July 23, 2009

A Short History of Medicine

A Short History of Medicine: "Doctor, I have an ear ache."

2000 B.C. - "Here, eat this root."
1000 A.D. - "That root is heathen, say this prayer."
1850 A.D. - "That prayer is superstition, drink this potion."
1940 A.D. - "That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill."
1985 A.D. - "That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic."
2000 A.D. - "That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root!"

What are we going to be laughing at in the future about today's medicine?

From: Medical Jokes and Milestones of Medicine

July 21, 2009

An aspiring science writer's pledge

A friend and I were discussing blogging yesterday, and he commented that I should write more often on my blog. I agreed with him, whole-heartedly, but explained to him the difficulty I face. My problem is this; the more zealous I am about an interesting subject that I would like to write about, the more afraid I am that I haven’t learned enough about the many facets of that subject to be able to write about it without bias.

I have a tendency to preach about the value of recognizing your own bias. Or at least, I would like to preach about it, because I think it is important. As such, I am petrified of my own bias… I am certain that it will sneak into my fingertips when I’m not looking and type itself into existence on my blog, only to be caught by a reader stopping by for a dose of my blathering. Of course, there is no escaping bias, no matter how hard we try. Everyone ultimately has an agenda (usually to live, preferably in a world that best suits one’s interests and needs), and a person’s actions and words will come to represent the goals therein. I haven’t yet figured a way out of that one.

What I can do, however, is devote myself to incessant inquiry when I decide to write about a subject, especially one that stirs many people to passion. I hereby declare that I will do everything in my power (or in that chunk of my free time that I have chosen to spend researching and blogging) to look at every possible side of an issue (or, umm, all the ones I can think of) before defending one side over another. I will set aside my own prejudices, and seek out the prejudices of the parties I am investigating. I will form my opinions based on verifiable empirical evidence whenever possible, well-educated guesses when they are probable, and not-so-educated guesses only when they are particularly comical. So rest assured, dear reader, that when I am writing here, from now on, I will certainly have done my homework (unless, of course, the dog ate the parts that I didn't like).

July 14, 2009

Brains vs Beauty - Who will take on Jenny McCarthy?

Thanks to Oprah, Jenny McCarthy has been given a media platform from which she can parade as a person educated in science, and tell the world her views on autism, medicine, and nutrition. Jenny has no legitimate education in these fields, and all of her information appears to be from her own biased experience with her son, the alternative health pseudoscience gospels of the internet, and whoever provides evidence corroborating what she has apparently already chosen to believe. She promotes the dangerous and fallacious argument that vaccinations can cause autism, with such deceptive quotes as,

"Autism is not primarily a genetic disorder, but caused by vaccine-related toxins (including mercury, aluminum, ether, anti-freeze, and human aborted fetal tissue) and pesticides."

A little perspective on what truth (aluminum salt preservatives) is mixed with lies (anti-freeze, aborted fetal tissue?!) in this statement can be found here, thanks to the American Academy of Pediatricians.

While it may have once been considered a real concern that childhood vaccines cause autism, the only scientists who are still chasing the tail of this notion are not worthy of being called scientists (“scientists” of the same ilk as those who persist in denying that HIV causes AIDS). This is NOT an issue being hotly contested in the scientific community, or swept under the rugs of big pharma, as the Jenny McCarthys would have you believe.

But to paraphrase Jenny, her son is her science. Who can argue with such sound evidence as that? Let’s remember here that the ability of the human mind to believe what it wants to believe is immense, particularly when such powerful emotions as motherly love are at play. Bias is a dangerous beast – especially when a person firmly believes that they are not biased (everybody has biases, and acknowledging them is the first step to circumventing it!).

Why am I concerned? Jenny is an attractive and charismatic woman, who is clearly a passionate mother. This automatically endears her to an audience, and if that audience is not well-informed on the subjects she preaches to begin with, they will likely be influenced by Jenny’s heart-wrenching account of her own passionate battle to find a cure for her autistic son. The opposite side of the story (the side backed by good scientific evidence) is often poorly represented, as on Oprah, by a dry statement read out by the host on behalf of an absent expert. What we need is a real debate in front of the audience, with equally charismatic and attractive proponents of real science sitting in the seat next to the Jenny McCarthys of the world.

Who will answer that call to arms?

Some great blogging about the vaccine manufactroversy: