Assault on Science

As I write this, it is the end of an interesting week where the western worlds decline to pre-enlightenment understanding of science has continued. Obviously, when I said “interesting” I meant sad…

The really annoying leader of this decline has to be Mary Midgley, as Heather previously addressed, who seems to think that “Science” is some dark art that has no relevance on any other aspect of society. Oddly she seems to be calling for the implementation of social policies, laws and the like without any scientific input. Obviously the idea that laws should be formulated without any experiemental reason to think they would ever work – I mean we are innundated with such laws now… Who cares if it can be demonstrated that Law X doesn’t work, as long as we “feel” it is a good law… Well done Mary.

Next in the firing line is the case of Dawn Page and here “nutritional therapist,” Barbara Nash. In a nutshell Page followed Nash’s frankly crazy advice and suffered major brain damage. Bad Science has an excellent take on this – the media as a whole has ignored the general trend of crazy advice by self appointed “Nutritionists” and focused on Nash as a one-off crank… The sad reality is the western world is inundated with fruitloops like this who go on about Chakras, Detox and the like. The even sadder part is that we fall for this nonsense without having the basic scientific reasoning ability to question their basically insane claims. I am all for sticking it to “professionals” who abuse their position (and I think £801,000 was a trivial sum in this case) but, for Toutatis’ sake, why on Odin’s Earth didn’t Ms Page go to the bloody doctors when she felt sick. When uncontrollable vomiting set in, most normal people (you would hope) would go to the hospital, probably via a 999 call to an ambulance. Not Ms Page, who returned to her nutritional therapist for more advice. As I see it, this is where Nash commited the greatest crime. Rather than telling Ms Page to seek real help, she stuck to her woo. Stupid or greedy? Who knows? Who cares – it still screams criminal negligence as far as I can see.

Closing on the heels of the above, and a strong candidate for the worst abuse of scientific illiteracy is the media’s “feeding frenzy” on the decision by Ronald Herberman (Director of the University of Pittsborough Cancer Institute) to issue a warning to his staff to limit their use of mobile phones due to the risk of cancer. Now, I am going to assume that Herberman is a scientist and aware of the nature of scientific reasearch – and indeed, he did say the “evidence is controversial” that phones cause cancer. The same can not be said for the media vultures that descended on this…

First off, often decisions have to be made on “inconclusive” evidence, so that in itself is not a bad thing. By its very nature a scientific proof is still liable to be disproven at any moment. In this manner, it is perfectly reasonable (there is that word again) for Director Herberman to send a memo to his staff saying that, in his opinion, they should limit their use of phones. Does this count as “evidence” there is an increased risk of cancers forming in users of mobile phones. No. Does this mean the “scientific community” (in as much as one can exist) thinks there is a greater risk today than they did two weeks ago – again, no.

If you were to absorb any news from the UK this week, however, you would think this was fundamental proof that mobile phones are dangerous. New calls are all over about how phone masts cause “electrosensitivity” and similar woo. It seems that people have assumed, that because Dr Herberman has sent out this message it must be true and obviously because Dr Herberman works at a Cancer Institute he must be correct, notwithstanding the fact that Cancer Research UK reported (in February) that phone users were no more likely to get cancer than someone who had never touched a phone. Obviously, as journalists are functionally incapable of reading research they go with what ever seems to have the power to sell as many issues as possible…

The Guardian newspaper on Saturday identifies what it sees as the logic at work here (and sadly this is where Dr Herberman seems to fall down). First off, it explains the problem in trying to find out what is a “cause of cancer” with:

Here’s the thing. Almost everything that causes cancer does so by causing mutations in our cellular DNA that accumulate over years and often decades before culminating in a tumour. So to prove something increases a person’s cancer risk, scientists must often not only wait for years to see a significant peak in the disease, but also be able to rule out any other possible cause. That could be changes in diet, environmental factors, lifestyle, the list goes on.

Yes. It it hard trying to work out what causes cancer, this is one of the reasons we have so many “institutes” around the world looking into it. I don’t seem to recall any of them having solved the problem yet though. The Guardian finishes with: (emphasis mine)

The independent Stewart review into mobile phones in 2000 advised children to limit their use as a precaution. Dr Herberman is following the same logic. “We shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later,” he said.

Wow. A fail for science there. I think that funding research institutes causes cancer. Rather than wait to see if any study can agree with this, why don’t we withdraw the funding now so we can err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later.

Shame on you Dr Herberman, you have opened the floodgates to woo….

Who funds the NHS?

Carrying on the thread from the post below about public funding for airport security, there is a related issue to do with the National Health Service. The one thing that most people in the UK are happy to contribute their tax pounds to must be the NHS. But it may not be prepared to come through with the goods when we need it to.

FFS, it’s spending comically inflated sums on a new computer system. Drugs that will give sight to the blind or another 5 years to people dying of kidney cancer are obviously too much of an expensive luxury after that.

Tony Wilson – former Granada TV presenter, creator of the independent Factory Records (Joy Division, et al) , styled “Mr Manchester” by fellow Granada TV presenter Gordon Burns – has kidney cancer. And lo, he finds that the NHS won’t pay for the drugs that would almost certainly give him 5 years more life.

The view expressed by his local health authority and National Institute for Clinical Excellence is that these drugs are too expensive (at over £2k) and aren’t a “cure”. Tony Wilson says that, although not a cure, the main doctors in the field regard them as essential. But obviously, £2k is too much to pay for one individual to live another half decade or more…

Well, Tony Wilson can pay, or his showbiz chums can pay for him. But, he is, unselfishly, campaigning for all the other patients who can’t come up with £2k to save their lives.

Similarly, there is a treatment for macular degeneration (age-related blindness) that is also considered too costly. So, if you suffer from macular degeneration, depending on where you live and whether you are already blind in one eye or not, it’s possible that you might get it. Then again, you may not.

This stuff is not even remotely rational. If the health service budget is stretched to its limits, take more money from us. Or, maybe try some more ruthless cost-cutting.

Like, don’t give Prozac to everyone who seems a little unhappy, for a start. Don’t lash millions of working computers and replace them with a multi-billion computer system designed to leak everyone’s personal information at will, but ready for the one occasion a year when you need to book someone from Dorset into a hospital in Aberdeen.

Some insignificant fragment of it is MY money, right? If I ever get kidney cancer or go blind, I’ll happily let the NHS use my computer, but I want the best treatments.

[tags]blindness, cancer, health, kidney cancer, national health service, nhs, public spending, medicine, tony wilson, Health Service[/tags]