Social Sciences

Over the last two Mondays, I've been writing about an unproven cancer therapy that I hadn't really heard much about before. The cancer treatment is called Rigvir; it is manufactured in Latvia and marketed primarily through a Latvian entity called the International Virotherapy Center (IVC). To recap, Rigvir is an unmodified Echovirus, specifically ECHO-7, that, according to the IVC, seeks out cancer cells, replicates in them, and thus lyses the cancer cells (causes their membranes to break, spilling out the cancer cells contents, thus killing the cell), hence the term "oncolytic virus."…
This blog is based in the United States, and I'm an American. Unfortunately, this produces a difficult-to-avoid baked-in bias towards medicine as it is practiced in the US and, to a lesser extent, as it is practiced in the English-speaking world, because English is my language and I can read accounts coming out of English-speaking countries. The same bias exists with respect to pseudo-medicine, with our concentration having been primarily on either quackery that is practiced in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia (and sometimes New Zealand). It's not because I'm not interested in medicine and…
Image of cave dwelling Mexican tetra By Citron via Wikimedia Commons Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) are a fascinating example of divergent evolution. Over time, some of these freshwater river fish washed into caves where they continue to live. With perpetual darkness, these cavefish have lost their ability to see along with their skin pigmentation. Oxygen and food are also hard to come by in the caves. In fact, the cave dwelling fish may go for months without eating as they wait for seasonal floods to deliver foods. Dr. Cliff Tabin (Harvard Medical School) recently presented his…
Planting a gingko and listening to early Black Sabbath. Sailboat owners around Älgö have a lot of trouble with their wind indicators. The local crows use them as merry-go-rounds, which messes them up. Me: "I am daft today." Autocorrect: "I am Daddy Toast." Friendly local fellow gladly gave us permission to stash our excavation gear overnight behind his garden shed. Heavy downpour making loud whoosh noise on the roof. Rented a van, collected excavation gear and two students, deposited gear at site, bought extra gear, had lunch, returned van, am now in no hurry to airport. Everything went as…
This is a preface to the preface to a piece I wrote in 2011. I have only this to add: First as an aside, I suspected Trump could win the presidency, most people simply said it was impossible. But nonetheless, I was just as shocked as anyone else. Here's the thing. American culture reacted to 9/11 in ways that are mostly harmful. Various aspects of culture tend to reside in specific, though often vaguely defined, entities, such as classes taught in schools, crap kids say to each other on playgrounds, religious ceremony, TV shows, etc. Sometimes parts of culture tend to hold, brew, evolve…
Regular readers know that, as a cancer surgeon, I become particularly worked up about stories of naturopaths taking care of cancer patients, which all too often end in disaster for the patient. I've lost count of how many naturopaths I've seen, either on their websites, in talks, or in published literature, claiming that they can cure cancer "naturally," using any of a number of unproven methods, an example being the Gerson protocol, a form of quackery involving 13 larges glasses of raw vegetable and fruit juice, around 150 supplements, and five coffee enemas a day, each and every day. Others…
Three statisticians go hunting for rabbit. They see a rabbit. The first statistician fires and misses, her bullet striking the ground below the beast. The second statistician fires and misses, their bullet striking a branch above the lagomorph. The third statistician, a lazy frequentist, says, "We got it!" OK, that joke was not 1/5th as funny as any of XKCD's excellent jabs at the frequentist-bayesian debate, but hopefully this will warm you up for a somewhat technical discussion on how to decide if observations about the weather are at all explainable with reference to climate change. […
My feed, as you'd expect, is full of stuff from Houston about hurricane Harvey. A typical example is How Climate Change is Making the Houston Situation Worse. Or Stefan's Storm Harvey: impacts likely worsened due to global warming. I'm sure you can fill in any gaps. But also Timmy's It’s amazing how few people Harvey has killed. And ~101 is indeed a very small number for a storm of this size. Of course there are many reasons: (government funded) warning systems; lots of planning; high quality infrastructure; a resilient civil society; and so on. So the question is: if we temporarily ignore…
One mean spirited decision intended to end the effort to end slavery led to one million dead and the end of slavery anyway. I spent some time this weekend comparing prosecutors and other legal eagles, who were all hoping to get the job of Attorney General. They were Candidates General, I guess. Trump was mentioned, and somewhere along the line, Dred Scott was mentioned as well. I turned to a highly placed official sort of dude and said, "Did you know that Dred Scott lived in Minnesota?" He did not know that. So I asked a couple of other people if they knew, and they did not. Finally I…
Over the years, I've frequently contemplated just where many of the ideas that underlie alternative medicine in general come from. Certainly, I'm not the first to have thought of this by any stretch of the imagination, but over the last 13 years, I've become convinced that it is a fear of bodily "contamination" that harks back to ideas found in many religions. Think about it. Where does the fear of "toxins" in vaccines come from? Vaccines are portrayed as "foreign," as something "unnatural" that is "injected right into the bloodstream." Never mind that vaccines are not injected directly into…
Our colleague Lizzie Grossman, a contributing writer at The Pump Handle, died earlier this month from ovarian cancer.  She was a long-time freelance writer who specialized in environmental health topics. Her books included Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry (2011) and High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health (2006). Lizzie began blogging at The Pump Handle in May 2010. She traveled to the Gulf coast to report on the experiences of workers who were cleaning up the disaster left by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig…
Everything old is new again, or so it always seems with alternative medicine. Before I explain what I'm talking about a bit more, let me just preface my remarks with an explanation for why there was no post tomorrow. I realize that most people probably don't care that much if I miss a day or two, but I care. Basically, I was in Chicago from Thursday through Sunday taking a rather grueling review course in general surgery offered by the American College of Surgeons. The reason is that I have to take my board recertification examination in general surgery in December. It was an amazing course,…
"In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of human contempt find that without changing their address they eventually live in the metropolis." -Quentin Crisp The Universe is expanding. The farther away a galaxy is, the faster it appears to be receding from us. The standard story tells us that space itself is expanding, and that’s the cause, but it’s only natural to wonder if perhaps space is static, and everything else within it isn’t shrinking instead? Many laypersons choose to go this route, and question the entire field of cosmology…
"Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss." -Ralph Waldo Emerson The enterprise of science is one of the most misunderstood in all of society. Some view it as its own religion; others view it as a political ideology gussied up in smart-sounding clothes; still others view it as open to interpretation. But science is none of those things, and is rather the full suite of knowledge humanity has accumulated along with our process of discovery, investigation, and ongoing hard work. Astronaut candidates Tyler N. (Nick) Hague, Andrew R. Morgan and Nicole A…
At the moment, all these are anywhere from free to two bucks. The Darwin books are always cheap, the others are probably temporarily cheap. If you've not read The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, you should. It is always avaialable for next to nothing on the kindle, currently this version is 99 cents. Concerning his autobiography--written when Darwin was 59 and originally published as the first part of “The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin” (1887)--Darwin explained: “A German editor [wrote] to me for an account of the development of my mind and character with some sketch of my…
On a whim I searched for my surname in the Sites & Monuments Register and was awarded with a distribution map of fieldwork I have directed Boiled cauliflower is bland and boring. But try slicing it and baking it at a high temperature in the oven with oil and salt. Good stuff! Archaeoscience friends! The other day when I was feeling happy I had the idea that you guys should develop a method to measure lifetime happiness in human bone. Preferably including variability over the life span. Proponents of market capitalism tend to confuse a description of how the market works with a…
Image of lavender fromGFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=322384 While lavender aromatherapy has been documented to reduce stress in humans, little is known about its potential for reducing stress in veterinary medicine. Horses can develop elevated heart rates and stress hormone levels when they are confined to horse trailers and transported to new competition venues. Therapies to reduce stress in competition horses are regulated and often prohibit the use of sedatives or oral supplements. Kylie Heitman, an undergraduate student at Albion College, was interested in…
After yesterday's post about how antivaxers were utterly losing their mind about an ill-chosen idiom that appeared in a Boston Herald editorial last week. In it, the editor concluded by saying that how antivaxers have been preying on the Somali immigrant population in Minnesota, feeding them antivaccine misinformation that has resulted in two measles outbreaks, one in 2011 and one this year, which is up to 58 victims, a number that continues to climb, should be a "hanging offense." In my post, I emphasized the hypocrisy and disingenuousness of the response of antivaxers, who took an offhand…
Over the last few years, I've been doing a recurring series that I like to refer to as The Annals of "I'm not antivaccine." Amazingly, it's already up to part 23. It's a series based on an oft-repeated antivaccine claim that is either a like or a delusion (sometimes both), namely the claim made by antivaccine activists ranging from Jenny McCarthy to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the latter of whom is best known for making such claims after likening "vaccine-induced autism" to the Holocaust. (Indeed, RFK, Jr. takes denial to a ridiculous extreme by proclaiming himself not just "pro-vaccine" but "…
Dr. Clara do Amaral is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Dayton in Ohio where she studies freeze tolerance in frogs. She received a Research Recognition Award from the Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology section of the American Physiological Society at the 2017 Experimental Biology meeting in Chicago, IL. She prepared this award-winning guest blog entry to describe her interesting research: The Cope’s gray treefrog is a small frog that occurs in the eastern United States. You can find it sitting on the trunks and branches of trees, and you can hear it calling from the edges of…