Medescape

Skepticism, Medicine and Science News

Back From The Dead

Ok, so it has been a while since I last posted, but there was the Christmas holiday, and the beginning of a new term etc. But never mind that, the important thing is that the blog is back! Or rather, I’m back! 

Since I last posted there has been some cool news items, so I thought I should start this years blogging by bringing up a few of them.

Well, first of all, the voting for this years Weblog Awards just closed, and I am appalled by who won in the science category. There were some great nominees there, like Bad Astronomy, Pharyngula and Neurologica. These are all fantastic science blogs, but do you think any of them won? Oh no, the winner this year was this horrible, horrible global warming denial blog. That is just sad… 

Just today I read about a cool study in the Journal of Proteome Research. Some scientists in Italy have found abnormal proteins in the saliva of autistic patients, and the hope is that this will eventually give us some clue about the pathological biochemical processes of autism. Also, it could potentially be used as a biomarker in saliva-based autism tests. 

Now, this next one is a sad story, but it is a good example of why evidence-based medicine really should be the only kind of medicine. Russel Jenkins is, or rather was, a healer in Australia. One day, he stepped on an electrical plug in his house, and the small resulting wound later became infected. Even worse, the infection then turned gangrenous. Gangrene is a horrible condition of necrosis of body tissue. It looks really bad, and smells even worse. Instead of seeking medical help, Russel, being a healer, decided he would treat his condition by applying honey to the affected area. Naturally, this did not work out so well, and he later died from the gangrenous infection. 

This is of course an extremely sad story, but I think it is important to emphasize the importance of evidence-based medicine. I really don’t care much for the term Complementary and Alternative Modalities (CAM), because then it sounds like it is a scientific alternative to conventional medicine, which it isn’t. I can not stress this fact enough, that alternative medicine really is just a collection of inadequately tested and unproven drugs. And calling it complementary? A lot of people fail to tell their doctors that they are using these alternative remedies, and a result of that could be that they interfere with their conventional treatments. Because, as I said, they are drugs. Calling them natural is just a sales pitch. 

Ok, so the first post of 2009 turned out to be somewhat of a downer. But the next one will be positive! Promise.

January 13, 2009 Posted by | General Science, General Skepticism, Medicine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aquamantra

This is just too funny. Aquamantra is a brand of bottled water sold in the US, but it’s not really the water that is special about this particular brand. Oh no, the labels on the bottles have mantras on them, and this, according to the company’s web site, causes the water inside to resonate with the energy and frequency of the mantra in question. Yeah…. Whenever you see people using quantum mechanics to explain something “scientific”, 10 to 1 they are just full of s***. Just listen to this:

[Dr. Masaru Emoto ]showed us the basic principles of quantum theory, whereby the molecular structure of water was changed by a Zen Buddhist monk’s thought. Based on this premise, Aquamantra uses the design on its labels to affect the molecular structure of California natural spring water[…]

Sure. That sounds perfectly reasonable. 

Our bodies were designed to live 200 years, can you live that long with out Aquamantra?

200 years? Wow, I never knew! 

The message comes from the universe, love yourself, deliver unto yourself perfect health. From the intense sky, a sparkling stream of water shares with you its secrets and the waterfall brings the messages of perfect health.

Fantastic. If you want to look it up, just do a search for Aquamantra. 

December 13, 2008 Posted by | General Skepticism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CAM in Med Schools

A recent survey showed that non-white medical students are more likely than white to reject CAM, or complementary and alternative medicine. The study consisted of two sets of questionnaires, one which the students answered in their first year of medical school, and another in their fourth year. The survey also showed that students opinions tended to solidify over time, meaning that if you began with a somewhat positive attitude towards CAM, you would most likely become more positive over time, and vice versa. Also, the researchers reported that the overall attitude towards CAM did not change significantly between the two surveys. The study was conducted by researchers at four medical schools, Peninsula (UK), Birmingham (UK) Georgetown (USA) and Auckland (New Zealand). 

I have no problem with these kinds of studies being conducted, but I do have some issues with some of the things Hakima Amri, the main author, says. One quote from her is (talking about why the students who became more negative towards CAM did so): 

One explanation for the decrease in positive attitude about CAM may result from the students’ increased medical knowledge and contact with skeptical clinicians, which are not counter-balanced by CAM teaching.

It almost sounds as if she thinks that is a bad thing. And the sentence doesn’t even make sense to me. According to her, as students learn more and knows more about medicine, they become more negative towards CAM when this is not counter-balanced by CAM teaching. So, the bottom line is that the science-based teachings of medicine are not balanced with non-science-based teachings of CAM. When I go to a doctor I would like him to have an education based on science, wouldn’t you? I am not completely sure what Hakima Amri’s angle on CAM is, but she has done an awful lot of studies looking into medical students attitudes towards CAM. In a study in which she was one of the co-authors, she reported that over 10% of first/second year medical students wanted to be taught healing touch so they could provide it themselves to patients. 10%! Healing touch! It just boggles the mind, at least my mind. 

I have one problem with the methods used in the study. Not all of the students who took part in the original survey took part in the second. Only students who “indicated willingness to complete the second questionnaire” were invited to do so. This could cause a bias in the data, as I believe many students who originally did not really care much for CAM wouldn’t be bothered to take the second survey. Students who on the other hand wanted CAM in ther curriculum would in my opinion be much more likely to also take the second survey. Thus, the overall attitude of CAM could very well have become more negative over time, and not be as stable as the study reports. 

Personally I don’t really understand all the fuss about CAM. What’s wrong with trusting science? Why not stick to drugs and treatments that have been thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy? The difference between a drug bought at the pharmacy and a herbal pill is that the latter contains a varying amount of active ingredient, and the effects and side effects have not been scientifically tested. But they are both still drugs. Would you take a drug developed by a drug company if they told you they had not tested it for…well…anything? Herbal remedies are basically that; untested and sometimes unsafe (more often than you would think also).

November 22, 2008 Posted by | General Skepticism, Medicine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Psychics at Nursing Home in Norway – A Bad Idea

One of the larger tabloid newspapers in Norway recently ran a story about a nursing home that employed two alleged psychics to deal with some “unexplainable” phenomena being reported by the patients. The specifics were extremely vague, but one official at the nursing home described the phenomena as things unexplainably falling down, the sense of another presence in an empty room, the sense of a weight on their bodies etc. All the common ghost/daemon/spirit/poltergeist “signs” in other words.

I think bringing these psychics in to take a look at this is just a complete waste of money. What are they supposed to do about this? Let’s just entertain the notion that things are, in fact, falling down more often than is the norm at this nursing home. If so, the psychics can cleanse the house all they want and it will do absolutely jack. What they should do is bring in the janitor to tighten some screws. And if things are not falling down more often than normal, the problem really lies within the psychology of the patients. If that is the case, sure, maybe the psychics “cleansing” will appease them a little bit, but it will not be a permanent fix. A week later and they will most likely be just as nervous as they were before, and the way to help them would really be for them to talk to a psychologist/psychiatrist. 

As for the other phenomena mentioned, there are a lot of possible, real-world explanations to them. One example is the Old Hag Syndrome, otherwise known as sleep paralysis. This is a condition where you are sort of in limbo between asleep and awake, so your body will be paralysed but you are still totally conscious. People who experience this have described feeling a large weight on their chest, and the presence of someone/something malevolent in the room with them. Well gee, that sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Sleep paralysis have also been found to correlate with depression and even previous substance usage. And guess what, the nursing home in question currently specifically treats patients with a history of substance abuse…

This is just one possible explanation for these events, but it just shows that there is always a lot more to be gained by investigating all the possible real-world explanations before defaulting to paranormal ones. 

John Henry Fuseli – The Nightmare

November 6, 2008 Posted by | General Skepticism, Other, Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Amaz!ng Meeting

For those who do not know, The Amaz!ng Meeting, or TAM, is an annual skeptical meeting held by the James Randi Educational Foundation, or JREF. Also commonly referred to as “nerdvana”, it is a 4-day event with tons of lectures and skeptical festivities. Last years TAM included lectures from Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, PZ Myers, Matthew Chapman, Sharon Begley, Phil Plait, Penn & Teller, Richard Saunders, Dr. Richard Wiseman, Dr. Michael Shermer, Adam Savage and Steven Novella. Next years TAM (TAM 7) will take place in Las Vegas at the South Point Hotel and Casino from July 9 – July 12 2009. It will most likely be a hoot. I know I would be going if I lived in the states…sigh… Anyways, more information about TAM, and also the Amaz!ng Adventures, can be found here

The amazing James Randi

November 5, 2008 Posted by | General Skepticism, Other | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Answers (or not)

Nothing really spectacular in the news right now, so I thought I’d give you all a treat in the form of some especially ludicrous quotes from the answers in genesis web site (and I swear, I’m not making this up): 

Time and time again I have found that in both Christian and secular worlds, those of us who are involved in the creation movement are characterized as ‘young Earthers.’[…] I want to make it VERY clear that we don’t want to be known primarily as ‘young-Earth creationists.’ AiG’s main thrust is NOT ‘young Earth’ as such; our emphasis is on Biblical authority. Believing in a relatively ‘young Earth’ (i.e., only a few thousands of years old, which we accept) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator.

So….what are you saying exactly? 

If there were Vulcans or Klingons out there, how would they be saved? They are not blood relatives of Jesus, and so Christ’s shed blood cannot pay for their sin.

Aww, the poor Klingons, what did they ever do to hurt anybody?

Jesus is now and forever both God and man; but He is not an alien.

Sure glad that’s been resolved. 

In an evolving universe, life should have developed everywhere. Space should be filled with radio signals from intelligent life forms. Where is everybody?

Everybody is stuck on their individual planets because some of the aliens decided science was bad and that they all should worship the flying spaghetti monster instead, thus preventing the creation of radio wave-emitting devices. 

 

October 28, 2008 Posted by | General Skepticism, Other | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palin Flaunts Her Scientific Ignorance

I haven’t commented much on the ’08 election on this blog yet, because I would rather stick to the science and keep it non-political. However, Sarah Palin recently gave an interview where she said some things that were just so appalling it deserves some comment. 

So she basically talks about how she thinks scientific projects are expensive, and then she says this:

 You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.

Oh. My. God. Did she just say that? How ignorant can a person get? And this person just happens to be running for VP! Yeah, scientists do a lot of research on fruit flies. Would she rather they did it on humans? Fruit flies, or more specifically Drosophila, have been extremely valuable for scientific progress. Where would genetic research been without it? Just as an example, a search for “Drosophila” on PubMed yielded an astounding 65480 articles…. Nothing to do with public good, she says? Is she for real? Seriously? How ignorant can you get?

October 26, 2008 Posted by | General Skepticism, Other | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Come on people…

This article just appeared on NewScientists web site, and I have to say it’s a really, really depressing read. What ever happened to scientific standards? The scientific method? Evidence? Clutching to the “God of the Gaps”-explanation for everything science has yet to explain is just…sad. “See, see, you scientists can’t explain exactly, to the most minute detail, how the brain works, therefore it must be God, and we should teach this in science classes”. What would you think if your doctor said something like this to you: “Well, we don’t have any evidence for this treatment, we don’t really know what it does either, or if it has any effect, but does it really matter, ey?” It’s basically the same thing… Explaining one unknown (the workings of the brain) with another unknown (God) is really pointless. What good does it do us? No predictions flow from that explanation. No scientific progress can be made from that explanation. The whole point of scientific theories is to make predictions. Just look at the theory of gravity. We know that gravity says that two objects with masses so and so will attract each other, and so we can predict that an object dropped from a certain distance from the surface of the earth will fall towards it. So we use this prediction and build rockets, planes, satellites… That’s the whole point of science. I have nothing against religion, but don’t drag it into the science class rooms. Please…. And remember, the computer you’re using, the chair you’re sitting on, the mouse pad, the desk, the building…it all comes from scientific research. None of that would be available if everyone simply said “God did it”.

October 22, 2008 Posted by | General Science, General Skepticism | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Questionable Quotes

Or, “why pulling random quotes out of your ass in a scientific argument has zero value”.

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October 5, 2008 Posted by | Evolution, Creationism and ID, General Skepticism, Other | , , , , | Leave a comment

Expelled Exposed

Anybody who has not visited Expelled Exposed yet should do so. It clearly shows how Ben Stein and his minions twist and lie about the facts in his movie Expelled. In doing so, it also explains a lot of the aspects of evolution science.

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September 30, 2008 Posted by | Evolution, Creationism and ID, General Skepticism | , , , , | Leave a comment