Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ayurvedic Poisoning

There is a report in today's Grauniad about heavy metal contamination found in Ayurvedic medicines. This is not a huge surprise, there have been all sorts of things found in herbal and Ayurvedic medicine in the past.
Lead, mercury and arsenic, as found, are metals well known to be poisonous to pretty much everyone. Of course the dose makes the poison, which is why it can be safe to have mercury in your fillings and in vaccines. The crucial thing is exposure over a length of time. The difference with Ayurvedic medicine is that there is no label, no quality control, and no doctor or health professional capable of deciding when you've had enough because the basic analysis of what's in the stuff hasn't been done at the start. All there is really is a blind faith that because Ayurvedic medicine is ancient it must be good.
Our ancestors might not have known that lead poisoned you, so a lot more people developed lead poisoning than do now. There is something called progress, it's real, it brings benefits including better health for the whole population. For example you can't install lead piping for drinking water any more. Or use lead in paint, or petrol. These things benefit everyone whether they believe them or not.
So why ignore 2500 years of western science and progress? The way of thinking that the ancient Greeks gave us is so much more powerful than any number of supposedly ancient oriental mystical traditions and it is also very old. It's also come on a long way in the last couple of thousand years, but I think I'm going to start referring to science as part of a tradition stretching back to the ancient (Very) Near East. Maybe that'll give it more weight in some people's eyes.
Who's with me in taking the Ionian Way?

Friday, August 22, 2008

How to make women more productive

This is a scanned copy of an 2007 article from Savvy & Sage magazine. I'm sure they won't mind me reproducing it as it is essentially a copy of a 1943 article from another magazine. I think it's safe to say we've come a long way from 1943...

(Click on image for full size)

Monday, August 18, 2008

More Idiocy From Chiropractors

It was revealed this week that the UK chiropractic organisation is following the idiocy of its antipodean counterpart in suing its critics. This is a nice follow on from my first blogpost. I'm not really going to write a lot on this as I'm very late to the party, instead I shall just add my voice to the chorus of support for Simon Singh.

Excellent blogposts can be found listed and summarised along with some detailed background on Holford Watch here (also an excellent site for debunking media nutritionist Patrick Holford, as the name suggests). I encourage you to read up on this.

Homeopathic feebleness

Homeopathy is one of those therapies which rightly attracts ridicule from those who research what it actually involves. This is not the post to examine why, I just want to mock a pathetic attempts by a homeopath to bolster their position.
One of the arguments which some homeopaths advance to 'support' their cause is that some famous people use homeopathy. Quite a few famous people are also clearly idiots, so why this line of argument should be treated as persuasive is beyond me. However the argument quite often fails to even get off the ground to start with. Here is a blog post by Sue Young, Homeopath.
Sue Young is one of the homeopaths who likes to try to claim the support of famous people for homeopathy. She's an ally of Dana Ullman in this. This particular post is particularly weak, she points out that P. G. Wodehouse wrote a short story called 'Homeopathic Treatment'. She doesn't appear to have read the story however, which is unfortunate for her post, in which this is the only evidence of any kind she offers to support her seeming conviction that he was a fan of homeopathy.
Here is the story.
As you may notice if you read it, there isn't actually a single mention of homeopathy. It is based on the homeopathic premise that 'like cures like' (just one of the potty ideas behind homeopathy), but otherwise is a fairly simple story about life in a boys boarding school. It's not one of his better stories either.

Sue Young's site is full of spectacularly weak posts like this. I don't think this is a bad thing though, hopefully the more people who go and read her site with their eyes open the more people will start asking themselves if the evidence for homeopathy itself is as weak as the evidence for her blog-posts. I mean, if that's the best she can do...

Edited to add: I should point out here that I commented on her blogpost long before I wrote this. I didn't keep a copy, but my comment was something like: "Have you read the article you refer to by Wodehouse? I can't find it online anywhere, only the title. Given that he was a humourist it might not have been entirely supportive of homeopathy, obviously it might have been but if you can show me the article then we'll know for sure." She deleted my comment and quite obviously didn't do any more research.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The casual callousness of alternative medicine

In the Independent on Sunday this week (10/08/08) there was a letter from a naturopath called Pat Rattigan. He makes the claim, whilst dismissing the need for vaccination against measles, that:

"There are no cases in recorded medical history of any child, in reasonable health to begin with and with properly managed treatment, being harmed by measles."

I'm not going to examine whether this is true or not, I'm mainly concerned with what it says about the mindset of those who deny the need for and usefulness of measles vaccinations. He is not denying that children die from measles, he is pointing out that it is mainly (he claims only) those children who are most vulnerable who will die from or develop other problems from measles. Is it just me, or is that a chilling statement? To me his statement sounds like 'Well my child is healthy, and coped with a measles infection ok, so screw those kids too  poorly to have a robust immune response.'  This is in other words, survival of the fittest. This is a foundation stone for evolutionary theory, but it's no way to run a modern compassionate society where we protect those who are vulnerable. Maybe you think I'm over-reacting, but put yourself in the shoes of a parent with a chronically ill child reading that sentence.

There is no doubt that measles vaccination has lead to a massive reduction in the number of people contracting measles and also dying of measles.  One of the consequences of a high percentage of children being vaccinated is that a condition called 'herd immunity' develops. This basically means that even if measles is caught by a few people it never becomes epidemic, thus protecting almost all people, including those most vulnerable. I ought to point out here that vulnerable adults can also die from measles.

Not convinced? Here's a graph I prepared from information sourced from the health protection agency. I have plotted together the figures for Measles Notifications and Deaths and the measles vaccination coverage. Because the figures for measles notifications are so much higher than those for deaths they are plotted on the right. The other data is plotted on the left.

I think this data disproves several of the anti-vaxers favourite theories, such as the only improvement in measles being down to improvements in hygiene - there may have been a big improvement when proper sewerage etc. was installed in towns, but the big drop here happens in the 80's, when vaccination rates were soaring. I don't think there was a massive difference in public hygiene from the beginning of the 80's to the end, do you? But as you can see there was a big difference in vaccination rates.

And just as an aside, because it's a whole big blog post on its own, there is no link between MMR and autism. Just in case that was worrying you.

Edited following comment from Gina.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Chiropractors get cross

On the face of it chiropractic is one of the most plausible alternative therapies. Practitioners are regulated by act of parliament, there is even actual evidence that it is more effective than placebo (something which escapes homeopathy and most other alternative therapies). So why has the New Zealand Chiropractors' Association threatened the NZ Medical Journal with legal action?

I think this needs some background. Chiropractic is not based on science, in fact it is based on a rather bizarre set of ideas, principal amongst which is that you can cure many if indeed not all ailments by manipulating the spine. They have some proper evidence that it is more than just placebo - but only for back pain (and possibly headaches, but the evidence is equivocal for that). It isn't really surprising that manipulating the spine could have an effect on back pain. The bad news for chiropractics is that there is no evidence of it working for anything else, and even for back pain it is no more effective than conventional treatment. For these reasons chiropractors are not allowed to call themselves Doctor, at least where this implies they are a medical doctor.

This is law, by the way, at least in the UK and NZ. It appears that a lot of chiropractors in NZ are ignoring this law. The NZ Medical Journal published this article (and another) exposing and excoriating the illegal practice, and the NZ Chiropractors promptly sent a nasty letter. This has been published and rebuffed(pdf) by the esteemed organ with the brilliant soundbite: "let's hear your evidence not your legal muscle".

Could you ask for anything more inspiring to prompt a first blog post?