Medicine

Clarence Darrow famously said: "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." It's likely that Dr. John Halpern experienced a similar kind of schadenfreude on hearing of Timothy Leary's death in 1996. For those of you too young to remember him as anything other than Uma Thurman's godfather, Leary was a renowned academic who launched the now infamous Harvard Psilocybin Project. The research project, which Leary developed in partnership with Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), used psychedelics to facilitate "life-altering spiritual insights" in…
A while back, I wrote about Airborne, the "herbal" concoction designed by a schoolteacher that is touted as preventing colds and the flu if taken preemptively or lessening their severity if taken early on in the course of a cold. I concluded that there was no evidence that it did what Victoria Knight-McDowell, a schoolteacher and the creator of Airborne, claims. Now the company itself seems to be admitting as much. It turns out that the company commissioned a study to "prove" Airborne's efficacy, and its results did seem to show a mild positive effect on colds. Unfortunately, the study was…
A lot on my plate this morning, but if you've not seen these already from yesterday, check out Respectful Insolence, where Orac has a post on using chemical castration as a treatment for autism. Just when you think things couldn't get any crazier... PZ also has a post drawing your attention to a statement in this week's Science magazine: Medicine needs evolution. The citation of "Evolution in Action" as Science's 2005 breakthrough of the year confirms that evolution is the vibrant foundation for all biology. Its contributions to understanding infectious disease and genetics are widely…
One of the greatest challenges in medicine can sometimes be to convince a patient that the results of scientific and medical research apply to them, or, at the very least, to explain how such results apply. A couple of days ago, in an article the New York Times, Dr. Abigail Zuker, proposed one reason why this might be, beginning with a discussion with her mother in which she tries to convince her of the benefit of exercise, even in the elderly, a concept that her mother would have none of: "Studies," she says, dripping scorn. "Don't give me studies. Look at Tee. Look at all the exercise she…
This week's issue of Science contains a very strongly worded statement about the utility of evolutionary biology in medicine, and calls for an increase in education about evolution at all levels of the medical curriculum, from high school to med school. I've put the whole thing below the fold—it's good reading. Medicine Needs Evolution The citation of "Evolution in Action" as Science's 2005 breakthrough of the year confirms that evolution is the vibrant foundation for all biology. Its contributions to understanding infectious disease and genetics are widely recognized, but its full potential…
About a year ago, I introduced the blogosphere to a term that had become common on certain Usenet newsgroups. I can't take credit for coining the term, but I think I can take some degree of credit for disseminating it to a wider audience. That term is "altie," and has a meaning similar to the term "woo-woo," in that it describes people who are so militantly pro-alternative medicine and so distrustful of conventional medicine that they will never admit when conventional medicine is effective and refuse ever to concede that any alternative medical practitioner might, just might, possibly be a…
*With apologies to Sparks. You'd think that a meeting of surgeons in such a beautiful and sunny city as San Diego would be one big party. Well, it was to some extent outside of the meeting, but the meeting itself was a bit of a drag. Academic surgeons are not a happy lot these days, and gathering a few hundred of them in one place at the combined meeting of the American Association of Surgery and the Society of University Surgeons provided an outlet for that unhappiness. To give you an idea of the mood among academic surgeons these days, you have only to look at the presidential addresses of…
Chris has been excoriating Tom Bethell (author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science") over on The Intersection and elsewhere (see, for example, here, here, and several posts here). However, since he's not yet done a takedown on Bethell's chaper on AIDS (titled "African AIDS: a Political Epidemic"), he suggested I have a go at it. Man, I knew the book would be bad, but it reaches a whole new level of terrible. Bethell's central thesis will be familiar to anyone who's read the anti-HIV arguments by Peter Duesberg and others. As the chapter title suggests, Bethell claims that…
Silly human nature, getting scientists into trouble. Until the robots are ready to take the reins of the scientific enterprise (and personally, I have my doubts that this is first item on the robots' to-do list), we're faced with the practical problem of figuring out how to keep human scientists honest. Among the broad strategies to accomplish this is reducing the potential payoff for dishonesty compared to honesty (where, as we know, doing honest science is generally more labor-intensive than just making stuff up). I take it that this piece by David S. Oderberg is a variation on the theme…
The anti-research types get a lot of mileage out of arguing that embryonic stem cell research has been hyped. In general, I think they greatly overstate the case, but we must admit--and I certainly do--that some pro-research statements have been made that are really beyond the pale. Perhaps the most outrageous example, of course, is Jonathan Edwards' statement during the 2004 campaign that If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again. Note to John: You…
Via Inside Higher Ed comes news that the Food and Drug Administration has changed its mind (do administrative bodies have "minds"?) about rules it recommended on how scientists get approval for their research projects from IRBs (institutional review boards). In particular, the rules were intended to head off abuses of the approval system that might come from "shopping around" for the IRB most likely to respond favorably to one's research proposal. From the IHE article: [The FDA] announced in the Federal Register that it would withdraw a 2002 plan that would have required scientists seeking…
Today, some news that makes me smile (and not that bitter, cynical smile): UCSF has announced that it has received full accreditation for its program to protect research participants from the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP). This is a voluntary accreditation -- nothing the federal government requires, for example -- that undoubtedly required a great deal of work from UCSF investigators and administrators to obtain. (AAHRPP describes the process as including a preliminary self-assessment, followed by appropriate modifications of your…
NHANES is an abbreviation that's quite familiar to epidemiologists of all stripes: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This survey dates back to 1956 with the passage of the National Health Survey Act, providing legislative authorization for "a continuing survey to provide current statistical data on the amount, distribution, and effects of illness and disability in the United States." Generally, information from these surveys has been used to look at the effect of nutrition, particularly micronutrients, on the health status of the population, or subgroups within the…
I love these historical analyses of disease--real, or fictional. One historical event that has been the subject of much speculation over the decades has been the Plague of Athens, a mysterious outbreak that is thought to have changed the direction of the Peloponnesian War, and for which the cause still remains uncertain: [2] As a rule, however, there was no ostensible cause; but people in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head, and redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such as the throat or tongue, becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural…
(And not in a supportive way). PZ and Orac discussed a recent New England Journal of Medicine editorial critical of intelligent design. Though the article had several shortcomings, it's always a bonus to see other scientists treating ID as a valid threat (not in the scientific sphere, of course, but in the "hearts and minds" of the populace). Now the Journal of Clinical Investigation, another fairly heavy-hitter as far as medical journals go, recommends to its readers, Don't be stupid about intelligent design. Kudos to them...now come the nitpicks. :) Neill writes, For those who have had…
Another aspect of the Terri Schiavo situation that hasn't gotten enough attention is the physician they've been using to claim that Terri can get better. And they've got themselves a real doozy, William Hammesfahr. The man's webpage virtually drips with disingenuous self-promotion. I especially love the blaring headline: Dr. Hammesfahr has been identified as "the first physician to treat patients successfully to restore deficits caused by stroke." Uh, yeah. Sorry doc, but physicians have been rehabilitating stroke victims to improve their deficits in speech, muscle control, walking, etc, for…
Both Rusty at New Covenant and Matt at Wheat and Chaff have posted in the last couple days to bash Christopher Reeve for promoting embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. They say that he is selfish and self-serving for promoting "death" to improve his own position. Matt writes: Why are these men regarded as moral heroes when their only cause is to deny life to others for their own benefit? I am sorry for the family of Christopher Reeve, and I'm sorry for the suffering he went through. Likewise for Michael J. Fox. But I do not regard it as a great act of moral bravery that they agitate for a…
Sometimes one has to wonder if there are any editors at the WorldNutDaily at all, given the number of what can only be described as bizarre and incoherent screeds they publish on a regular basis. Here's the latest one, by Craige McMillan. It's an absolutely incoherent mishmash that leads from what appears to be a defense of Lynndie England, the American soldier being court-martialed for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib (she's the female soldier seen with an Iraqi prisoner on a dog leash in the photos) to something about the feminization of the media to the just plain idiotic claim that "Big…
To those of you who come here to read my views on science and religion and politics, this post will probably come as something of a shock. But in the process of dealing with a very painful situation, my thoughts have turned inward. That turning inward is fueled also by the fact that next week will be the 7th anniversary of my mother's death. And it is that story that I feel compelled to tell. My mother had quite a life. She gave birth to her first child, my brother Jack, at the age of 16. Jack's birthday would forever be a bittersweet day for her, however, because her father died in a car…
Peter H. Proctor writes: > 2) The main factor was apparently the substitution of handguns for > long guns as home defense weapons. For penetrating trunchal > wounds, the mortality rate for handguns is 15-20 %, roughly the > same as for equivalent knife wounds. For (e.g) shotguns, the > mortality rate is 70% or so. If memory serves, for high power > rifles, about 30-40 %, BTW, the mortality rate from those wicked > "assault weapons" is close to that for handguns, since they shoot > a relatively low-powered round Please provide a source for these claims. > This is…