Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

Bad Science

Monday, July 27th, 2015 | Books

It’s ironic that after five years of running Leeds Skeptics, it is only now that I have stepped down that I have had time to sit down and read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. It is, after all, somewhat of a Skeptics bible.

I think I am a poor judge of how good this book is. Having spent so much time in skeptics, I knew everything in it. Literally almost everything. Not just the topics but a lot of the anecdotes and examples too.

It is a journey into what is wrong with medicine, science, the media and society’s inability to filter out the crap. Quite a big area to cover. Goldacre uses specific examples so show you what is wrong with the prevailing opinion generally.

He dedicates an entire chapter to rubbishing Brain Gym. He discusses how the media’s MRSA expert was working from a free-standing wooden structure with household-quality fittings. That would be a garden shed then. He goes into detail about how ageing creams. It’s a mixture of chemicals that actually work in trace amounts, vegetable matter that provides a short-term benefit only, and a bunch of other substances thrown in there on the off chance.

He also provides a reminder that we don’t really know how general anaesthetic works. Coupled with Dan Denett pointing out that anaesthetics also contain a memory eraser in case things go wrong, I felt rather uncomfortable with all that. Almost certainly better not to think about…

We also levies some criticism at the research behind antidepressants. This is similar to what Irving Kirsch said in The Emperor’s New Drugs. To be clear, I’m not saying Goldacre says SSRIs don’t work, but Kirsch doesn’t say that either, just that it is difficult to know given the data has not been made clearly available and thus may provide nothing more than an enhanced placebo.

Goldacre also discusses p values. Very important for science. A p value of 0.05 for example would mean that for every 100 times you do the test, you would get an anomalous result 5 times. He finishes up by discussing the MMR vaccine. He is quite kind to Andrew Wakefield and points the finger squarely at the media.

In summary, if you’re not familiar with how evidenced-based evidence works and why it is so important, this is definitely worth a read. If you’re already familiar with all this stuff, you probably won’t learn anything new.

Bad Science

A big fat placebo

Saturday, June 6th, 2015 | Thoughts

A friend of mine, who works as doctor, told me that doctors were banned from prescribing placebos (and not telling them they are placebos) because of the ethical issues surrounding it.

However, I recently decided to verify the fact and it turns out it isn’t true. In fact an article on BBC News shows that 97% of doctor’s had admitted to prescribing a placebo at least once in their career.

This raises interesting questions for alternative medicine. Is there room for treatments that provide the proven clinical benefit of placebo even if that is all it is?

Has anyone else noticed medicine doesn’t really do anything

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 | Thoughts

I am sure this is mostly unjustified and when I am not in a lot of pain I will change my mind. However, I have been feeling this way a lot over the past year or two. That isn’t because the entirely field of medicine is useless. It would be stupid to say that. But it can feel that way.

I am sat here with a mouth ulcer. It really hurts. I have put the gel on it, and I am on ibuprofen, and it still hurts. They come every six months, sometimes more regularly, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done about them.

Or how about my anxiety. Years and years working on that and it still rules my life.

Or how about my rhinitis? Making it so hard to breath that my 57 year old dad is significantly faster than me at Parkrun (that is my excuse anyway). Embarrassing nasal rinses, steroid sprays and even surgical intervention has not fixed it.

Or there was that time I got a sore on my leg. I got some cream and some steroids to apply to that one and still it didn’t go away. It was only months later after I had given up that it eventually disappeared.

Elina has issues two. Like many people, she suffers from migraines. It destroys many a weekend. Yet every time we got to the GP they give her the same medication and tell her to come back if anything changes. If something does change, she goes back and gets told the same thing.

If I was to come up with a list of problems that I had gone to my GP about and they had managed to fix, I am sure there would be some items. But not many. I can only think of one or two off the top of my head. Most of them, they haven’t.

Luckily, there are two people who have developed a somewhat-effective treatment that gets me through. Their names are Ben, and Jerry.

Cutting Religion out of Medicine

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 | Humanism

On Tuesday, Dr Antony Lempert, coordinator of the Secular Medical Forum, delivered us a talk on Cutting Religion out of Medicine.

I’ve heard Antony talk twice before, he spoke at the 4th Leeds Skeptics in the Pub event and again at last year’s Enquiry Conference and he always delivers an excellent performance, so it was great to see that he had been asked to speak at Reason Week.

As an extra bonus, he also brought his trophy having been named Academic of the Year at the Erotic Awards 2010.

10:23 homeopathic protest

Sunday, January 31st, 2010 | Events, Humanism, Science

Yesterday saw a nationwide protest against the sale of homeopathic remedies at Boots. At cities across the UK, and indeed some in Australia and Canada too, people gathered to take a homeopathic overdose to show that there was in fact nothing in the pills at all.

At Leeds we managed to get 32 people down to the event most of which, including myself, downed an entire bottle of homeopathic arsenic and yet somehow survived. We also got a reporter from ITV’s Calendar news come down and featured us on their evening segment – I’ve yet to see it but I’ve heard a mixed reaction so far.

The response from Boots was a predictable one – homeopathy is recognised by the NHS (something which is in the process of changing as the government inquiry is quickly dismantling the case for it) and that many people use homeopathic remedies – of course many people read horoscopes that doesn’t mean there is any truth in them. But of course we knew they would just ignore the science and just try and insist that lots of people bought it so it must be true.

Most of the major papers have run stories about it today so we’re chalking this one down as a big success for the skeptics movement. A big thank you to everyone from Leeds Skeptics who came down to take part, Daryl for organising the Leeds event and the guys at Merseyside Skeptics for putting it all together.