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This Blog used to be about the question: What is Science?
Now, it asks: What is Happiness?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Science Challenged

First, a little reminder of the Hows and Whys of Scientific Method......

From the BBC website>

"WHO recommends against homeopathic treatments for HIV, TB, malaria, influenza, infant diarrhoea
The WHO has warned that people with conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the BBC reports. The agency was responding to a June letter (full text available here), in which researchers from the Voice of Young Science Network called on the agency "to condemn the promotion of homeopathy for treating TB, infant diarrhoea, influenza, malaria and HIV."
The group, which is part of the Sense About Science organization that advocates for "evidence-based" care, has conveyed the WHO's views in a letter to health ministers, according to the BBC (8/20).

According to a Sense About Science release, the organizations received comments from five WHO officials, which "clearly express WHO's position" (8/21). Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB department at the WHO, said, "Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care do not recommend use of homeopathy." In addition, a spokesman for the WHO department of child and adolescent health and development said of treating diarrhoea in children: "We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit," the BBC writes (8/20). The release includes additional comments from the associate director of WHO's global malaria program, the HIV/AIDS department interim director and others (8/21).

Robert Hagan, a researcher in biomolecular science at the University of St. Andrews and a member of Voice of Young Science Network, said, "We need governments around the world to recognise the dangers of promoting homeopathy for life-threatening illnesses. We hope that by raising awareness of the WHO's position on homeopathy we will be supporting those people who are taking a stand against these potentially disastrous practices," BBC writes (8/20).

[24 Aug 2009 08:27]

And whilst on the subject of Rule no X (that's a good idea!)....being, 'Scientific Method gives us the best shot at finding the Truth'

Just as a reminder that we continue to live in ancient times as far as many of our modern day pseudo-scientific practices show us. All of us probably have a friend who is an alternative healer or homeopath. I certainly do and if I pause to think about them they are all nice gentle and caring people who no doubt believe implicitly that their healing works. I have yet to hear a single homeopath claim or admit that the successes they see are no more than what is expected from a combination of placebo effect (1/3 of cases), and 'leave it alone and it will self heal', (1/3 of cases). This 1 third rule is, I hear, taught in medical school and leaves a crucial 33% that if untreated according to proper medical intervention will or may kill the patient. Now, add to this mix an unfriendly doctor, an uncaring and overstressed health care system and a lack of social support and it is easy to see how the odds can actually be slewed in the direction of alternative practice being more successful at making people feel better.

So, if what you are suffering from is not likely to kill you or does not need your being anaethesized for it, then visiting your local foot massager or electrode prodder may well result in your feeling a heck of a lot better more of the time. After all, what do most people say about homeopaths...."They really show they care about the patient, They hold your hand and listen to who you are." In this way, they can well be healers.

Resurrecting my Advice Columnist...(literally)

(Lack of) Wisdom from the kitchen>>>>

I have been wont to include an insert of the gems of domestic wisdom which normally sprout forth from my mother whilst dicing carrots in the kitchen. Well they seem to have started again as she regains strength from her 4 month post hospital recovery.

But....there is a narrow dividing line between her random wisdom and just getting something plain wrong.
This morning when she discovered that her water tablets had changed colour she blurted out, "I hope they are NOT GIVING ME GENERICS!"
I explained that even if they were, there was no significant pharmacological difference. "Oh no", she replied, "They are cheaper so they must we worse".
"The doctor told me that I must not take generics!", to which I replied something about her having a vivid imagination.
After betting (and not being accepted) my entire financial worth, I hauled out the trusty netbook and googled a few references, confident that the local pharmacy was not handing out counterfeit drugs.
It turns out that whilst the formutaion remains essentially identical with generics, there is a caveat: In older patients sometimes a colour change can result in the meds not being taken which has the same effect as not taking at these cases it is better to stick to the same shape, size and colour.

As for the tale about the doctor. This reminds me of a fascinating area of neurological real estate called the Prefrontal cortex, or the cogitative and Storytelling part of our brain.
This rather inventive lump of grey matter sits in the front and sides of our heads and is one of the later evolved parts that sort of define us as human. In between firing up when we improvize on our Fender Stratocaster, it has an ongoing argument with a far older piece of brain, the Amygdala, which sits deep in the evolutionary depths of our psyche. This is what gives us those sudden rushes of emotion and fear that warn us of danger and give us the energy to fight or flee. But in the sensible society that we now live in, it is not always appropriate to thump your boss on the nose when he yells at you even though every molecule in your body seems to be crying for justice.
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is the guy that says, hold on, lets think about this, maybe it is a better idea to take a breath and find another way of handling the boss's outburst. the medial prefrontal, on the other hand is the creative, the imaginative storyteller. It is this part sitting up front that fills in the gap, so to speak, when we are telling a tale constructed from fragments of memory.
Thus, when my mother has some recall of things being said about generic medicine, she weaves a story around these spuriously recalled facts and literally fills in the gaps with nonsense, like what the doctor said. The important thing is that the Prefrontal plays a trick on us here and makes us believe that these fillers are in fact as true as the rest. So, mum, based on a few bits of recollection, pieces together a story that she really believes in.

Religion, I suspect, is a bit like this, but in a way inverted. The bible stories fill the heads of receptive believers and the good ole prefrontal fills in the gaps with all the evidence needed. Just look around you and everywhere is proof of the work of God.
So, when we suspect that religious people are suspending disbelief in key areas, we have to understand that the story that they are often seeing is one of non-fiction in its entirety.

I too, therefore must be filling in the gaps...where though is what I have to ask.

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