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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I just linked to something from PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog that made me laugh almost as much as it made me nauseous.  Apparently creationist Eric Hovind (who I assume is related to “Dr Dino” Kent Hovind) has a website with one minute videos promoting creation science.  Of course, in this case ‘science’ really means ‘Christian fundamentalist dogma’.  But be that as it may, these videos are a flashy new approach to spouting the same old superstitious bible literalism nonsense that predates real science by thousands of years.  The production is smooth but the message is the same.

I don’t want to spoil the laughs (Hovind’s comedic timing could use a little work) but here are a few gems in case you don’t visit:

Creation Minute is an exciting series hosted by Eric Hovind that explores the creation worldview using cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology. Each episode challenges the evolution theory and gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

OK.  First sentence makes sense.   He does use new technology to promote fundamentalist non-scientific nonsense.  (That’s what it says, right?)  The second sentence is a real laugher though.

..gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

You can’t deny that that’s a frggin hoot!  “scientific accuracy”…

A prime example of his Bible-based science is this formula:

Evolution Formula

Evolutionists are forced to believe that nothing + time = everything.

Seriously if want to waste some time (and maybe lose your last meal) watch some of these videos which use “cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology” to promote the same lame arguments that fundamentalists have been using against evolutionary biology for 150 years.  A new shiny package but inside it’s the same old pile of stinking crap.

Seriously, why are these backward close-minded irrational beliefs held by more than just the tiniest fringe of society?

Today’s lifting of the embryonic stem cell ban by the Obama administration has the conservative politicians and media engaging in a flurry of political rhetoric.  Of course this is no surprise as it’s certainly a hot-button topic.  One comment that caught my eye was from Rep Eric Cantor, the No. Republican in the house.  on CNN, he apparently said that we should focus on the economy rather than stem cell research.

“Frankly, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We don’t want that. … And certainly that is something that we ought to be talking about, but let’s take care of business first. People are out of jobs.”

OK.  Pretty strong rhetoric from a high ranking member of the Rep party.  Obviously this guy is either drinking the coolaid or being completely disingenuous.  How can anyone with any knowledge of the issue make those statements?

First of all, claiming that the Obama administration shouldn’t do anything except focus on the economy is ridiculous.  That is a False Dichotomy – claiming that the president can only do one thing or the other.  Of course the administration has a large number of issues to deal with.  The science, medicine research, and health advisers should focus on their responsibilities, not the economy.  If the administration was only dealing with the economic issues, it would negligence of historic proportions.

Secondly, the embryo harvesting and human cloning claim is fear mongering in the form of a Straw Man Argument.  How does Human Cloning have ANYTHING to do with stem cell research? Embryonic harvesting?  Are you fucking kidding?  Representative Cantor is either a moron or a liar.  (Which fallacy is that?)  Actually, since he is a politician, I suspect that he is both.

source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29586269/

A third Immunization post.  I promise to move on to other subjects…

For the lazy readers who don’t have the time or inclination to do research but are interested in vaccine safety and efficacy, I’d like to suggest a podcast that you can listen to.  Infectious Disease specialist Mark Crislip, MD has addressed the topic in a recent Quackcast podcast which can be found here.

Don’t expect someone sympathetic to the anti-vaccinationists and celebrity a-holes promoting them.  Dr. Crislip addresses the safety of several vaccines, the vaccine – autopsy connection (or lack of), and why the claims made by the Green Vaccine movement are completely bogus.

In case, you don’t listen to the whole thing, Dr. Crislip ends the podcast with the following thought:  “Greener vaccines?  The only green you will see by getting rid of vaccines, or decreasing their use, is the grass growing on the graves of children needlessly killed by preventable infections.”

A federal court ruled today in a case involving parents of autistic children who are seeking compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.  These parents believe that their childrens’ autism was caused by vaccinations.  Health agencies as well as all but a few fringe scientists and doctors have maintained that there is no causal relationship between autism and vaccines.  The court stated that the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the parents claim.

This case has been watched by many in the scientific and health care communities as well as many others.  More than 5500 claims have been filed by parents seeking compensation.  Additionally, there has been an increase in parents all over the country declining vaccines for their children because of autism fears.

Of course, this decision will not persuade most of the parents that their children’s autism was not caused by vaccines.  Several years of research from around the world hasn’t been able to do that so this certainly won’t.  In fact, the head of Vaccine Information Center (which promotes the idea) said “I think it is a mistake to conclude that, because these few test cases were denied compensation, it’s been decided vaccines don’t play any role in regressive autism.”  She went on to say that more studdies are needed.

Just like any fringe or psuedoscientific belief, evidence is ignored unless it supports the belief, and believers claim that more research needs to be done.  In the case of autism and vaccines, more than enough research has been done.  The proverbial dead horse has been beaten to the point of turning to dust and yet it’s not enough.  The tragedy here is that so much money has been spent researching this link over and over, that it has reduced efforts that could actually determine causes, treatments, and a cure.  Think about that.  Obviously some people are not.

Of course, you have to feel for parents of autistic children.  It’s extremely difficult to deal with something like that and of course they want to know why it happened and what can be done to fix it.  It’s understandable that the answer they get from their doctor is not acceptable.  But the fact is that science has not got to the bottom of this tragic condition.  Genetic and environmental causes are being investigated but there is no answer yet.  Previous hypotheses, including those involving vaccines, mercury, and thimerosal, have been investigated and ruled out.  It’s time to devote more money and resources to research which may actually bear fruit.

source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29160138/

For more information, please visit the Science Based Medicine Blog

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.

After writing the last post which was rather tough, I want to focus on the good news of the day:

Articles in the Guardian and on PHYSORG.com took me by surprise this week.  They talk about Hyperion Power Generations plans to build a small (not exactly pint-sized) nuclear reactor that will service approximately 10,000 homes.  Hyperion claims that the $25 million reactors are safe, reliable, and clean.  Each unit would utilize non-weapons grade material, have no moving parts, and would only need to be serviced every 7 to 10 years.

It sounds too good to be true, and usually I’m very skeptical of these types of claims.  Very skeptical.  Did I mention that I’m skeptical?

In this case, however, it seems that the Japanese are working on the technology as well.  According to The Guardian, Toshiba has announced plans to build small reactors capable of powering a single building for 40 years.

That coupled with the claim that the technology is based on research at Los Alamos National Lab gives me hope that Hyperion is for real.  If so, this could be a real game changer over the next 10 to 20 years in our quest for energy Independence.

See.  I told you it was good news.