Cause of death: Oprah

Over the last few years, there’s been a huge sensation in the Self Health and Actualization Movement (SHAM), and it’s name is The Secret. It essentially co-opted the long-held Self Health and Actualization Movement (SHAM) tradition of combining humanity’s notorious tendency toward insecurity with our equally notorious sedentary [...]

Cell Phones and Cancer: Can You Hear Me Now?

This week I listened to an interview on NPR by Leonard Lopate with Dr. Devra Davis on her new book, Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family. This is a topic that has been discussed in the skeptical community, the medical community, and the pseudoscience community, and I don’t know that I am completely convinced of any particular argument. This, I realized while listening to the interview, is mostly because I don’t care. I believe that if I live long enough I will have some form of cancer in my old age. I don’t know that any one type will be better or worse than any other type so why spend time being hypersensitive to everything I do, as it seems that EVERYTHING causes cancer these days. Ultimately, I do believe that my genetic profile, something I can do very little about, is a much stronger predictor of my propensity towards cancer than any behavior I might engage in. And when I heard epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat, author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology speak last year at a NYCS event, I put any uncertainty I have about the connection between cancer and cell phone use at the bottom of my list of things to fret about.

But this interview got me thinking. It was such a mish-mash of contradictions and plausible scenarios that I felt that I needed to educate myself on the topic of cell phone radiation and cancer risks. … continue reading this entry.

Science-based medicine attacked in a surprising way

This week the NYTimes reported on the tragic results of a randomized drug trial, but it isn’t tragic in the way that you think. The problem wasn’t that the new drug was dangerous, or had unpredicted side-effects, or was ineffecective, but actually that it was very effective. In the Times story, two cousins, both suffering from melanoma, entered a clinical trial to test a robust new treatment. The trial was testing the efficacy of this drug compared to regular chemo-therapy. One cousin was randomized to receive the drug and his tumors stopped growing; his cousin was randomized to chemo-therapy which did not stop the advance of cancer in his body.

The Times reported that these types of trials are criticized by some members of the medical community:

But critics of the trials argue that the new science behind the drugs has eclipsed the old rules — and ethics — of testing them. They say that in some cases, drugs under development, PLX4032 among them, may be so much more effective than their predecessors that putting half the potential beneficiaries into a control group, and delaying access to the drug to thousands of other patients, causes needless suffering. … continue reading this entry.

Your genes belong to you again

If you happened to catch 60 Minutes this week you may have heard about an important court case that just concluded this past week in the U.S. over the possession of your genes.

Back in the 1980′s, in what may have been the single most insanely bad legal ruling in the 20th Century (Scopes included), it was determined that biotech companies could patent genes. Not genes that had been artificially modified by science. No, they could isolate a gene from anyone and then patent that gene, not just from that individual but from everyone because unless you’re a mutant freak, that same gene is found inside you too. … continue reading this entry.

Your thin American Apparel tee is sufficient sun block, and other sunscreen myths

Because I just got my first sunburn of the season while skiing, and because we didn’t have many readers last year when this was first posted, and because it is relevant, I thought I’d recycle this post. Hope it is informative.

springski2010

Skiing is hard on your skin.

Growing up in a small town I had the image of city folk as soft pasty-white people whose only glimpse of the outdoors was gained by peering over their window-mounted air conditioners. But anyone who has lived for even a minute in New York City knows this is untrue. New Yorkers walk. We gotta. And walking means that we spend more time outside than non-New Yorkers give us credit for. This means that sunscreen may be more important to city-dwellers than to those in the suburbs where you only get brief flashes of people out of doors as they dash from their car to the box store.  But I am obsessed with keeping my skin protected (I’m not getting any younger, and this kind of stuff has started to occupy my day), but when I really thought about how to properly use sunscreen, I realized that I have collected a bunch of notions that may not be steeped in fact. So, on with my research hat (and apparently off with my dunce cap).

Myths: … continue reading this entry.

East meets West over potentially cancer fighting fungus

A complaint frequently invoked by those opposed to Western medicine is that the industry has a general disregard for any potential health benefits from “natural” remedies to the point of snubbing plants and herbs that are employed by non-scientists. And in the next breath, such opponents will decry Western medicine for its unflagging devotion to its bottom-line. The ridiculous nature of this caricature of “Big Pharma” as some Grinch-like figure with little regard for public health and great esteem for lining its coffers by dishonest means is obviously puerile. Pharmacology and medical practice is advanced by an army of companies and organizations, all engaged in various objectives; these institutions are made up of many individuals fueled by various personal missions. To suggest that this huge group of people and companies all have the same goal of making money at the expense of the public’s health is ludicrous. As with every capitalistic industry, “Big Pharma” is comprised of both good and bad people, as well as bad people who do good things and good people who do bad things. But there is validity in the capitalist ideal that competition breeds invention. To point, I have always found this opposition of Western medicine to be paradoxical because if there was an herbal remedy that had sound scientific evidence suggesting efficacy, don’t you think Mr. Big Pharma would be all over it like white on rice? … continue reading this entry.

Your thin American Apparel tee is sufficient sun block, and other sunscreen myths

Note: Author not depicted in this photo.

Note: Author not depicted in this photo. (from Flickr by Brave Heart.)

Growing up in a small town I had the image of city folk as soft pasty-white people whose only glimpse of the outdoors was gained by peering over their window-mounted air conditioners. But anyone who has lived for even a minute in New York City knows this is untrue. New Yorkers walk. We gotta. And walking means that we spend more time outside than non-New Yorkers give us credit for. I have a truly decent farmer’s tan despite this rainy summer. So why is it that my impending trip to Tucson has made me think of nothing but sunscreen? Tucson in August is like a ghost town, where you only get brief flashes of people out of doors as they dash from their car to the box store.  But I am obsessed with keeping my skin protected (I’m not getting any younger, and this kind of stuff has started to occupy my day), but when I really thought about how to properly use sunscreen, I realized that I have collected a bunch of notions that may not be steeped in fact. So, on with my research hat (and apparently off with my dunce cap).

Myths: … continue reading this entry.

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