Michael Fumento

To much celebration and media play, the first human trial of embryonic stem cells has begun.

With a grand total so far of one patient.

“I don’t understand [having] human trials because the animal studies aren’t very convincing,” David Bennett, a University of Alberta neuroscientist renowned for his experimentation with spinal-cord injuries, told me for my AOL News piece today. “My gut feeling is that it’s a scam,” he said.

My article explains why the company behind it, Geron, felt compelled to proceed. It comes down to one word: money. In part, they’ve been spending on this work for 15 years with no human experimentation. Stockholders don’t like that.

But there’s much more to the Geron “scam.”

For example, Geron says it will only treat patients injured in the preceding two weeks. Yet that’s when injured spinal cords are spontaneously generating new cells in an effort to heal.

Studies in cats with completely severed spines show that with mere treadmill exercise, as one found, all of them could walk again without assistance, though sadly their mouse-chasing days were behind them.

Even if none of Geron’s patients shows any improvement in sensation or mobility, sensitive tests like electromyography or one mercifully abbreviated to SEP can detect increases in cell growth or something called plasticity.

That would give Geron a chance to claim success when there was none.

Meanwhile, there has already been success using adult stem cells to treat human paralysis. But money for these trials has steadily been diverted to, yes, ESC work.

Incidentally, Bennett has 106 citations in MedLine, but nobody else in the media quotes the real experts. Instead, they go to the “old reliables” who just happen to have millions of dollars invested in embryonic stem cell research. Which is why, unfortunately, you read stuff like this here first.

(See insert: In studies, cats have routinely had severed spinal chords heal to where they could walk unassisted, though Mike’s cat prefers to lay down and “monitor” him in – more ways than one. [Model credit: Aspen H. Cat])

“Border collie jill surveying the view from atop the sand dune.” Those were the last words of Malibu plastic surgeon Frank Ryan, best known for “reconstructing” reality TV star Heidi Montag. It’s not quite up there with “Et tu, Brute?” Yet it seemed important enough for him to text it just before driving off a cliff in August. Jill survived.

We don’t know what the message was in a 2007 accident involving the sender and her four fellow New York high school cheerleaders. But it probably wasn’t worth slamming head-on into a truck, killing them all. And the 2008 Chatsworth train collision, in which 25 people died and more than 100 were injured, was officially attributed to the engineer of the Metrolink commuter train being distracted by text messaging.

As I write in my LA Times piece, “Texters, You’d Be Better off Driving Drunk,” we don’t know what the annual death toll is from texting but all the evidence is that it’s a growing killer:

  • It’s more dangerous to text and drive than to drink and drive.
  • Most people say they do it and the number of text messages just keeps on increasing.
  • Texting is 17 times more dangerous than simply talking on a cell phone, and the number of deaths from that was estimated at 2,300 a year before texting caught on.
  • Texting is clearly addictive for many people, and as unfortunately know from personal experience with a loved one addicts will die — and kill — to sustain their habits.
  • At the same time I show that all the state bans on driving and cell phone usage are essentially worthless because they target the wrong cause of accidents. It’s not taking your eyes off the road, but your brain.
  • Finally, laws against texting are enforceable.

Is there a libertarian argument against more active law enforcement in these areas? As Gabriel Roth has pointed out, if officials were really concerned about auto safety, they’d start by rolling back regulations that make cars less safe and allowing for insurers to test and certify vehicles and drivers. What do you think?

Throughout the phony flu pandemic I warned that health officials would lose credibility because basically everything they were telling us was false and, unlike with some phony predictions which are safely years away, these quickly be shown false.

Turns out I was right — depending on what part of the world you live in.

A combined Scientific American/Nature magazine poll shows that of the 15 issues people were asked about, they trusted scientists the least regarding flu pandemics. Ah, but there’s a big asterisk. It was a poll of both Europeans and Americans. And only 29 percent of the Americans expressed serious distrust, compared to 69 percent of the Europeans.

Why the difference? The very media I was constantly criticizing. While a number of journalists and publications in Europe were critical of the WHO and their own governments, the American media acted as a mouthpiece for anybody — official or otherwise — willing to say something scary about swine flu.

More to the point, they’ve continued to do so. Nobody in this country has issued a mea culpa and nobody ever will, anymore than they did with heterosexual AIDS, SARS, avian flu and so many other hysterias they either perpetuated or outright fomented. Most recently it’s been Toyota. The motto of the American media, originally uttered in a John Wayne movie, is: “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.”

Pack journalism is so pervasive in America we’ve practically got the equivalent of a state run media. And because of that, eventually it will be a state run media.

What state ranks third in unemployment, second in foreclosures, has the nation’s worst credit rating, is running a $19 billion deficit — yet insists on spending billions on a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan that can’t possibly impact global warming?

Yes, it’s California, land of the Governator, who four years ago signed a bill that will shortly begin saying “Hasta la vista, baby!” to perhaps a million jobs. Yet there’s hope the prosperity terminator can be stopped, with Prop 23 to be voted on in November.

Read about how incredibly bad the legislation is and how the state foisted it on an ignorant (not stupid) public in my new article, “California’s Jobs Terminator” at Forbes.com.

Medicare is speeding toward insolvency , and only major fundamental changes can save it. But beware the “tweakers” — those who say that little things can add up to a lot. (See inset.) Usually what they’re pushing is of little benefit to Medicare, but of much benefit to them.

As I write at Forbes. com, we see that in a new study, paid for by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists and seemingly applauded without dissent in the media — maybe because most of the articles are clearly rehashes of the accompanying press release.

The report in the August issue of Health Affairs says complications and deaths during surgery are equally low regardless of whether certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) or physician anesthesiologists are used. It also says there was no difference whether or not the nurse anesthesiologist was supervised by a surgeon.

Therefore we can safely drop the Medicare rule requiring either an anesthesiologist or physician supervision of a CRNA when anesthesia is administered, it concluded. And though CRNAs are among the best-paid nurses, their time is still cheaper than a doctor’s. So while Medicare currently reimburses at the same rate regardless of who’s doing the administering, we could change that and save money.

But as the study’s own data show — sans spin — we could also lose lives.

I’m scheduled to be the lead guest on Neil Cavuto on the Fox Business Channel at 6pm tonight.

Subject: The news that NHTSA is withholding exculpatory evidence regarding “alleged death” Toyota sudden acceleration accidents. And perhaps the guy in Michigan convicted of manslaughter who is the first to use “The Toyota Defense,” that he hit the brakes and therefore the car accelerated. I’ve written about the “I’m sure I hit the brakes!” issue previously, in my piece, “Why Do Toyotas Hate the Elderly?

It’s a tort reform advocate’s dream–meaning a defendant’s worst nightmare.

As I write in my Forbes.com article, “California Trial Lawyers Find A Geezer Goldmine,” the class action suit was based entirely on wording so tortuous that the nine members of the Supreme Court would have 10 different interpretations. An earlier case in the same state was tossed out because of that wording. Yet this defendant was slammed with a massive $671 million penalty, vastly beyond its ability to pay. And punitive damages are still pending. And the decision caused the defendant’s stock value to plummet 75 percent.

Oh, and just one other thing. The very size of the verdict effectively prevents an appeal. But besides all that . . .

This is the inner layer of hell in which Skilled Healthcare California LLC finds itself. The nation’s 10th largest nursing care provider, it has 14,000 workers in California alone, making it one of the largest employers in a state with the third-worst jobless rate in America.

They won’t be better off because of this decision, and may well be much worse off.

What horrors did the company inflict on those poor seniors to deserve the highly penalty awarded by any court this year? Convert them to Soylent Green? Actually no showing of harm was required – a blessing for the plaintiffs’ attorneys because the California Nursing Home Directory has received over a thousand complaints but none regarding Skilled Healthcare.

This is the most amazingly awful court decision I have ever written about–which is saying a lot.

In the Toyota witch hunt, nothing has been more damning than those deaths we’re told Toyota sudden acceleration “allegedly caused” or, depending on whom you read, did cause.

As I note in my just-published Forbes magazine article, “93 and Counting,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration insists on the term “allegedly.” But U.S. News & World Report blog-post headline proclaimed: “NHTSA: 89 Deaths Caused by Unintended Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles.” The Los Angeles Times stated in a headline that sudden acceleration “led to” the deaths. A New York Post headline earlier declared that faulty Toyotas “have killed” 52 people. A CBS News Web headline (over an Associated Press story) similarly said the acceleration car fault “has killed” 89.

Toyota doesn’t look so bad after all!

In any case, the NHTSA “complaint database,” available on its website to anyone (yes, including the mainstream media), is hooey. So I found when I actually looked at the complaints. (Now there’s a novel idea!) Anybody can enter anything. An entry filed by someone named “Damnable Liar” from Holy Toledo! Ohio claimed his car accelerated to the moon because of a child seat problem. That was mine. But the ones citing 99 deaths in one vehicle? Not mine.

Three of the alleged fatal accidents never took place, which DID take sleuthing on my part. So did finding that, after the frenzy began, seven entries comprising ten deaths originally blamed on other aspects of the cars were refiled as unintended acceleration.

But at a glance you can see many simply deduce that since investigators found no cause other than driver error, then the accelerator must be responsible. Or they make the illogical deduction that since the brakes weren’t applied, it was sudden acceleration. And so on.

And then there was the lady whose son, while sloshed and after smoking dope, killed his best friend in a Toyota Scion. After entering a NHTSA complaint blaming her boy’s accident on sudden acceleration she entered seven more Scion complaints comprising 12 deaths that she’d merely pulled out of news reports and labeled as sudden acceleration. She’s covering for her son.

Yes, these are the “alleged” or “Toyota-caused” deaths we keep hearing about!

I can’t count how many people sent me items about how NHTSA says the whole Toyota Tempest has now been determined by the government to have been driver error. Hallelujah! Case closed!

Wrong.

The ruckus began with a Wall Street Journal piece with the unfortunately ambiguous titles: “Crash Data Suggest Driver Error in Toyota Accidents” and “Early Tests Pin Toyota Accidents on Drivers.”

It stated:

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash, people familiar with the findings said. The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.

Of course they found that. I wrote about the mistaken pedal issue months ago. It’s been know about since the 1980s and especially plagues the elderly.

More important was the Journal’s quote from scientist with the National Academy of Sciences, which has been studying the problem. “‘In spite of our investigations, we have not actually been able yet to find a defect’ in electronic throttle-control systems.”

And they never will. Even though that’s the pet theory of the media and trial lawyers, there’s nothing wrong with Toyota’s electronic throttles.

But consider this statistic:

In the first half of last year, about 100 people reported sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas. In the first half of this year, it was about 5,000. Do you think that’s all “driver error,” much less all those people stomping the wrong pedal all of the sudden?

Stay tuned!

The king is dead. More accurately, Larry King is hanging up his suspenders after 25 years on TV interviewing essentially everybody who was anybody. His secret? A studio that “felt less like a hot seat than a warm bath,” as one critic put it. But by letting his guests spout off unchallenged, leaving the impression they were telling the truth, he has occasionally caused lasting damage.

So we saw just recently in San Francisco’s decision requiring retailers to prominently post cellphone radiation emission levels, tantamount to warning labels. In a 10-1 decision that the mayor has said he’ll sign into law, the board of supervisors is making the city the first U.S. jurisdiction to label cellphones in any way.

The board expressly stated its desire to get the rest of the nation to follow suit. And it all started when a guest on King’s show in 1993 announced he was suing a cellphone maker for giving his wife a fatal brain tumor. The media ran with the story, cellphone makers’ stocks plummeted, and all over America phones, however briefly, clicked off.

Wait until you read in my Forbes.com investigative report WHAT that guest said that set off the hysteria and how specifically San Fran came to its decision. If you don’t audibly groan, I’ll double your money back.

No incidentally, much of the article came from my January report “Celling Fear: The Cell Phone Fear that Refuses to Die.”