After many years of being mocked by anyone with a modicum of understanding in medicine or science or reproducible results, homeopathy has been slammed by an actual governmental study in the UK. I particularly like the line refuting the necessity to fund “traditional” medicine: “Witchcraft is traditional, so does that mean the MHRA should endorse that too?”
Remember that adapid fossil from back in May? Turns out, all that breathless excitement over this “missing link” was premature and erroneous. Of course, most scientists would have told you the same thing in May, since the research was published on the Discovery Channel before it was peer-reviewed, the adapid line is actually not considered an ancestral family from humans, and a few other reasons too no doubt.
This is exactly why I dislike the automatic “missing link” verbiage that gets attached to any story about any prehistoric primate or ape. First of all, it’s ridiculously misleading to think of evolution as a series of links in some sort of chain. And, secondly, when your missing link turns out to have been on a different tree branch, the less-informed just use it as another bludgeon to hit the “ain’t no monkeys in my family tree” drum. Darwinius Masillae remains an interesting fossil and a remarkably well-preserved 45 million-year old find, but it’s not a human ancestor. Take that, premature publication!
On the other hand, this is a great example of why science needs to be better respected in this country. Unlike any other method of dealing with the world throughout history, science is willing (sometimes eager) to admit mistakes, and is always self-correcting. Every scientist wants to make a name for him or herself; proving your peers are wrong in a big way is a great way to do that. That it also advances human knowledge is a great thing for those of us not in the research world. Where would any of us be if previous generations had decided that any evidence contrary to “electricity is magic” was heretical and would be ignored? I’m rather glad to have this here electronic typewritery thingy.
I hate the breathless and somewhat hyperbole-laden reporting of every new fossil find. This month, it’s Ardipithecus Ramidus, which the press is calling the “oldest pre-human” fossil. Um, wouldn’t the oldest pre-human fossil be the oldest fossil? This obsession with a “missing link” between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom is a bit tiresome. There are jillions of links, and there are undoubtedly going to be jillions more found in the future. Every time someone finds something from the primate branch, the media goes into a veritable frenzy.
Of course, we find anything which casts any light on our own branch of the tree much more interesting than the spectacular specimens of pre-whale fossils back in February. But to claim that this Ardipithecus shows that we didn’t evolve from chimps is ridiculous. Nobody claims we did. Some biologists and anthropologists may use the shorthand of saying we evolved from something that looked something like a modern chimp, but nobody ever said that we evolved and chimps stopped. Evolution doesn’t work that way. Everything is just as “highly evolved” as everything else. Each species occupies a niche for which it has become adapted over eons. That doesn’t in any way mean that humans are the most evolved form of life – we’re just the only ones who write about it.
Oh, and scientists have been writing about Ardipithecus since at least 1999, and even pointed out that it was a hominid but not a common ancestor with modern chimps back in 2001.
On August 25th, four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei showed his telescopes to the Venetian lawmakers. With the Galileoscope the Boy and I assembled this weekend, we observed the four satellites of Jupiter that are called today the Galilean moons: Ganymede, Io, Europa and Callisto. Then the clouds covered them up again.
Although a bit later in the year than I’d hoped we have received our two Galileoscopes (no, I don’t know why I bought two of them, other than they were cheap so why not?), and they’re very spiffy. We’re using the basic 25x magnification right now, although we may put together the 50x eyepiece to peer at Jupiter more closely tomorrow. We should be able to see the Great Red Spot about 10:30pm this week. Not sure about how that will go. The Boy can’t seem to avoid bumping the scope, making massive changes in view far too common. The Woman, of course, was much better and caused no problems when she looked at Jupiter and its four moons. Very cool night.
Somehow, the Boy convinced me to get up at 6am on a non-work day, so we could peer at Venus and Mars. I’ll let you know how that goes.
(Note: this is an edited version of the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines. Why edited? English libel laws make Singh at risk if the full article were published even in the USA.)
Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.
You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.
In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.
You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.
I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.
But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.
In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.
More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.
Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.
Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”
This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.
If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.
Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.
The Galileoscope is finally being produced, and it’s a bit later than most people had hoped. When you’re trying to get people into the “International Year of Astronomy” it may be helpful to get the telescopes out before the middle of the year. That being said, it looks like the $15 telescopes are making an impact even before anyone has one – Celestron has brought out a $50 scope that is tied to the IYA and is much better at light-gathering than the Galileoscope, while offering a 75x objective compared to the 50x objective on the Galileoscope. Cool deal, if you can’t wait for June.
I’ve got two Galileoscopes on order, and I’ll definitely have photos of The Boy assembling and using one when they finally show up. Patience…
I realize that many ads are sent to newspapers with “camera ready” art and the paper merely places it on the page. Still, the egregiousness of some errors makes you wonder if anyone who knows English reads the paper before thousands of copies are distributed. In a supplement today, I learned that a man with a Masters in Education was the Principle of a school. I also learned that Don Oscar’s restaurant was Formally Little Mexico. I guess it’s informally Don Oscar’s.
The local signmakers are no better. There’s a billboard that has been up around town for a month or two now, in several places. It says that “Being a First Lady has it’s privileges.” No wonder our kids can’t spell - the adults aren’t even trying!
[K]ids don’t read for pleasure. And because they don’t read, they are less able to navigate the language. If words are the coin of their thought, they’re working with little more than pocket change.
Kids are graduating with incredibly high GPAs and can’t recognize words like “advocate.” Ouch.
California - what the hell is wrong with you people? You rejected every proposition, even the reasonable ones, just because Arnold liked them all? And, um...San Francisco banned all gun ownership? Damn, even the SFPD thought that was stupid. I realize that nobody needs a gun to go hunting on Fisherman's Wharf, but that doesn't mean the Second Amendment is irrelevant. What part of "shall not be infringed" is unclear?
If people don't like a particular part of our legal framework, they're perfectly welcome to attempt changing it. Just don't circumvent it, eh? BTW, this applies equally to people finding legal loopholes to allow torture and indiscriminate imprisonment as it does to people who hate gays or guns. Some days, it's hard to think of people as a group having anything like brains (Kansas, I'm looking at you!).
Next on the hit list, Germ Theory and the Theory of Gravity. It's all deus ex machina, man!
''I see good evidence for evolution, but on the other hand, I see my body works almost perfectly. It seems to be a tremendous leap of faith to say this body is the result of total randomness.''
It's not total randomness! To conflate evolution with purely random chance mutations is to deliberately mislead people. How is this guy a college professor? It's not like you have just as good a chance to evolve something bad as something good - that's the point; the bad mutations tend to die and the good mutations tend to out-compete the nonmutated organisms. Evolution is the only theory on speciation (not the origin of life - another common confusion thrown in) that has withstood the test of time and research. There has not been any serious debunking of evolution since Darwin's time; it looks increasingly unlikely that there will ever be a legitimate failure found in the basic tenets of the theory.
Two other professors, from a non-religious university, say the same thing that every actual working scientist has said: ID isn't science, it's faith. If you want to believe in a deity or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, good for you. Just don't try to use that belief to bring down science.
They also quote a Catholic Bishop, as the "other side of the debate" - there is no debate. If you want to have a theologian discuss his views on a subject that is not in his area of study, why stop there? How about if we use expert opinions on automobile maintenance from a grocery clerk? Why not take a biologist's opinion about quantum physics as a legitimate counterpoint to an actual physicist's research? Some things are not opinion - they are observed reality.
Yet, all these reasonable people go to the polls every two to four years and vote for people who are anything but reasonable. How in the world do we get ideologues and idiots in office, when most people are basically decent human beings, with the minor difference in opinion about things like the proper role of government in our lives? It's astounding, especially when you consider that the American governmental process is remarkably transparent compared to many other countries. If this is the best of all possible systems, I'm glad to be living in it.
Of course, another issue which recurs is a growing lack of personal responsibility among individuals. Blaming the government for the failures of the past month is easy. Now, what is that pesky phrase in the Constitution? Oh, right - We the People. We, the people, are considered to be the sovereign rulers of the United States. We, the people, should not be waiting for the government to Do Something when things go awry. We, the people, comprise the country and if our elected representatives aren't doing something, we need to. This lack of personal responsibility spreads through the public school system as well, with the consequence that parents seem too willing to abdicate all requirements that they raise their own darned kids, preferring the strangers of a major institution to take care of that rather personal issue. Mystifying.
Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Yeah, evolution is a theory. Gravity is another theory. You may have heard of germ theory.
Theories in science are treated as fact, as the best available explanation of how things are. They aren't just good guesses - that would be a hypothesis. If you don't know the difference, you shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a science advisory board.
The central tenet of intelligent design is that any mysteries in nature that we can't explain today are the result of manipulations by some intelligent designer. This designer doesn't fall under any of the rules of nature or science that we understand, and so is by definition "supernatural." The very idea of teaching a science which is based on something that is inherently unexplainable by science must make your head ache, if you can wrap your mind around the basic absurdity of the whole enterprise.
Besides the silliness involved in invoking a magical invisible being to explain anything we don't currently know, it is dangerous. If you decide that some things are just unknowable, scientific research stops. When research stops, progress in the sciences stops. When progress stops, society stops. See Dark Ages, a period where scientists were told that all which was knowable was known - 400 years of utter societal and political stagnation resulted.
Deus ex machina is no basis for a science program.