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Farrah Fawcett died today following a relapse of the anal cancer that she battled for the past three years.   I’m wondering what effect the high profile death will have on cancer awareness and the use of “alternative” therapies, in particular.  I’m not optimistic.

From what I have been able to gather, she was first diagnosed in Sep 2006 and following regimen of standard therapies, was declared cancer-free in Feb 2007.  A few months later doctors discovered a small polyp during a routine exam, and apparently she sought “alternative” treatment in Germany this time around.  I have been unable to determine exactly what the treatment was, although it’s been reported that it consisted of a combination of chemotherapy and natural supplements.

We don’t know what the specific treatment was, but we do know that it was not effective.  We’ll never know whether the “alternative” approach would have saved her life if she tried it first.  (I suspect not since natural supplements have no clinical record of curing cancer.)  Also, we’ll never know if the relapse would have been successfully treated by physicians using the latest FDA-approved, science-based treatments.  We won’t ever know those answers, but I do know that there will be loads of people claiming to.

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Some folks over at the Pala Alto Research Center have created a new tool for Wikipedia users.  It provides a dashboard at the top of an article indicating the activity of the top editors of that page.  Although the community at large does a good job at policing Wikipedia content, information on controversial subjects can change daily and sometimes be questionable.  This new tool provides a way to see who those top editors are and drill down into the discussions that have been taking place in the background.  Though the specific edit information was available, this tool’s summary makes it much easier to see who the main contributors are and provides a glimpse of the edits over a timeline.

Take for example,the entry on Lunar Effect which I blogged about yesterday.  There is not an overwhelming amount of activity (190 edits) compared to an entry on something like Barack Obama (16,000+).  Regardless, you can see that a single user has provided 47.9% of the edits and see that person’s entries.  You can also link to that user’s page and see ehat else they have been editing.  It helps you as a reader assess the bias that may have crept in.  In this case, the user has identified himself in a profile and contributed to a variety of subjects.  In this particular article he has contributed specific content and cited sources as well as made typographic edits of other submissions.  I have no reason tobelieve any bias from this user other than he wants to get the facts right.  Of course this is just my opinion.  You should always do your own research before deciding.

source: MIT Technology Review

Side note:  You can get hours of fun and frustration looking over the edit history of a Wiki entry for a topic that brings all the nuts out like 911 Conspiracy Theories.