The 2nd Annual Alexander Awards: Best Tox Reading of 2011

January 3, 2012, 10:17 pm

Alexander Gettler

Taking inspiration from New York Times columnist David Brooks and his annual Sidney Awards for the best magazine essays of the preceding year, TPR is proud to present its Alexander Awards for the best toxicology writing on the web in 2011.

The awards are named after Alexander Gettler, who was New York City’s chief toxicologist in the early twentieth century. To be eligible for an Alexander, the article or post must be freely and fully accessible, and not imprisoned behind some firewall, purchase plan, or subscription fee. Unfortunately, this eliminates from consideration nearly every paper that has appeared in a major medical journal this year.

However, some fascinating journal articles are available — in toto — on the web. In Substance Abuse, Katshu et al reported two cases from India of patients who voluntarily allowed themselves to be bitten by snakes in an attempt to get high on the effects of venom. Lung et al published a very well illustrated case report in Journal of Medical Toxicology describing intestinal necrosis and perforation caused by a venlafaxine bezoar.

There was excellent coverage of toxicological issues in the popular press during 2011. Bloomberg Businessweek had a cover story describing business aspects involved in the illicit distribution of “synthetic highs” such as K2, Spice, and bath salts. In May, the New York Times had a startling report detailing the abuse of Suboxone (buprenorphine) in prisons. The Times also ran an article about the amazing complexity of jellyfish eyes, as well as Perri Klass’s essay on the importance of poison information centers, especially to pediatricians.

Deborah Blum — last year’s winner of the top Golden Alexander award — had two pieces in the running this time around. In Slate, she wrote about the poison squad, a team of healthy young men who agreed to stay on a diet laced with potentially harmful chemicals to test the possible effects on humans. Their sacrifice eventually led to passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Later in 2011, when protesters and occupiers were being sprayed with chemical weapons in places like University of California-Davis, Blum posted an excellent discussion of pepper spray and its dangers on the “Risk Science Blog“.

Now to the two finalists.  The runners-up are Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele for their Vanity Fair article “Deadly Medicine“, a must-read expose about the globalization of clinical research.

And the Golden Alexander goes to Dahlia Lithwick for her laugh out loud explication of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving chemical weapons, sex, jealousy, revenge, thumb trauma, and states’ rights. (Truly, this case had everything.) Lithwick covers legal issues for Slate, and is one of the most brilliant and entertaining journalists in any field publishing today.

So let’s raise a glass of champagne (or even better, a snifter of Glenmorangie Astar) to toast this year’s winners. Let the competition for the 2012 Alexanders begin. Gentlemen and ladies, start your laptops!

To read David Brooks’ columns awarding his Sidney Awards for 2011, click here and here.


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