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The molecular structure of vitamin d (http://en.wikipedia.org)

We all know: Vitamins are important to keep well and fit. Therefore we are keen to supply ourselves with enough retinol (vitamin A), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), or calcitriol (vitamin D). While reading the news this morning, I stumbled across an article, dealing with the latter one. But as a matter of fact, it does not really matter which vitamin you think of. So, let’s just look at the vitamin D, bearing vitamins at all in mind.

In an article published by Süddeutsche Online, headlined The Fairy Tale of Lack , the journalist Christian Guth reports on a new study by Autier et al. published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology in January this year. The authors therein state, after having done a meta-analysis of 290 studies, that the additional intake of vitamin D does not improve a patients well being. Only very few treatments, as a vitamin therapy for elderly people, seem to yield significant positive results. But all in all, it rather does not matter whether we swallow some vitamin supplements, or not.

Read the abstract of Autier et al. here: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587%2813%2970165-7/fulltext#article_upsell

However, I am not concerned with the consequences of additional intake of any vitamin whatsoever. As Bones (the famous ship doctor of the Enterprise in Star Trek) in my place would say: I am a PR-researcher, not a physician (well, Bones is a physician, but that is what he would say, if he was a PR-researcher).

Every year, the pharmaceutical industry generates six billion Euros in turnover by selling dietary supplements. Naturally, Germany is one of the biggest markets for those products. And when it comes to the health issue, people become attentive. Why not “investing” some money into one’s own health by buying some vitamin pills, and therefore, maybe, dodge the next cold you surely will catch during winter?

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When it comes to teaching lessons in crisis communication, scholars usually refer to the standard works in the field. One might, for example quote Timothy Coombs, one of the world’s most distinguished researcher in the field and NEMO visiting professor at Lund University (see NEMO Blog for more: http://nemo.blogg.lu.se/), who would suggest that a quick response, consistency and openness might be of high importance when facing a critical situation. Well, it is true. Works like Coomb’s Ongoing Crisis Communication are undoubtedly valuable – for scholars and practioners. And there is much to learn by reading such books. But sometimes, reality shows that there are situations, where the best insights on communication crises are, however, of not much help. The following story is one of those examples.

The incident itself was rather unspectacular. The account of what happened can be packed into two sentences, as an article in the Guardian shows: “On the evening of 19 September last year, Andrew Mitchell, the Tory chief whip at the time, wanted to push his bike through the gates between Downing Street and Whitehall. The policemen at the gate said he couldn’t, and a short altercation ensued, with Mitchell saying ‘I thought you guys were fucking meant to help us.’”

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Not long ago, I by chance got my hands on an Issue of the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of the New York Times. You know, looking at things from the other side of the great pond can sometimes be very eye-opening. It sure was for me this time. In the issue, Journalist Katie Holmes wrote a most insightful article entitled: “Why generic drugs don’t get more respect”. For all of you who are not into pharmacy that much, I am neither, a generic is usually a copycat version of a brand-name drug. Before being allowed to sell a generic on the market, the producing companies (in the US and in the European Union) have to give prove that their generic drug is as effective as the original one. The advantage of generics compared to the original pills is simple: While their effectiveness matches the original’s, their price is much lower, “many generic drugs cost pennies a pill”, as Holmes puts it. Instead of buying and prescribing expensive brand products, a generic brings about the same effect and helps saving money for patients and the health system. So it is pretty obvious, that people should demand more generics, doctors should more often prescribe them, and health systems should rather cover costs for generics than for expensive brand pills – so far so good. But hey, life would be too easy if everything would go according to a reasonable idea. So despite most people knowing, that it might be a good thing to do, to use generics more often, Holmes cites researchers, who found quite the opposite to happen. Let’s read what Holmes has to report thereon:

“In 2007, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston surveyed more than 1,000 patients about their views on generic drugs. Participants agreed overwhelmingly that generics were ‘a better value’ than branded drugs, and fewer than 10 percent believed that generic drugs caused more side effects. More than half expressed the opinion that Americans should be taking more of them. But when it came to the patients themselves, only about 38 percent said they preferred generics over brand-name drugs. ‘It’s some bizarre thing that’s in the deepest part of their psyche,” said Dr. William Shrank, the lead author of the study. “They have all the pieces of information to make the right decision, but there’s something that’s holding them back.”

Read the original article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/sunday-review/why-the-bad-rap-on-generic-drugs.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Now guess, what could it be, that is holding patients, or more generally speaking: people, back to make the right choice? Well, non-surprisingly, I would suggest that public relations has got something to do with it. Without naming PR, Holmes already points clearly into to that direction, when she cites an article published in Preventing Chronic Disease, wherein researchers suggest some straightforward reasons. Let us read in once more:

“Brand-name drugs were perceived as being of higher quality, or as causing fewer side effects. But other explanations were more complex. Some patients said, they felt forced to ‘settle’ for lesser drugs because they were poor and black. (…) Other studies have shown that people with higher education and income levels are more likely to view generics positively, but scepticism about generic drugs is not limited to the poor and disadvantaged. A recent study found that almost 50 percent of doctors held negative views of the quality of generic medications, and more than a quarter said they would rather not use generics for either themselves or their families.”

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bubble-tea

Folks, you might know that fancy beverage called bubble tea. Last summer, it became hugely popular in Germany. Sales skyrocketed during the hot months. Retailers across the country sprang up like mushrooms. There was no pedestrian zone downtown that did not feature the most trendy drink of the year. Companies like BoboQ introduced this stylish product which is known since long in Asian countries like Taiwan. The outstanding feature of bubble tea is its little corn starch or Tapioca pearls, that tastily burst in the mouth while drinking it with sweetened green or black tea, milk or syrup. Only the English upper class believes that Earl Grey is best left as it is, bubble tea introduced a much more hip approach to consume tea in the 21st century.

But the party didn’t last very long. On the 22nd of August, a regional newspaper in Germany, the Rheinische Post, featured an article that reported on poisonous ingredients in bubble tea. Citing a study conducted by the RWTH Aachen University, the newspaper claimed that some ingredients like styrol and acetophenone are suspected to cause cancer and allergies. One of the studies’ leading researchers was quoted saying, that there is a lot of dirt in bubble tea.

“A lot of dirt.” Strong stuff.

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democracy-blind

The innovation of new forms of media always begins promising. Newspapers promised political participation, TV enlightenment by education, and the internet a wholly new realm of freedom beyond the physical existence of mankind. But yet, all these promises have failed the hopes put into them. So far, control always has prevailed over freedom: An obituary on our latest hope.

There can be no doubt: The dream of the internet as a realm of freedom for mankind is dead. It will be up to historians to determine the exact time and place, when and where the idea of internet as an extension of free man ceased to exist. But we can be certain. It is most legitimate to ask, how we can come to this conclusion.

On the 22nd of March, the IT-Portal chip.de reported on plans of Germany’s biggest online provider Deutsche Telekom, to reduce data traffic speed from a certain volume on. One month later, the 22nd of April, speculation became reality. Telekom announced, from the 2nd of May on, only to conclude contracts  with fixed limits in data volume. The flat rate, unlimited flow of data for every user, will slowly fade away.

This new policy by Germany’s largest provider will soon see some followers in the market. And most people might think, well I do not use more than 75 gigabyte of traffic per month (depending on the price) anyway. So why bother? What we now see is the peak of a development that has already sealed the pipe dreams of the internet as a better, freer and more equal place. And it did not began with Telekom announcing to cut down speed when a certain data volume is reached. What we are facing is a battle over the control of media, not about their content, but their hardware.

An example: When I was young, copying computer games was a fashion, as sharing movies online is today. Since there was no high speed internet back in the 90s, the CD-writer did the job of sharing, before the internet community “invented” file sharing. At first, producers tried to protect their products by introducing measures of copy protections on CDs. When that not worked, the industry came up with a completely new idea.  In 2002 the Valve Corporation, among others, started to develop a platform called Steam, where content users had to register before being able to play a game. Today, most games you buy are tied to a membership on a platform like steam. And no matter how hard you try, the software does not work until you connect with the platform to finish installation process.

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Amazon Warehouse

Amazon warehouse

The 20th century has seen the rise of (the) organisation, for good and for bad. Public relations has played its part in that ascent since the days of Edward L. Bernays. First in creating the consumer citizen. Later, often though not always, in deflecting criticism of malpractice.

Today we take a look at one of the strategies, public relations and other forms of strategic communication deploy in order to draw away attention from systemic malfunctions. Malfunctions that come with the wonder of organisation –  the other side of the coin of ever growing wealth since the days of the industrial revolution.

In his groundbreaking master work, the Wealth Of Nations, Adam Smith wrote about the individual, that ‘he is (…) led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.’ While Smith meant unintended, positive outcomes of economic activity, the organised individual since the dawn of the 20th century also became part of organised malpractices that were unintended, too, but not for good.

It should be no surprise that the proper organisation of business goes hand in hand with the proper organisation of masking businesses’ dark and immoral sides. In Organsation und Moral, German professor for business and organisational theory, Günther Ortmann, outlines a bunch of strategies modern organisations use to mask malpractices, to divert attention from their wrongdoings. Sacrificing ‘rogue employees’, is among the favourites.

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ripe orange with leaves on white background

It’s winter time, folks. And winter, that we know since the days we were kids, is the perfect time to enjoy tropical fruit. Especially the queen of tropical fruit: the orange. Recently, I was listening to a broadcast of the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk about these precious fruit, that bring some summer feeling into European winter darkness. And I’m sure all of you know how to distinguish good fruit from not so good: It’s the colour, stupid!

But is it really? Food chemist Udo Pollmer, a German columnist on diet issues, gave an interesting insight on how the orange becomes orange.For all of you who understand German, here’s the link to the broadcast: http://www.dradio.de/dkultur/sendungen/mahlzeit/1918105/

European customers would never buy green oranges, would they? From early childhood days on we learn that green oranges are as tasty as green tomatoes. They are unripe. But this is where we smart customers are wrong. Oranges grown in the tropics are green. It is the cooler climate of subtropical areas – such as Spain or Italy, where winter night temperatures do drop to near zero – that causes oranges to change colour.

In the 50s and 60s companies started to apply methods of social research for marketing purposes. The focus group for example, is a widely used technique for detailed discussions with consumers in order to gather information on the appeal of products. The story of degreening might well have begun in one of those focus groups. It then just takes a few customers to point out that they rather like orange than green fruit. With a “flap of a butterfly”, you can create a postharvest industry to further “enhance” products. But hey, whatever the customer wants!

So what’s the point? Why don’t we just wait until winter to enjoy orange oranges? Well, customers are used to having oranges all year round nowadays. Since they are smart enough to know that only an orange orange is a tasty one, something has to be done. Food industry has to come up with some trick. Here’s the trick: degreening. Think I’m kidding? Nope. Here’s some proof: http://www.catalyticgenerators.com/citrus1.html

By gassing with the hormone ethylene, the fruit are artificially aged. The green fruit are put into a process called “ethylene ripening” in order to colour them the right way. But, as Udo Pollmer points out, degreening not only changes the colour for good. It changes the quality for bad. The fruit become more fibrous and the flesh loses flavour. They are also more likely to rot or to attract funghi. You’ll find more information about this not-so-tasty-procedure – and the most weird obituary-like powerpoint template known to man – here: http://irrec.ifas.ufl.edu/postharvest/pdfs/past_events/2003_presentations/Ethylene_Treatments.pdf

The interesting lesson for us is: not everything that shines orange is golden in taste… er… or something similar.

And what the hell has this got to do with strategic communication? A lot. In the European Union ‘oranges’ were classified not by sweetness or ripeness but by colour. Weird EU-bureaucrats at work? No. Its Southern European fruit-producers who want to shut out competitors from the tropics. For producers from the tropics can compete on quality, no doubt – but not on colour. We, the customers, want oranges to be orange. If we want something green – helvete, we buy a f…. cucumber. So in order not to let us learn that green oranges can be great, too, a steady supply of perfectly orange oranges needs to be ensured. Especially at the beginning of the classical orange season, when winter has not set in yet, oranges from Spain and Italy need to be thoroughly degreened. It’s another example of the TINA-strategy: Don’t let people get a taste of the alternative.

For all of you who always wanted to know more about oranges but only dared to ask about sex, here are some quite interesting facts (about oranges):

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/qi/8345477/QI-Quite-interesting-facts-about-orange.html