Bullshit Factor’ in organizations ranging from industry, government, nongovernmental organizations or even educational institutions. It is therefore difficult to understand why it is so difficult to do justice to this book in a review – perhaps it is yet another example of how uncomfortable most of us feel when confronted by truth. Back in 1974 I read Graham Cleverley’s book entitled Managers and Magic. The only thing wrong with that book is that it should have been titled ‘Managers and Bullshit’ as it describes management as a bunch of tribal rituals. Similarly the only thing wrong with ‘The Bullshit Factor – The Truth About Corporate Disguises, Lies and Denial’ is that ‘Corporate’ should be replaced with ‘Organizational’ . What sets these two books apart from other books on management is that they refuse to obey the concept of mokita which apparently is a New Guinean word meaning “the truth everyone knows but no one speaks” (see Culbert, Samuel A. 2008, Beyond Bullsh*t – Straight-Talk at Work, Stanford U. Press, Stanford, Ca. page 126). While most books of this genre describe management and leadership as positive qualities, in ‘The Bullshit Factor’ Bellini and St. Clair focus on the dark side (see Conger, Jay A. The dark Side of Leadership). “Sometimes the dark side of leadership eclipses the bright side – to the detriment of both the leader and the organization.” Above all, this book is a wake-up call to most readers that we get old so soon and smart too late – while most courses and publications on leadership use the word without a qualifier as if leadership is a synonym for ‘godliness’, Bellini and St. Clair use many actual case studies to focus on the dark side of leadership and leadership greed. The authors stress that ‘The Bullshit Factor’ is not a theory of management but a means of understanding the risks associated with a dysfunctional corporate psyche.” Perhaps the book can best be summarized by the observation that when an organization becomes preoccupied and believes its own bullshit that organization becomes unfit for survival. So if you have ever, and who has not, worked for an organization that is dysfunctional and resembles a rat-runner colony, you owe it to yourself to read or better yet buy a copy of this truly fascinating book which goes a long way of describing the psychopathic behavior of so many organizations and explains why so many organizations fly high for relatively short periods of time and then crash as they start to believe their own organizational bullshit! About the author: Before his retirement from Health Canada, G.W. (Bill) Riedel, PhD., MCIC, was Chief, Program Development and Evaluation Division, in Health Canada’s Field Operations Directorate. Now his interests are focused on blogging, writing and presenting on his favorite topics: The academics of bullshit, food (un)safety and phage therapy. In 2009 he combined two of these interests at a MENSA meeting presentation entitled: Phage Therapy and Bullshit: Choosing to let patients with superbug infections die rather than phage them - getting beyond the bullshit! DISCLAIMER: This information was produced as a public good. It is the opinion of the author based on extensive experience and study of published literature and is considered a valid interpretation of that literature; however, readers are encouraged to study the references and additional literature to form their own opinion. This information may be referenced, used or quoted with or without giving credit to the author. It may be distributed, copied or stored by any means. Readers and users are responsible for any outcomes from any use of this information.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Phage therapy - a secret we ignore at our peril

G.W. (Bill) Riedel, PhD, MCIC

If I suggested that a cure for the cholera outbreak in Haiti could be found in the same rivers thought to be responsible for the outbreak in the first place, most people would consider me crazy; however, 1896 the British bacteriologist, Ernest Hankin reported on the presence of marked antibacterial activity (against Vibrio cholerae) which he observed in the waters of the Ganges and Jumna rivers in India, and he suggested that an unidentified substance (which passed through fine porcelain filters and was heat labile) was responsible for this phenomenon and for limiting the spread of cholera epidemics. Several other scientists made similar observations; however, in 1917 the French-Canadian microbiologist, Felix D’Herelle, working at the Pasteur Institute, realized that the antibacterial activity was due to viruses which he named bacteriophages (phages for short) and he soon experimented with the possibility of using phages to cure and prevent bacterial infections. He subsequently worked all over the world, including Russia, Tbilisi, Georgia, where his efforts survive to this day in the form of the Phage Therapy Center ( ) that treats patients from all over the world.

Bacteriophages are viruses which are parasitic to bacteria and cannot multiply without infecting specific bacterial hosts. Each phage can only infect a specific bacterial host as it has to be able to link with special surface structures of the bacterial cell and once attached the phage injects its DNA into the bacterial host causing the infected bacterium to produce 50 to 200 daughter phages in as little as 30 minutes. Lytic phages then disrupt the bacterial cell, killing it and each daughter phage then looks for a new bacterium to infect and kill.

Prior to the discovery of the electron microscope in 1940 it was not possible to see bacteriophages and early phage biology depended on the observation that the addition of phages to broth cultures in which bacteria had grown resulted in clearing of the turbid broth and death of bacteria. When phages were added to solid media on which bacteria had grown clear zones (plaques) could be seen. Generally speaking, phage biology was not well understood and results from phage therapy treatments tended to be variable. Additionally antibiotics appeared and interest in phage therapy in the West ceased until antibiotic-resistance and superbugs resulted in renewed research in the West. It is interesting that many reviews dwell excessively on early work on phage therapy, rather than focusing on current knowledge. For individuals interested in the history of phage therapy the book by Thomas Haeusler entitled, Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? published in 2006 is recommended as an informative and more positive read on the history of phage therapy ( see ).

A more timely and productive approach to scientific information on phage therapy can be found in two review articles published this year:

• Monk et al. 2010 Bacteriophage applications: where are we now? Letters in Applied Microbiology, 51, 363-369.
• Kutter et al. 2010 Phage therapy in clinical practice: Treatment of human infections, Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, 11, 69-86.

Some readers of these two references may be surprised at the breadth of application of phages in the control of bacteria, ranging from prevention and cure of bacterial infections in humans and animals, to preventing foodborne disease, to disinfecting hospitals and food processing equipment, to controlling bacterial rot of tomatoes and peppers (Some authors use phage therapy for control of bacterial infections in humans and animals and refer to the other applications as biocontrol). The remainder of this article will describe some of these applications and try to indicate their regulatory status where applicable.

The first question every presenter on phage therapy is asked is: If I had an infection where antibiotics are failing is there any place where I can be treated with phages right now? There are two countries where treatment with pages is routinely available in Europe and they are Georgia ( ) and Poland ( ) ( Russia probably also uses phage therapy but much less information is available). More recently the Wound Care Center in Lubbock, Texas has used phage therapy as can be seen in the article entitled, The Next Phage, Popular Science, March 31, 2009 ( ).

The regulatory approaches in Georgia and Poland towards phage therapy are significantly different. As can be seen in the Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures of Bacteriophage, phage therapy is routinely practiced not only on Georgian patients but the Phage Therapy Center caters to patients from many countries and many applications enjoy full regulatory approval.

In Poland at The Hirszfeld Institute and of Immunology and Experimental Therapy phage therapy is carried out under medical experimentation, ethical and compassionate use regulatory provisions similar to those that exist in most countries. A broad range of infections have been treated since the initial anti-staphylococcal treatment in 1925. Because of the regulatory provision all patients treated must have previously been treated with conventional methods, such as antibiotics and these treatments must have failed. Interestingly since the 1980’s their work with phages has been published in English language scientific journals. Very high success rates have been obtained for “infections caused by different species of bacteria: Escherichia, Klebsiella, Proteus, Enterobacter, Pseudomonas, and Staphylococcus aureus, with an average success rate of 85%.” Their success rates for treating Pseudomanas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA strains have been reported to be even higher. One shudders to think of the public health impact similar programs in other countries could have.

Rediscovering Phage Therapy in the Rest of the World:

A complete detailed description of research in phage therapy is beyond this brief paper; however, significant research consisting of Phase I trails completed or planned have been reported for Britain, Belgium, Australia and India.

Perhaps regulatory approvals for some non-medical applications of phage therapy (biocontrol) granted in the USA should be of interest. The Food and Drug Administration has amended the US food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of a bacteriophages on ready-to-eat meat against Listeria monocytogenes (see ) and ) . The idea that ready-to-eat meat can be treated if contaminated with Listeria bacteria while a doctor could not get a pharmaceutical grade phage therapy product when faced with a patient suffering listeriosis, strikes this author as absurd, especially considering recalls of various foods due to contamination with listeria. The approved product is manufactured by Intralytix ( ) and ListShield targets Listeria mnocytogenes in foods and food processing facilities. Agriphage commercially available from Omnilytics ( ) is primarily used to treat bacterial damage of tomatoes and peppers and has been recognized as being compatible with organic food production. Biocontrol applications have recently been described in a book entitled: Bacteriophages in the Control of Food- and Waterborne Pathogens, Editors: Parviz M. Sabour and Mansel W. Griffiths, ASM Press, 2010. Interestingly both editors are Canadian, one of them a government employee and the other a university professor, in spite of the fact that there have been no regulatory approvals for phage therapy products in Canada.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Truthiness, Scientification and Bullshit in Communication

Truthiness, Scientification and Bullshit in Communication - From Public Health to Politics.
Presented by G.W. (Bill) Riedel, Ottawa – Tel/Fax:

Writers need to "develop a built-in bullshit detector." (Hemingway)and so must readers!

Canadian academic and author Laura Penny opens her book – ‘Your Call is Important, the Truth about BULLSHIT’ (There are at least 10 books in Ottawa public libraries with the word bullshit in the title, most of them written by academics) by quoting Lilly Tomlin: “No matter how cynical you become, it is never enough to keep up.” She then delivers her own judgement by starting the book with the observation: “We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production” thereby joining other authors who have made similar claims. For example:
Neil Postman - 1969 - “every day in almost every way people are exposed to more bullshit than it is healthy for them to endure….” He further notes that “the best things schools can do for kids is to help them learn how to distinguish useful talk from bullshit.”
Harry Frankfurt - 2005 - begins his book ‘On Bullshit’ with “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”
In spite of this there are few attempts to examine the human propensity to bullshit, especially as it exists in public health and politics. This presentation will survey much of the academic literature on the subject.
Perhaps the most important question to be examined will deal with potential legal consequences for bullshitters - Andrew Aberdein deals with the question in, Raising the tone: Definition, Bullshit, and the Definition of Bullshit, Chapter 10, page 152 of Gary L. Hardcastle and George A. Reisch, 2006, Bullshit and Philosophy – guaranteed to get perfect results every time, Open Court, Chicago. Aberdein observes: “In British and American common law, a civil claim for negligence arises when the defendant has a duty of care to the plaintiff which he neglects to exercise, thereby harming the plaintiff. Here the deceptive bullshitter has a duty to tell the truth; neglecting this duty harms his audience if they come to believe his false statements…. The associated culpability can range from inadvertence to wilful blindness”.
If you are not concerned about culpability perhaps finding out what BBB, ABB and BBSN stand for might be sufficiently of interest to attend this presentation.

Increase the efficiency of your organization by declaring:

Berkun, Scott - #53 - How to detect bullshit -, August 9, 2006(accessed Nov. 23, 2010). (The first rule is to expect bullshit).

The end of leadership in the age of mba?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bystander phenomenon

In recent weeks there have been many articles about the bystander effect - the reluctance of people to get involved when someone is in trouble.

I would like to suggest that the bystander phenomenon is far more wide spread than recent events would suggest. Here is an example: While 8000 to 12000 Canadians are dying from antibiotic-resistant superbug infections annually the joke is on us, as some countries still practice technology discovered by the Canadian, Felix d'Herelle in 1917. Phage therapy uses highly specific viruses, bacteriophages, which are harmless for humans, to treat bacterial infections. Phage therapy is not currently approved or practiced in Canada. According to a letter signed by a former federal health minister it can be made available legally to Canadians under the Special Access Program of our Food & Drugs Act! While lots of information on phage therapy is available in the medical and scientific literature, the Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures of Bacteriophage and the book by Thomas Haeusler entitled, Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? ( see ) are available at Ottawa libraries. Information is available on phage therapy treatment in Georgia , Europe ( ), or Poland - ( ) or more recently at the Wound Care Center, Lubbock, Texas ( ) . What is perhaps more frustrating is that the Public Health Agency of Canada(PHAC) in it's Sustainable Development Strategy 2007-2010 ( ) assures: "Availability of phage therapy for E. coli O157:H7 in food animals". It seems to me that PHAC should focus on treating Canadians before food animals. Canada should establish 'The Superbug Victim Felix d'Herelle Memorial Center for Experimental Phage Therapy' to provide phage therapy to patients when antibiotics fail or when patients are allergic to antibiotics or are considering trips to seek treatment in other countries! Here is the bystander effect: How many persons (including the newspapers) who will read this will look at the literature to see if my information is scientifically valid and then write their elected officials or publish an article to object to the fact that phage therapy is not available in Canada? Remember all of us are potential victims of superbugs - when MRSA has come for a personal visit it will be too late!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009



Prepared and submitted to:
Subcommittee on Food Safety of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
May 29, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen I would like to thank you for allowing me to address this Committee on foodborne listeria and food safety in general.
I would like to start over by addressing you as: Fellow Canadian consumers of the Canadian food supply because all of us eat up to 6 times a day (this includes snacks) – all of us are exposed to essentially the same risks. It is my opinion that food safety is not an area for politics because we know from past experience that bugs don’t care which party is in government. I also feel that food safety is not an area for Frankfurtian spin or rhetoric (see Frankfurt, Harry G. 2005 – On Bullshit, Princeton U. Press, Princeton), yet there is often far more of both then is good for all of us.
I have experienced the food business from starvation to regulation and I have worked in Canada in the food business from the manure pile to the sewage treatment plant; but one thing I have always kept in mind and that is: The food that resulted from these activities must be suitable for consumption by me and my family. Whether I was working for industry, academia or as a regulator I was always a consumer of food like everyone around this table. I often was disturbed by coworkers who appeared to forget that they are consumers by asserting that they represented industry, academia or regulatory – even professional consumer advocates seem to forget that all of us eat. Too often things are done for/to Canadians, for/to Consumers as in: “Protecting and promoting the health and safety of Canadians, their families and communities is of paramount importance to Health Canada.” How condescending!

Do onto others what you would want them to do onto you
if they were preparing food for you!

For the remainder of my 10 minutes I would like to give a few examples of failure related to the food safety system:
On the one hand the official body counters inform us that there are up to 13 million cases of microbial foodborne disease and up to 500 deaths in Canada each year (those are the current statistics which have changed from those used for many years – 30 deaths and 2 million cases). On the other hand every time there is an outbreak we pretend that we never heard of foodborne disease before! Between 2000 and 2005 our food regulatory system send out 12 million copies of a brochure entitled "Food Safety and You" which starts as follows: "There's a good reason why the foods we eat in Canada are safe." (This publication was also posted on the Internet). As a result of an ATIP request I found out that this publication was in response to: "public opinion research done in September 1999 indicated that 'confidence in the food safety system may be eroding slightly'." Therefore $2,600,000 was spent to distribute 12 million copies which also noted : “there are thousands of Canadians working every day so that you and your family can be confident that the foods you eat are safe.” As a consumer and food microbiologist I see two major problems associated with this careless use of the term "safe." First, it shows callous disrespect for those Canadian individuals who died from these risks and essentially denies their life, and it appears unkind to their surviving Canadian relatives. Second, it is clearly credibility-destroying behavior by the regulatory and scientific community. Is it any surprise that our credibility as scientists is being eroded? While we like to blame the media I believe that we, members of the regulatory/scientific community, are entirely to blame! Let me further add that the food supply has not been safe in the past, is not safe today and probably won’t be safe in the future. Recalls do not prove that the food safety system is working to provide a safe food supply; they are rather proof that the system is operating continuously in failure mode or as a former Health Canada colleague published – safe, virginity and sterility are absolutes and can not be qualified. The excessive use of “safe” results in a false sense of security by Canadians and in my opinion should/could result in liability under some circumstances as it appears to provide an implied warranty.
Let me conclude this section by referencing two recent papers that try to come to grips with the current food safety crisis:
1. Maki, Dennis G. 2009 – Coming to Grips with Foodborne Infection --- Peanut Butter, Peppers, and Nationwide Salmonella Outbreaks, The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 360, No. 10:940-953.
2. Moss, Michael 2009 Food Companies Are Placing the Onus for Safety on Consumers, The New York Times, May 15, 2009.
Maki describes recent large scale recalls of foods in the USA because of microbial contamination which are national and/or international in scale like the ready-to-eat luncheon meat listeria recall in Canada. What all these recalls seem to have in common is “reckless consolidation” without appropriate compensation to mitigate increased risk visibility, meaning that once product contamination occurs, distribution is wide. For example the Maple Leaf Class Action claims that “over 243 products were identified as potentially contaminated with the bacteria species Listeria monocytogenes, which may have caused persons to become sick or die.” Moss on the other hand describes a globalized food production system that no longer knows where ingredients come from and which has placed the onus for safety on consumers.

Doing more of the same things that have gotten us here and expecting different outcomes!

In spite of what some people would like you to believe, food microbiology is not a new science!
I have here my copy of Tanner, Fred W. 1944 (2nd edition) The Microbiology of Foods, Garrard Press, Champaign, Illinois. Reading this book one is overcome by the realization that many of the food safety issues have been around and documented for at least 100 years.
I also brought along a copy of COMMITTEE ON SALMONELLA 1969 An Evaluation of the Salmonella Problem, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. Once again the salmonella problems we are seeing now are not new.
My final exhibit in this little show-and-tell is a copy of Health and Welfare Canada, 1981, CODE OF PRACTICE GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF FOOD HYGIENE FOR USE BY THE FOOD INDUSTRY IN CANADA. It may interest you that roughly 65,000 copies of this document were provided in Canada. Yet here we are many years later and rather than having seen an improvement in the microbial foodborne infections, they have officially gone from about 30 to 500 deaths and cases have gone from 2 million to as many as 13 million annually. It should be noted that the Canadian plant involved in the listeria recall appears to have been considered HACCP compliant (as listed on the CFIA website); however, it should be noted that HACCP by now is also a fairly old food safety system that has failed like GMP; perhaps because too many companies get on the band wagon and pay lip service to these systems.

Efficient redundancy or Mapleleafing:

One of the things that has frustrated me while working in food microbiology in Canada is the amount of hubris we have and which results in wasting our limited scientific resources blissfully reinventing technologies in use in other countries. I would like to finish my presentation with the example of phage therapy as applicable to both food technology and medicine.
Phage therapy was discovered by the French-Canadian microbiologist, Felix d'Herelle in 1917. Phage therapy uses highly specific viruses, bacteriophages, which are harmless for humans, to treat bacterial infections and can also be used to reduce or eliminate bacteria in food processing applications. Phage therapy is not currently approved or practiced in Canada. However, according to a letter signed by a former federal health minister it can be made available legally to Canadians under the Special Access Program of our Food & Drugs Act! A discussion of phage therapy is currently very timely because of the release of the Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures of Bacteriophage and the book by Thomas Haeusler entitled, Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? ( see ). Both references are available at Ottawa libraries.This file has dramatically changed because the US Food and Drug Administration has amended the US food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of a bacteriophages on ready-to-eat meat against Listeria monocytogenes (see ). Also . The idea that ready-to-eat meat can be treated if contaminated with Listeria bacteria while a doctor could not get a pharmaceutical grade phage therapy product when faced with a patient suffering listeriosis strikes this author as absurd especially considering the recent massive recall of ready-to-eat meat in Canada due to contamination with listeria. Additionally, in the USA two other agencies, EPA and the USDA have approved the use of bacteriophages for various food processing applications. According to information from a Health Canada science manager to date there has not been a submission seeking approval of phages to mitigate microbial contamination of food products; however, should there be applications then we would treat these products as new and a complete review would be carried out. This clearly would be costly and cause significant delay in making this technology available in Canada giving USA food processors technological advantages. What is needed is a Canadian agency that has as it’s express responsibility to look at technologies available in other countries and if judged important there must be legal means of bringing them to Canada.
{Information is available on phage therapy treatment of human infections in Georgia , Europe ( ), or Poland - ( ) or more recently at the Wound Care Center, Lubbock, Texas ( ) .}

Getting Beyond Bullsh*t:

While it is easy to criticize the current failures of the food safety system, especially when I am no longer working in it, I feel fully justified to do so since it is my food supply that is being jeopardized. I would like to close with the message from a recent management book: Culbert, Samuel, A. 2008 Beyond Bullsh*t – Straight-Talk at Work, Stanford U. Press, Stanford, California. Canadians deserve honest, spin and rhetoric free communication when it comes to food safety and it is my opinion that that was not always the case in the past! Additionally we need to be more proactive in adopting technology and scientific evidence from other countries because larger populations may result in increased risk visibility.
Prepared by:
G.W. (Bill) Riedel, PhD Food Science/Microbiology