Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Toes. Let Me Show You Them.*

Pied billed grebe awesomeness #1: dinosaur toes!

The toes are not webbed; they're lobed. When the grebe pulls its foot forward through the water, the toes fold up. Then when it pushes back the toes open. Pretty good swimming idea. Yet it can't paddle as quickly as the ducks. It actually swims faster below the water than at its surface.

I'd love to watch the grebes during the breeding season. The male's call sounds like laughter. Sadly, they're endangered in my state due to habitat loss.

Stay tuned for more pied billed grebe goodness...
*If this is your pic, let me know so I give proper credit.

Huffington Post Health News


Dr. Sears, WTF?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Telling Lies

A little art to refresh the pallet after so much science-mindedness.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Scientology Master Plan

A YouTube from 2007. But still amazing to see.

Coordinated marketing campaigns involving multiple seemingly independent sources of news are worrisome. They're disruptive to the wisdom of a healthy marketplace of ideas in the same way that a monopoly disrupts rational price setting based on supply and demand.

Scientologists are big on vitamins. I wonder if there are connections between the Church of Scientology and organizations like the Bravewell collaborative and others pushing for "integrative medicine."

I also wonder if there are meaningful connections between Scientology and the recent Federal actions against Lilly, Astra-Zeneca, Janssen, Forrest, and several child psychiatrists MGH.

From the brain's perspective, there are two ways to shape reality to suit:

1. roll up your sleeve and modify the actual, physical environment
2. create a consensus of belief among the tribe.

Both strategies result in convincing feedback to the brain regarding how the world is.

The second strategy has some advantages. It's sometimes easier and faster than the first, particularly for those of a sociable nature. The downside: if the consensus is too at odds with reality, it will eventually crash.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Poor Mr. Turkey

A turkey has an hypothesis: "Farmer John is a cool dude. He really loves me!"

Farmer John brings the turkey some nice grain. The turkey says, "See, this proves it!"

Next day, Farmer John brings the turkey more grain. Turkey says, "Even more proof!"

Next day, delicious grain. Turkey says, "His love for me is clearly an established fact!"

More than three hundred days go by as above. The turkey, who learned about the scientific method from a naturopath, says, "I was pretty sure he loved me after a few days of kindness. But now that I've enjoyed over three hundred days of tender care, I have so much more proof of his love."

The next morning, Thanksgiving.

Now, for ten internets, can you name poor Mr. Turkey's logical fallacy?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Titmouse Law

People everywhere have been cranking out rules concerning Internet discourse. We have Godwin's law, Poe's law, and more that I'm too lazy to Google.

One more for the pile:

The Titmouse Law: Anyone who cites an article from a non-peer reviewed journal in order to create the appearance of scientific legitimacy for some speculative medical etiology, test, or therapy, is a fraudulent quack.

Quackery is no longer out on the fringes. It's become organized. It has PACs backed by supplement billionaires successfully campaigning for changes in scope of practice laws. It has "schools of medicine" and "residency training." It offers CMEs and "board certifications." It has its own specialized labs. It's promoted by the federal government through NCCAM and other agencies. It's also promoted by departments of Integrative Medicine at leading medical schools. The number of quack journals published increases daily.

Good doctors are busy. They don't have time for so much debunking and politics. They also don't donate to PACS. Consequently, they are totally screwed.

Where it can be applied, the Titmouse Law allows for rapid triage of tomfoolery, thus making the ordinary doctor's workload a little lighter.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The CAM Donut

Clerk: Would you like a donut?

Person: What do you have?

Clerk: Let me show you some donut-holes.

Person: Mmm tasty! (reaches toward display)

Clerk: (slaps hand) No! We don't sell these. We sell the part that is not a donut hole.

Person: So a donut is...

Clerk: Everything else, yes.

Person: Gosh. How big are your donuts?

Clerk: We don't get into that.

From NCCAM: CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.

Here's my question for you, NCCAM: What defines the outside edge of the CAM donut? Do CAM proponents have any rational method for rejecting therapies from their set?

If Oedipus recommends tearing out one's eyes as a means of treating overwhelming feelings of guilt and despair, might that be included in the CAM set?

How about ground up rhinocerous horn for male impotence?

How about faith healing for children with menningitis?

Exorcism for epilepsy?

"CAM" as a concept is meaningless without a rational method for rejecting some proposed therapies from the set.

Wow! I think we just wound our way back to science-based medicine. For science is the method for sorting plausible from implausible claims.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Common Mergansers

These mergansers stopped by for a few hours last Sunday.

Pied Billed Grebe

All by himself this morning. No doubt catching some z's after a long night flight. He'll probably leave later today.

The spring migration is a great time to see birds you won't see the rest of the year.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Are We Amused?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Poisonous Queen
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

OK Brits. First lady faux pas? Or no big deal?

Homeopathy: the p-Value Argument

In order to reject the null hypothesis in a given experiment, the results must deviate significantly from what we'd expect to see were the null true. In medicine and the social sciences, significance is defined mathematically as 1/20, meaning that if the null hypothesis is true, we'd make the mistake of rejecting it once every twenty runs of the experiment. The value of 1/20 or .05 is know as the "p-value".

In physics, significance is defined as 1/10,000. The bar is set higher because humans know more about the basic properties of matter than they do about pathophysiology. Laws of thermodynamics, electromagnetism, mechanics --all have been validated countless times by experiments over many decades. Thus physicists understand and can control for more of the relevant variables in their studies than doctors can.

Homeopathy is a set of claims about curing disease. "Like cures like," or the law of similars, dictates that a small amount of a substance that provokes the same symptoms as those presenting in the patient will cure the problem. This is a medical claim which might be tested experimentally like any other medical claim, using the 1/20 significance level.

But there are other homeopathic claims with greater implications for science generally. "The law of infinitesimals," or the homeopathic principle that the potency of a remedy increases with its dilution might be a medical claim, were the active ingredient within the dilution measurable. However, most homeopathic remedies are so dilute that no active ingredient remains present.

Given the above, one might think that tap water would work equally as well as homeopathy. However, the homeopaths claim that their remedies somehow remember or retain the "spirit-like" essence of the active component even when its every molecule has been diluted away.

Now, if we discover solid evidence in support of this notion of water-memory, doctors won't be the only ones busy re-writing textbooks. The physicists and the chemists will be equally as busy revising their explanatory models of the world. For the water-memory hypothesis isn't pertinent to medicine specifically. Rather, it's a claim concerning the fundamental properties of matter generally. Therefore, it's actually a physics claim.

For this reason, the p-value associated with any experiment designed to test homeopathy must be set at 1/10000 at minimum for even the most preliminary and inconclusive investigation. The 1/10000 is the standard we use for new results in the basic sciences that merely add to present understanding without contradicting established principles. The standard really ought to be higher for water-memory, as the notion violates basic laws of thermodynamics.

An excerpt from the NCCAM web site:
10. Is NCCAM funding research on homeopathy?
Yes, NCCAM supports a number of studies in this area. For example:
  • Homeopathy for physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of fibromyalgia (a chronic disorder involving widespread musculoskeletal pain, multiple tender points on the body, and fatigue).
  • Homeopathy for brain deterioration and damage in animal models for stroke and dementia.
  • The homeopathic remedy cadmium, to find out whether it can prevent damage to the cells of the prostate when those cells are exposed to toxins.
Although I've not reviewed the experimental designs of the above studies, it's a safe bet the significance level is set at 1/20 rather than the more appropriate 1/10000. If such is the case, I must call on the NIH to shut down those investigations immediately. Precious research resources should not be wasted on badly designed studies at the taxpayer's expense.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How Bacteria Cause Disease

I've been reading and watching a lot of CAM material lately. So when I bumped into a non-woo health lecture, I felt as though someone had opened a window. Ah, words that have actual meanings! Facts that fit together and make sense! Knowledge presented clearly, without any effort to convince me of "New Medicine" or "wellness" or "empowerment"!

The real world is really real, and we can know stuff about it! Awesome!

This talk by UCSF's Warren Levinson MD, is designed for a lay audience. It's a great overview of infection and immunity for anyone who doesn't know much about germs. I recommend you watch it then go watch something by Weil™ or Chopra. The manipulative, cultish rhetoric of the latter will be immediately apparent.