Archive for the ‘medicine’ tag
The ways in which science — especially around health and nutrition — is abused is a bit of an old saw here: see the sensible science skepticism tag. So when I heard this talk from Ben Goldacre which I’d never linked, I knew I had to even though it’s quite old. Worth a watch for sure. (The talk I did link is great too.)
An interesting peak into an industrial farming and harvesting process I’d never imagined from Alexis Madrigal. He states the reason it’s interesting very cleanly:
I don’t know about you, but the idea that every single person in America who has ever had an injection has been protected because we harvest the blood of a forgettable sea creature with a hidden chemical superpower makes me feel a little bit crazy. This scenario is not even sci-fi, it’s postmodern technology.
Gavin Francis’s piece on his experience being the only doctor in all of Antartica touches elegantly on the increasingly specialization and safety that have become so crucial and prominent to progress in the last hundred years that frequently forget about them.
I asked around Halley, trying to understand how scientists there were unravelling the mysteries of Antarctica. I wanted to find a way to contribute the way my predecessors did. Halley concentrates on atmospheric science, with big-budget projects examining the solar wind, clean air chemistry, the ozone hole, the earth’s magnetic field. But my medical training towards the end of the twentieth century had been so narrow there was little that I could add. It is not only medicine that has become super-specialised over the last hundred years; the sciences have done the same.
(via The Browser)
Ben Goldacre is withering in this TED talk about what a giant problem publication bias and it’s effects are in the advance of science and “evidence-based medicine”. I think this is quite fair; without question if I have one concern about science considered broadly it’s this and he drives home the point quickly and cleanly. Highly recommended.
This is another one of those stories I saw a few times before I paid attention to. My excuse is that it’s poorly titled, it’s more about the broken American system of end of life care than it is about strictly “how doctors die.” (A problem whose most visible manifestations was all the hubbub about “death panels” some years ago.)
If you’re really interested in that topic, PBS’s Frontline’s Facing Death (from about a year ago) was another worthwhile treatment of the problem.
I’m a bit of connoisseur of this type of thing, and so I’m embarrassed that I just today found an utterly fantastic plain-English argument from Alex Tabarrok about why you should discount almost all news story about a really interesting new finding by scientists. (I’m a connoisseur of this kind of thing because of the number of intelligent people who seem to treat every new study about a wonder-substance or agent-of-death as meaningful.) These guidelines are a good summary:
1) In evaluating any study try to take into account the amount of background noise. That is, remember that the more hypotheses which are tested and the less selection which goes into choosing hypotheses the more likely it is that you are looking at noise.
2) Bigger samples are better. (But note that even big samples won’t help to solve the problems of observational studies which is a whole other problem).
3) Small effects are to be distrusted.
4) Multiple sources and types of evidence are desirable.
5) Evaluate literatures not individual papers.
6) Trust empirical papers which test other people’s theories more than empirical papers which test the author’s theory.
(via Tabarrok himself, in a shorter but good post about a specific study’s failure)
Very interesting story about the questionable effectiveness of the prostate-specific antigen test which is very frequently given to men over 40. These sentences provide a good summary of why it might not be all the useful to know whether or not you have prostate cancer:
The current thinking is that about 30 percent of men in their 40s have prostate cancer, 40 percent of men in their 50s and so on, right up to 70 percent of men in their 80s. Yet only 3 percent of all men die from the disease. In other words, far more men die with prostate cancer than from it, and only a tiny fraction of prostate cancers ever cause symptoms, much less death.
I’d heard that a spoonful of local honey a day can keep the sneezes at bay, and was even casually interested in trying it. But, it seems one study that has been done on it showed no effect, and this hard-to-dispute point pretty well puts it to rest for me:
“Seasonal allergies are usually triggered by windborne pollens, not by pollens spread by insects,” he said. So it’s unlikely that honey “collected from plants that do not cause allergy symptoms would provide any therapeutic benefit.”
As ever shouldering his responsibility to tackle moral gray areas, William Saletan offers an enlightening (if unsettling) look into the battle over our organs.
How can we get more organs? By redefining death. First we coined “brain death,” which let us take organs from people on ventilators. Then we proposed to allow organ retrieval even if nonconscious brain functions persisted. That goal has now been realized through “donation after cardiac death,” the rule applied in Denver, which permits harvesting based on heart, rather than brain, stoppage.
Stoppage is complicated. There’s no “moment” of death. Some transplant surgeons wait five minutes after the last heartbeat. Others wait two. The Denver team waited 75 seconds, reasoning that no heart is known to have self-restarted after 60 seconds.