Why is Jon Stewart spreading misinformation about tobacco (and Ebola)?

Stephen Colbert has been described as “the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Science on TV” and Slate speculated that his departure to CBS “could be a big loss for television coverage of science.”

Jon Stewart, not so much — and hopefully, you’re about to see why.

Last Thursday’s The Daily Show included a segment on the political scandal that brought down Virginia Governor and potential Presidential hopeful Bob McDonnell (“The Giving Spree“). The scandal revolved around allegations of influence-peddling by a Virginia businessman who enlisted the governor to promote his tobacco-based nutritional supplement. That’s when Stewart went off the rails:

You might be wondering how someone could turn a tobacco-based pill into a wonder drug because . . . most tobacco-based things are tobacco carcinogens. Apparently, it turns out, when you put two terrible things together, it makes something great.

‘Gonorrhea’s terrible — but when you mix it in a crock pot with dog vomit, it transforms into a healthy part of any child’s breakfast.’

Meanwhile, in Kentucky:

Since the 1970s at least, tobacco researchers had known the plant could produce copious amounts of chemicals. The problem was finding something worth the effort . . .

In July 2007, [Kentucky BioProcessing, a leader worldwide in commercial-scale production of proteins in tobacco plants] began a collaboration with Mapp Biopharmaceutical and Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute to work on Ebola. With a grant from the Army, ASU’s Charles Arntzen and Mapp developed the treatment that was used last week on American aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. . .

For Ebola, KBP was preparing for the first human drug trials later this year when the request came to ship doses to Atlanta’s Emory University for the American aid workers. Now, with calls to make the serum more widely available, those efforts may speed up.

tl;dr A Kentucky company used tobacco plants to grow the experimental Ebola serum given to American aid workers at the CDC last week.

Stewart aired his segment on the evening of August 7. The Lexington Herald-Leader’s story about the role tobacco might play in treating Ebola the morning of August 9 — hardly a day and a half later.

It looks like Stewart — and especially the prosecutors who have brought rather serious charges against Virginia’s former Governor — owe Bob McDonnell one big apology. Guy deserves a cigarette.

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