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Scientific American Should Know Better
November 20, 2003 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Perpetuating a common misconcetion about the "Morning After" pill and RU-486 Avrum Bluming, determined that my mom should try an experimental treatment, mifepristone, a synthetic antiprogestin better known as RU-486, the "morning after" contraception drug. In a little throw-away line, Scientific American columnist Michael Shermer perpetuates the idea that RU-486 and the "Morning After" pill are the same thing. They are entirely different. In fact, mifepristone is not a contraceptive at all. Regardless of anyone's opinion about these two products, shouldn't Scientific American know better than to mistake the purpose of an FDA-aproved prescription drug?
posted by antimony (22 comments total)

 
That's why people write letters to the editor: to correct errors such as the one your just pointed out. And, in a couple of months, you will see them published, and the author will respond with an apology and everything will be well. If anything, blame the editors for not being thorough, although I hardly think this error was made maliciously or to confuse readers.
posted by BlueTrain at 12:45 PM on November 20, 2003


Yeah, big conspiracy here. Better call the feds! Sheez.
posted by skallas at 12:59 PM on November 20, 2003


This is a big problem in some areas. In Virginia, we have one whacko state delegate, Bob Marshall, who wants to see the morning-after pill banned on campuses. (In fact, he'd like to make birth control illegal, but that's a different discussion.) It's been difficult to fight Marshall, because he delibarately swaps the terms "RU-486" and "morning after pill" in order to sew confusion. What is available on campus is the morning after pill -- which is really just like taking a half dozen birth control pills at once -- and not RU-486. But the result is that people believe that it's RU-486, and are demanding that the "morning after pill" be banned from schools.

The difference is important.
posted by waldo at 1:13 PM on November 20, 2003


This looks like a job for MoJo.
posted by wendell at 1:19 PM on November 20, 2003


FactcheckFilter.
posted by dgaicun at 1:49 PM on November 20, 2003


It's dismaying that the (once-erudite) SciAm is publishing obvious mistakes like this, and also that it's Michael Shermer, a leader in the skepticism movement (which, necessarily, is all about fact-checking) who made the mistake.

[nit]Oh, and that should be "sow confusion"[/nit]
posted by adamrice at 2:27 PM on November 20, 2003


I liked "sew confusion" a lot. I used to do that in Home Ec.

And, er, LettertotheEditorFilter.

Also, Michael Shermer is a twit and isn't half as smart as he thinks he is.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:32 PM on November 20, 2003


"...like a job for MoJo."

Is that the link you wanted? It reads "OPEN MEMBERSHIP YOU ELITIST METAFILTER FUCKS" -- a thoroughly confusing sentiment. Why lust for membership among the hated elitist fucks?
posted by majick at 2:45 PM on November 20, 2003


Wikis need IdiotFilters.
posted by DaShiv at 3:17 PM on November 20, 2003


I still can't get over the fact that the drug is named RU-486

as in

Are you for 86?

as in, 86'ing someone

as in, killing

brilliant.
posted by cinderful at 3:32 PM on November 20, 2003


It has long perplexed me that the research code RU-486 is the name that stuck with the public when there are perfectly good names like mifepristone and Mifeprex. Nobody calls Viagra UK-92480 anymore. Hell barely anybody calls it sildenafil anymore.
posted by shinnin at 3:52 PM on November 20, 2003


> I still can't get over the fact that the drug is named RU-486

b4i4q,ru/18,qt??
posted by jfuller at 5:02 PM on November 20, 2003


Also, Michael Shermer is a twit and isn't half as smart as he thinks he is.

Could you elaborate on this?
posted by dgaicun at 5:56 PM on November 20, 2003


Re: Shermer:

Twit--If I had a dollar for every time I saw him yelling "Liar! Fraud! Charlatan!" at little old ladies who believed that their unconscious cold reading abilities meant they were psychic ("I can tell when someone who comes into my office has been bereaved") I could buy myself a delicious meal at a fine restaurant. In Paris. Being rude to people who are sweet and deluded does not help the cause of skepticism. It's also an example of the black-and-white thinking that skeptics are supposed to be smart enough to avoid.

Isn't half as smart as he thinks he is--Why People Believe Weird Things is full of factual errors, logical fallacies, and plain old-fashioned bad writing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:02 PM on November 20, 2003


Cinderful, you do realize that RU-486 is named for Roussel-Uclaf (the French pharmaceutical company that developed it) and given the serial number 486 because it was the 486th drug submitted by Roussel-Uclaf to the French government for review, don't you?


And that in French, it sounds like "air ew caught sont caught re vant sees", which doesn't mean "kill someone " or anything like that?

Also, who ever used the phrase "86" to mean "kill someone"? I mean, outside of a bad 1930s gangster movie?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:07 PM on November 20, 2003


I liked "sew confusion" a lot. I used to do that in Home Ec.

Heh. That's what I get for posting from my WiFi-enabled class while trying to look like I'm paying attention.
posted by waldo at 7:21 PM on November 20, 2003


trivia: "86" is common in server-speak to indicate that something on the menu is not available. (Although, as a rule, nobody dies as a result...)
posted by dejah420 at 7:24 PM on November 20, 2003


The study in today's New England Journal of Medicine reporting RU 486 as a safe and effective 'morning after' birth control pill is an immensely important development. The study establishes RU 486 as a new and effective means of preventing pregnancy ... Women already have access to safe, 'morning after' contraception in Planned Parenthood clinics ... Doctors prescribe a high dose of birth control pills ... RU 486 offers not only a second effective method of post-coital contraception, but one that virtually eliminates side-effects ... commonly associated with the current 'morning after' method.
-- David J. Andrews, Director, Planned Parenthood of America, 1992 press release
posted by dhartung at 11:36 PM on November 20, 2003


dejah420: "86" was common slang in 1920s diners to indicate that something on the menu was not available.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:23 AM on November 21, 2003


Does Scientific American even employ fact checkers?

The study's authors show that St. John's wort affects the liver enzyme cytochrome P450 3A4, essential to metabolizing at least half of all prescription drugs, thereby speeding up the breakdown process and shortchanging patients of their lifesaving medications.

Aaaactually...though St. John's Wort is metabolized by the cytochrome P450 enzyme (so is grapefruit juice, by the way -- avoid both of them if you're on blood pressure meds) it doesn't "speed up the breakdown process" -- it slows it down, which could lead to an overdose of your meds.

What a chucklehead. I'm not saying everybody should know this, but Sci Am should definitely know this.
posted by jennyjenny at 12:17 PM on November 21, 2003


Also, who ever used the phrase "86" to mean "kill someone"? I mean, outside of a bad 1930s gangster movie?

Gangsters, presumably.
posted by kindall at 12:39 PM on November 21, 2003


dejah420: "86" was common slang in 1920s diners to indicate that something on the menu was not available.

That may be...but it's still common parlance today.
posted by dejah420 at 8:28 PM on November 21, 2003


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