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

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