Archive for health-care

James Randi Overdoses!

Posted in Critical Thinking, Debate, Homeopathy, Medicine, pseudo-science, science, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Well…

not really!

Randi has been doing this demonstration for quite some time.  He obtains a homeopathic sleep “remedy” and consumes an entire bottle of the stuff.  According to the label, and our current understanding of pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics this should be enough to kill and individual. 

But somehow Randi remains unharmed.

Which raises the question…

How has Randi managed to go unharmed after performing this demonstration time and time again year after year?

The answer is quite simply really…

Because there are NO active pharmacological ingredients in a homeopathic preparation.  Homeopathic remedies are simply just water.  Sure there may be a molecule or 2 of the original substance in the preparation, but nowhere near enough active pharmaceutical ingredient(s) to have any sort of measurable physiological effect.  And do not even get me started on the whole “like curing like” non-sense.

Please watch the video attached below…

And behold the one and only James Randi further explain things to you as only he can!    

  

Please forward this to all your friends.

And more importantly please forward this to anyone who uses and prepares homeopathic remedies.  Hey worst that can happen is that you win a million dollars…

Or have your entire belief system disproven…

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

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Because they WORK, Bitches!

Posted in healthcare, Medicine, science, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

I found this while surfing the internets…

This cartoon sums up how i feel about science and its place in the world (i should point out, that i relate to the stick figure WITHOUT the hat!)

(Click to enlarge)

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

“I Read a Research Paper on the Topic”

Posted in Critical Thinking, Debate, education, Homeopathy, pseudo-science, science, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Sorry about the delay between posts…

I had limited internet access over the holidays.  Anyway…

If you have ever been involved in a discussion/debate (which I am sure we all have at some point), I am sure that you have heard the following statement at least once…

“Well, I have read a research paper on the topic”

The infamous “research paper” defence!

While often employed by the forces for good, the research paper defence is often used by the forces of EVIL, specifically by those promoting pseudo-science and woo.  In these circumstances the research paper defence is employed as an authoritative declaration with the intent of ending a discussion.  Thus leaving all of those involved with the sentiment that the ultimate truth on the matter has been spoken.    

Use of the research paper defence can have several different intended (or unintended) consequences.  It can be used as a means of providing information and insight into the topic at hand.  The person employing the research paper defence seeks nothing more than to add truth/facts to the discussion.  In this type of circumstance, the research paper defence is an attempt to add some truth/facts to the conversation.  On the other hand, the research paper defence can be used as a means of intentionally ending a conversation, typically with malicious intentions.  And it is this use of the research paper defence that is often employed by propagators of pseudo-science and woo.

With this in mind…

There are some important questions that one must ask when the research paper defence is employed, as not all research papers are created equal.  Instead they fall on a continuum that ranges from “utter crap” to “reliable information that represents our best current knowledge on a specific topic”.  The questions listed below will provide potential insight into the intent of the person employing them as well as the validity of the sources being quoted.   

1)      When was the paper published?

Although a seemingly unimportant question, the year of publication is actually quite important.  If someone quotes a research paper that is years or even decades old, it is possible that the information contained within that paper is no longer relevant or has been disproven.  Although the age of a research paper does automatically determine its relevance, it can provide insight into the potential validity of a paper and the information contained within. 

2)      Who published the paper?

Was the paper proving the homeopathy is more effective that conventional medicine (just for those unsure, it is not!) published by the Journal for Homeopathy that has a review panel that consists of only homeopaths?  Or was the paper published in a peer reviewed journal that proudly employs a wide variety of unbiased/objective reviewers from a variety of different relevant backgrounds that do not have a vested interest in the results of a particular paper?  Was the paper as self produced pamphlet, written and distributed by a crank that thinks that everyone is involved in a conspiracy against him that only he has uncovered?  Or was the paper published in a reputable journal that holds itself accountable to its readers and the public at large?  Determining who published a paper and information about that publisher can provide valuable insight into the validity of a paper.

3)      What type of study was run?

Was the paper reporting on a study that included 5 research participants that knew the type of treatment they were getting?  Or was the study a double blind placebo control trial?  Is the paper an opinion piece written by a lone crank or is a systematic review written by an expert in a particular field regarding a specific topic?  When assessing the validity of a paper, the type of study run is extremely important to determine.    

4)      What where the actual results/conclusion of the research paper?

This one is really important!

I have lost track of the amount of times that someone misinterprets the results of a research paper.  Whether it is intentional or unintentional the result is still the same.  It misleads the individual hearing the information and provides false data regarding a topic of discussion.  However, when done intentionally, this type of error can take on a malicious intent, and again, is a tactic often employed by propagators of pseudo-science and woo.  So when encountering the research paper defence this is a tactic that you MUST be aware of!

Though far from an exhaustive list, it is my hope that the above “questions” will serve as a good starting point to arm you in the fight against pseudo-science and woo. 

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry….

The Skeptical Samurai on “Global News: Winnipeg”

Posted in Critical Thinking, healthcare, science with tags , , , , on September 7, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

Global News: Winnipeg recently did a story on the Medicine program at the University of Winnipeg.  Specifically, Global News was investigating why the U of M medical program is currently under review and why changes where being proposed to the current curriculum. 

I was approached by a Global News reporter while I was on campus at the Health Science Centre/University of Manitoba (I had just finished a meeting and was waiting for my wife to come and pick me up so that we could go out for breakfast!).  I spoke to the reporter for approximately 20 minutes.  Sadly, as is typically the case with television news, only about 10 seconds of our conversation was actually used.    

Here is the video of the story as it ran on the evening news (for those of you who do not know what I look like, I am the gentleman with the Punisher hat, Abriosis T-Shirt, cut off olive drab army shorts, and covered with tattoos):

(for some reason i cannot embed the video, so i will include a link instead)

http://www.globalwinnipeg.com/video/index.html?releasePID=e9RSoDTrnrpb6Yf4nKEoQyX7DXruKqyq

Science (in this case medicine) is a constantly evolving process.  As our knowledge of the natural world (in this case the human body, and the treatment modalities applied to it) change and evolve so does the manner in which we teach that information.  Consequently, scientific programs (in this case the Medicine program at the U of M) must change and evolve as our knowledge base changes and evolves.  This is not a sign of a defective program; instead it is simply an example of the scientific process at work.  In science, change is a good thing.  It demonstrates that the most up to date and accurate information is (in the case of the U of M medicine program) being taught. 

Sadly, I do not think this is at all what came across during my interview, but at least I have had the opportunity to better explain myself here.

On another note, the sceptical samurai has officially broken into the realm of television, one step closer to my goal of total world domination!

This has been the sceptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

The Skeptical Syndicate: Steven Novella

Posted in Critical Thinking, Debate, education, Homeopathy, pseudo-science, science, SGU, skepticism, Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Steven Novella, vaccines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

The Skeptical Syndicate: Steven Novella

The purpose of “The Skeptical Syndicate” is to feature a known (or not so known) individual within the skeptical community, and highlight that individual’s contributions to skepticism.  This episode we feature, Dr Steven Novella. 

 

Alright, that is not what he actually looks like…

From his blog: Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society (website: http://www.theness.com/). He is the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe (http://www.theskepticsguide.org/, do yourself a favour and check out an episode!). He is also a fellow of the Committee for Skeptic Inquiry (CSI).

Dr. Novella is an extremely active member of the skeptical community.  Dr. Novella works tirelessly (along with his fellow skeptical rogues) to dispel any and all myths perpetuated by propagators of pseudoscience worldwide.  Whether it is combating anti-vaccers

or combating pseudo-science and misinformation in mainstream media

(additional detailed discussions of this case can be found here: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?s=desiree+jennings)

He is also (to the best of my knowledge) the creator of the term/concept “science based medicine”, an evolution of evidence based medicine that advocates the use of science and scientific research to further the practice of medicine.  The skeptical community is extremely fortunate to have Dr. Novella amongst its alumni.  On a personal note, Dr. Novella has been (and still is) huge inspiration to the Skeptical Samurai.  I became aware of Dr. Novella at a time in my life when I had reached a cross roads (as discussed in a previous blog: https://theskepticalsamurai.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/reflections-of-the-skeptical-samurai/).  Dr. Novella was one of several individuals that sparked my interested in logic, reason, science and the process of inquiry.  Additionally, Dr. Novella helped to inspire my new found interest in medicine/healthcare, which helped to guide me to the path that I am currently on.  Dr. Novella, the Skeptical Samurai takes his kabuto off to you!

Dr. Novella’s personal blog can be found here: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/

Dr. Novella also regularly blogs at:

The Rogues Gallery: http://www.theness.com/roguesgallery/

Skeptic Blog: http://skepticblog.org/

Science Based Medicine: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

In Awe of the Scientific Process

Posted in Critical Thinking, healthcare, science, skepticism with tags , , , , on April 23, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

I had knee surgery the other day.  More specifically, I underwent arthroscopic surgery under spinal anaesthetic/block (with conscious sedation) of my left knee.  This could have been a nerve racking experience, but instead I found it to be rather exciting.  Why you ask?

Well…dear reader…let me tell you!

Throughout the entire experience I found myself in awe of the art of medicine and the scientific process that lead to its development.  I found myself thinking about all of the advances in healthcare/medicine/science that had made the procedure I was about to undergo possible.

From the invention of the intravenous line that allows for the administration of specific amounts of parenteral fluids and medications to the creation of the safety sheath on IV cathlons that reduce the risk of needle stick injuries to healthcare practitioners.  From the discovery of anaesthetics and the development of the spinal block (which eliminates the need for general anaesthetic thus greatly reducing the risk of post operative complications) to the development of the arthroscope (which facilitates a much less invasive and traumatic surgery that reduces recovery time from months to weeks).  From the development of aseptic technique (which significantly reduces the risk of post operative infection) to the development/use of localized external joint cooling systems (that reduce swelling and excessive inflammation thus further decreasing recovery time).

All of the above examples are the result of the process of inquiry and the scientific process.  Each of the above examples is the end result of advances in a particular segment of medicine/healthcare, and each example initially started off as a question.  How do we better administer medications?  How do we prevent healthcare practitioners from needle stick injuries?  How can we better administer anaesthetics and reduce post operative complications?  How can we further advance surgical techniques thus decreasing recovery times and increasing positive patient outcomes?  Each example progressed from a question to a process of inquiry which eventually led to the development of new technologies and/or procedures that provided better patient care and ultimately a better understanding of medicine and science.     

With the above information in mind, I could not help but find my surgical experience inspiring.  My surgical experience is the result of decades of human inquiry and subsequent accomplishments.  My positive surgical outcome is the result of the hard work of literally thousands of individuals who have worked tirelessly to better them self, their profession and the entire scientific community.  How could I not be inspired!?

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve (and inspire)…

Through the process of inquiry…

Sometimes…Even the Big Dogs Get it Wrong…

Posted in Critical Thinking, education, healthcare, Homeopathy, pseudo-science, science, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

The Cochrane Collaboration is considered to be one of the best resources for evidence based practice within the medical community.  However, even the best sometimes get it wrong! 

But 1st a little bit of background information on the Cochrane Collaboration… 

The Cochrane Collaboration (CC) is an international non profit + independent organization, which is dedicated to facilitating world-wide health care professional access to the most up to date health information.  The CC produces systematic reviews on a variety of different healthcare related topics and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials.  The CC was founded in 1993, and was named after the British epidemiologist, Archie Cochrane.

I was recently browsing the CC website (found here: http://www.cochrane.org/ ) and I came across the following systematic review

http://www.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab000353.html

The above review focuses on the use of homeopathy to treat chronic asthma. 

From the CC website…

Objective: “The objective of this review was to assess the effects of homeopathy in people with chronic stable asthma.”

Author’s Conclusion: “There is not enough evidence to reliably assess the possible role of homeopathy in asthma. As well as randomised trials, there is a need for observational data to document the different methods of homeopathic prescribing and how patients respond. This will help to establish to what extent people respond to a ‘package of care’ rather than the homeopathic intervention alone.”

Now I know what you are most likely thinking…

“That does not sound so bad…they did not recommend the treatment.  The author of the article indicated that further testing needed to be done!  What is wrong with that?”

In my humble opinion, a lot…

To begin with, the article is operating under the false premise that homeopathy is a legitimate treatment modality.  Before we can test whether or not a treatment works, we need to determine that there is some sort of plausible mechanism of action in order to explain how the treatment modality might work.  In the case of homeopathy, there is no plausible mechanism of action (for the un-informed, homeopathy is the “practice” of taking an active substance, diluting it in water until there is little or no active ingredient left in the final dilution.  The final dilution is then given to the patient as a treatment to “treat” their health concern.  However the patient is essentially receiving water.  Any resulting effect can be attributed to the placebo effect).  With the above information in mind, there is no reason to advocate further research/study of homeopathy in the treatment of chronic asthma, as there is no plausible mechanism of action to explain how homeopathy could even have a therapeutic effect. 

The 2nd problem with this review is the call for additional research related to homeopathy’s potential effectiveness in treating chronic asthma.  Give the lack of a plausible mechanism of action, I would argue that it is highly unethical to subject patients to a treatment regime that has no plausible mechanism of action, and consequently would prevent a patient from utilizing a legitimate treatment for a legitimate (and potentially fatal) disease/illness.         

The above text is an example of why (in my humble opinion) skepticism is so important…

Because sometimes even the big dogs get it wrong!

In order to function independently and be capable of processing the staggering amounts of information that we are exposed to on a daily basis, we need to keep our critical thinking skills up to snuff.  We must be capable of processing the information that we are exposed to and make some sort of judgement/decision…

And I would argue that skepticism facilitates this process…

This has been the Skeptical Samurai…

Working to serve through the process of inquiry…