Vol. 228 March 1, 2020 Physician Speeders, Roundup Off One Hook, and Don’t Shoot the Cows

March 1, 2020

“Many people believe medical specialty choices are associated with certain personalities
leading to driving behaviors, such as fast driving, luxury car ownership . . .
and leniency by police officers.”


“Do As I Say, Not As I Do” –  the physician’s mantra

A study of 14,560 speeding tickets issued to 5372 physicians in all specialities between 2004 – 2017 in Florida revealed that the average speed of the ticket receivers was 15-16 mph above the speed limit. The 25% of  MD tickets issued for speeding 20 mph over the limit were labeled “extreme speed” in this study; about the same percentage as in the general population of non-MD drivers.  “Extreme speeding” was most common among psychiatrists (31%), but otherwise similar (22-25%) across specialties. Among physicians who received a ticket for speeding, cardiologists were more likely to be driving luxury cars (41%), while emergency physicians, family physicians, and pediatricians (of course) were less likely to be driving a luxury car (20%). 11% of non- physician speeders drove luxury cars. Leniency by officers (“writing a ticket with a lower fine”) towards physicians pulled over for speeding was common, but did not vary by specialty, and was similar between physicians and non-physicians. Police tended to be more lenient to Ob-Gyn physicians, older, and female drivers.

The speediest driver was a general internist clocked at 70 mph.

Quite frankly, I am surprised by the low speeds of the ticket receivers, but not much else in this study. I am certain that the ticketed speed levels would be way higher on Route 3 to Boston any morning of the week. The authors did conclude their paper, I assume with tongues firmly planted in cheeks, with “the connection between the driving behavior of physicians and patient outcomes remains unknown.” (1)

Roundup May Be Off One Hook, At Least
A sharp decline in Monarch butterflies was noted around 2005 and in a 2012 paper the idea that milkweed loss in  Midwestern U.S. corn fields was the cause. The caterpillar stage of the butterfly requires the milkweed to develop. Each year Monarch caterpillars grow up on the milkweed between those rows of corn, and then the butterflies migrate all the way down to a specific forest in Mexico for the winter.  Our corn crops, genetically modified to resist Roundup, were thriving, but the Roundup was killing the milkweed. Hence, the story went, the Monarchs are declining due to Roundup. The evil and perils of Monsanto’s Roundup became a familiar story to us.

Further studies in 2017-2019 using satellite imagery, analysis of chemicals in butterfly bodies , and more accurate counts revealed that only 2 out of 5 Monarchs came from those cornfields and that butterfly counts were stable in the Midwest summer but were declining in the Mexican winter forest. That suggested strongly that something was killing the butterflies en route. Maybe it wasn’t just the Roundup in the corn fields. Even the original “milkweed-loss” proponent backed off a bit. Currently a major study by 120 people monitoring 235 sites along the migratory route is underway to identify what is now considered the multi-factorial causes of Monarch decline. Meanwhile, the federally preserved wildlife area in the U.S. has been reduced by nearly half since 2007, and the Mexican winter-home forest has been reduced by surrounding logging operations and climate change to the size of a soccer field. Science, if not the Monarch butterfly, marches on. (2)

Don’t Shoot the Cows . . . Just Reduce Their Antibiotics.
Carl Sagan was probably the first to point out that methane gas in our atmosphere was really the only sign of true life on earth to any observer from space. We later were told that the chief source of methane on earth were cow farts, and that methane was a greenhouse gas (“bad”) enhancing climate warming. Of course, we all know that manure is an excellent fertilizer. It helps a lot of good green things to grow; good plants that grab carbon dioxide (another “bad” greenhouse gas) out of the air and trap it in organic matter. Soil stores twice as much carbon dioxide as the atmosphere can. Another plus for cows and their solid output.

A curious, enterprising,  and probably not-so-social graduate student measured the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air by different mounds of cow manure over several months. It was a sophisticated, but understandably messy, project whose methodological details are not important here. He found that the manure from cows that had not been given antibiotics released less carbon dioxide into the air, and had an overwhelming positive effect on plant growth. The manure from cows treated with antibiotics released much more carbon dioxide, and resulted in soil much less beneficial for plant growth. In fact, the type of antibiotic given to the cows made a big difference; up to a two-fold increase of carbon dioxide release by one type of antibiotic. Since U.S. livestock contributes 13 million kilograms of antibiotics a year to the environment, it is not exactly a moot point. Picking a different antibiotic might enhance the carbon-capture benefits of manure fertilizer which could help mitigate some climate change. (3) For another unintended consequence of antibiotics on wildlife check out the story of diclofenac and declining vultures in India.

1. British Medical Journal, “The Need for Speed; Observational Study of Physician Driving Habits”, Harvard Medical School, Dec. 18, 2019
2. Scientific American, What’s Happening to the Monarchs, March 2020
3. Scientific American, Manure Problems, March 2020

%d bloggers like this: