Friday, July 31, 2009
Note: I'm hosting the next edition of the carnival, so email me your submissions by August 12th!
So: take the word "chiropractic" and "chiropractor" and then link each of those to the following archived version of Singh's article: http://svetlana14s.narod.ru/Simon_Singhs_silenced_paper.html. (I chose this website because, the broken English at the top notwithstanding, it contains the original article in full and in context). So it should look like this: chiropractic and chiropractor. Note: it's important that we all link to the same article.
As an extra, you may wish to link "British Chiropractic Association" to: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=555. (I.e. British Chiropractic Association) and "libel law" and/or "English libel law" to: http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/333/. (I.e. libel law and English libel law).
Thanks to Jeff Martin for pointing out it's "Spinal Trap" not "Spinal Tap".
Thursday, July 30, 2009
So I'm joining many blogs, magazines, and other media from around the world in republishing the article Singh is being sued over. May the Streisand effect do its magic and let this information be widely disseminated.
One final note: do yourself a favor and read Ben Goldacre's fabulous column on this whole debacle.
Beware the spinal trap
Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal
The Guardian, Saturday April 19 2008
You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that '99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae'. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.
In fact, Palmer's first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.
You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying - even though there is not a jot of evidence.
I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.
But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.
In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.
More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.
Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.
Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: 'Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.'
This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher. If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.
Simon Singh is the co-author of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial
Thanks to Jeff Martin for pointing out it's "Spinal Trap" not "Spinal Tap".
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.
- 01 and the universe
- Acinonyx Scepticus
- Ambient Normality
- Bullshit Fatigue
- Botswana Skeptic
- Effortless Incitement
- Ewan’s Corner
- Ionian Enchantment
- Limbic Nutrition
- Orion Spur
- Other Things Amanzi
- Pickled Bushman
- Prometheus Unbound
- Reason Check **new**
- Shadows Hide
- Stop Danie Krügel
- Subtle Shift in Emphasis
- The Science Of Sport
- The Skeptic Black Sheep
- The Skeptic Detective
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
First up this month is our previous host, Simon of Amaneunsis. He's got three great posts: the use of randomized controlled trials in social science, the importance of evidence-based sex education, and how a newspaper (gasp!) got happiness economics wrong.
subtle shift in emphasis is a great blog and, while I can't vouch for the maths, the author's post on homeopathy's silliness is just as good. Bottom line: it's nothing but water. Move on.
Michelle, The Skeptic Blacksheep, has been blogging about psychics of late: first, how these crooks claimed to be in contact with Michael Jackson soon after his death and, second, why psychics appear to have "powers". (Hint: cold reading).
Next, George Claassen of Prometheus Unbound asks: does Koos Kombuis (a well-known South African artist) believe in fairies? Alas, yes. (Sort of).
Botswana Skeptic has a consumer protection message: pyramid-schemes are bad for you. Steer clear.
Tim Beck of Reason Check (a blog new to me) has a whole bunch of interesting and worthy posts. Here I'll highlight just two: Sangomas at university (no, really) and what creationists and conspiracy theorists have in common.
Lastly, Angela of The Skeptic Detective has two posts this month about skeptical issues: a new twist in the autism-vaccination fracas and the media disseminating the views of moon hoax conspiracy nuts.
That, alas, is it! Our next edition is due out in another month and Owen over at 01 and the universe will be our host.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Richard Dawkins is not popular in some circles, indeed, he's attracted a whole host of critics or, as he puts it, "fleas". The latest is "The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin’s Legacy" by Fern Elsdon-Baker, a philosopher at Leeds University. The Economist has a good review of the book, which concludes Elsdon-Baker misses her mark. I especially liked the final paragraph:
What is left, once these attacks are dismissed, is a critique of Mr Dawkins’s proselytising atheism. It is true this wins him few converts, when a collaboration with religious moderates against the creationists might bear weightier fruit. But if his intellectual rigour forbids him making common cause with people he thinks are wrong, that perhaps only shows he is indeed the rottweiler of legend.The Lexington column had a interesting piece about Camp Inquiry, an American summer camp for atheist / freethinking children. (If you listen to Point of Inquiry, you've no doubt heard about it before). I was somewhat surprised (though, I shouldn't have been) that the camp has been strongly condemned by fundamentalists like the nuts over at AiG. I'm always amazed how controversial teaching critical and independent thinking is.
The Economist is renowned for its dry, pithy, final sentences. Indeed, it's joked that the ability to pen such lines is more important for being hired as an Economist journalist than anything else. Anyway, I thought the closing sentence of this article on searching for Dark Matter was wonderfully crafted and apposite.
Oh. And I just can't resist linking to this review of a book on World War II. The sub-heading: "A British historian argues that Hitler lost the war for the same reason that he unleashed it—because he was a Nazi." Glorious.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Although we would like to assume that voters are too sophisticated and rational to be swayed by superficial cues, the research paints a much less flattering picture. Even when it comes to electing their leaders, it seems, people are heavily influenced by the images that these politicians project (even unwittingly). In particular, politicians with facial features that make them look like they possess strong leadership qualities seem to be at an advantage, at least among some voters. (Appearing like a leader seems to be tied up with perceived competence, and is different from appearing attractive.) Research by Gabriel Lenz and Chappell Lawson at MIT shows that candidate appearances have the strongest impact on voters who possess little political knowledge and spend a lot of time in front of their television screens.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The psychologist Ellen Langer once had subjects engage in a betting game against either a self-assured, well-dressed opponent or a shy and badly dressed opponent (in Langer’s delightful phrasing, the “dapper” or the “schnook” condition), and she found that her subjects bet far more aggressively when they played against the schnook. They looked at their awkward opponent and thought, I’m better than he is. Yet the game was pure chance: all the players did was draw cards at random from a deck, and see who had the high hand. This is called the “illusion of control”: confidence spills over from areas where it may be warranted (“I’m savvier than that schnook”) to areas where it isn’t warranted at all (“and that means I’m going to draw higher cards”).While this article certainly isn't among Gladwell's best work, it's still worth the read.
Related: Dan Ariely on how we are influenced more by confidence than by expertise. Disturbing thought, especially for scientists who are trained to be careful about their claims.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
I'll come right out and say it: I'm not the world's biggest fan of Michael Shermer's work. While I loved his TEDTalk, I think his libertarian views are silly, I wasn't impressed by his book Why Darwin Matters, I've taken on one of his Scientific American columns at length, and so on. Shermer's most recent SciAm column, though, is
The postmodernist belief in the relativism of truth, coupled to the clicker culture of mass media where attention spans are measured in New York minutes, leaves us with a bewildering array of truth claims packaged in infotainment units. It must be true — I saw it on television, at the movies, on the Internet. The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, That’s Incredible, The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, Loose Change, Zeitgeist the Movie. Mysteries, magic, myths and monsters. The occult and the supernatural. Conspiracies and cabals. The face on Mars and aliens on Earth. Bigfoot and Loch Ness. ESP and PSI. UFOs and ETIs. JFK, RFK and MLK — alphabet conspiracies. Altered states and hypnotic regression. Remote viewing and astroprojection. Ouija boards and Tarot cards. Astrology and palm reading. Acupuncture and chiropractic. Repressed memories and false memories. Talking to the dead and listening to your inner child. Such claims are an obfuscating amalgam of theory and conjecture, reality and fantasy, nonfiction and science fiction. Cue dramatic music. Darken the backdrop. Cast a shaft of light across the host’s face. The truth is out there. I want to believe.And a great quote:
What I want to believe based on emotions and what I should believe based on evidence does not always coincide. And after 99 monthly columns of exploring such topics (this is Opus 100), I conclude that I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know. I believe that the truth is out there. But how can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually true? The answer is science.
If there is one thing that the history of science has taught us, it is that it is arrogant to think we now know enough to know that we cannot know.
And here is the problem: the religions think they have much greater rights than anyone or anything else – rights to be heard, to be exempt from laws, to be awarded special privileges, to be given our tax money to run their own schools, to have representatives in the House of Lords (26 bishops plus all those retired bishops and archbishops who are now life peers), to be given hours and hours of air time on publicly funded radio every week, to have charitable status, to have their hospital chaplains paid for by the public purse, and so on and endlessly on...
How can this be tolerable? All religious organisations should be relegated to the status of private self-selected and self-constituted NGOs like trade unions and other lobby groups, should survive on what money they can raise from their adherents, should have the same and no more than the same rights and entitlements as any other such organisation and should stop getting privileges, money and an amplification for their views (views, never forget, derived from the beliefs of illiterate goat-herds in ancient times) from government.
Friday, July 10, 2009
"The story of the human race is war. Except for brief periods and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending."
– Winston Churchill
"Shall we all commit suicide?" (1924)
– William James
Principles of Psychology (1890)
How did the blueprint offered by Cosmides and Tooby go wrong? Let me count the ways: 1) They portrayed the mind as a collection of hundreds of special-purpose modules that evolved to solve specific problems in the EEA. 2) Their conception of the EEA was limited to the range of environments occupied by humans during their evolution as a species, which they acknowledged to be diverse. However, it did not stretch back in time to include primate, mammalian and vertebrate adaptations; nor did it stretch forward to include rapid genetic evolution since our hunter-gatherer existence. 3) They emphasized a universal human nature, or rather separate male and female natures, while minimizing the importance of adaptive genetic variation that cuts across both sexes. 4) They dismissed open-ended, domain-general psychological processes as a theoretical impossibility, creating a polarized worldview with "Evolutionary Psychology" at the positive end and "The Standard Social Science Model (SSSM)" at the negative end; 5) Their blueprint had almost nothing to say about culture as an open-ended evolutionary process that can adapt human populations to their current environments. They did not deny the possibility of transmitted culture, but they had almost nothing to say about it. Their most important point was that what seems like transmitted culture can instead be an expression of genetically programmed individual behavioral flexibility (evoked culture).Ending on a more optimistic note:
Evolution is here to stay as a theory that can help us understand the human condition, along with the rest of the living world. With understanding comes the capacity for improvement. This is not just an idle intellectual pursuit but has consequences for the solution of real-world problems, so the sooner we can advance our understanding the better. One reason that we are just starting is because the term "evolution" became stigmatized early in the 20th century, in the same way that terms such as "sociobiology" and "evolutionary psychology" tend to become stigmatized today. This problem can be avoided by distinguishing particular schools of thought from the more general theory, so that the former can be accepted or rejected on their own merits without questioning the merits of the latter.