Archive for the 'Science' Category


Medical “Science” All Wrong

Well, not entirely wrong, just the majority of it. And this is being said by a long time, well respected medical researcher.

In an article released this month by The Atlantic titled Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Science, journalist David H. Freedman relates the story of researcher John Ioannidis (pronounced yo-NEE-dees). Ioannidis has spent most of the last two decades rebutting claims made by other researchers and has made a career out of analyzing others studies and their various findings and has come to some rather shocking conclusions. Ioannidis even released a paper, published in PLoS Medicine in 2005 stating 80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials. Ioannidis charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed.

I am going to provide a few quotes, but really you should just read the whole thing. Freedman did an excellent job and you would be missing out by not reading this article. All bolding was done by me.

“I take all the researchers who visit me here, and almost every single one of them asks the [oak] tree [at the old Greek oracle site] the same question,” Ioannidis tells me, as we contemplate the tree the day after the team’s meeting. “‘Will my research grant be approved?’” He chuckles, but Ioannidis (pronounced yo-NEE-dees) tends to laugh not so much in mirth as to soften the sting of his attack. And sure enough, he goes on to suggest that an obsession with winning funding has gone a long way toward weakening the reliability of medical research.

That grant money affects not only the types of things that are studied but their outcomes is obvious. If you want to study squirrel mating, you can’t just say that, you have to couch it in terms that will win funding, like say the affects of Global Warming on said squirrels, and then prove that GW is affecting them. This will ensure that you get the initial funding and then that after proving the “correct” fact you will ensure further funding

But beyond the headlines, Ioannidis was shocked at the range and reach of the reversals he was seeing in everyday medical research. “Randomized controlled trials,” which compare how one group responds to a treatment against how an identical group fares without the treatment, had long been considered nearly unshakable evidence, but they, too, ended up being wrong some of the time. “I realized even our gold-standard research had a lot of problems,” he says. Baffled, he started looking for the specific ways in which studies were going wrong. And before long he discovered that the range of errors being committed was astonishing: from what questions researchers posed, to how they set up the studies, to which patients they recruited for the studies, to which measurements they took, to how they analyzed the data, to how they presented their results, to how particular studies came to be published in medical journals.

This array suggested a bigger, underlying dysfunction, and Ioannidis thought he knew what it was. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.

As above. If the man paying your check wants X, if you like collecting a paycheck you will give him X. Its really that simple. That happens in every job across the entire world. And as we have more scientists than funding and its been that way for some time, there is no doubt a strong sense of self preservation among those working in the field.

In the paper, Ioannidis laid out a detailed mathematical proof that, assuming modest levels of researcher bias, typically imperfect research techniques, and the well-known tendency to focus on exciting rather than highly plausible theories, researchers will come up with wrong findings most of the time. Simply put, if you’re attracted to ideas that have a good chance of being wrong, and if you’re motivated to prove them right, and if you have a little wiggle room in how you assemble the evidence, you’ll probably succeed in proving wrong theories right.

My favorite studies are those where the researcher admits that they went into the study expecting X but came out with an answer of Y. To me that means that they overcame their motivation to prove their theory right and instead followed the evidence to a conclusion. Working in IT I see similar things every week at the least. You may get a report and “know” just what the problem is, but once on the server you just have to start following the evidence or else you will be trying to fix something that isn’t the issue.

[Ioannidis] zoomed in on 49 of the most highly regarded research findings in medicine over the previous 13 years, as judged by the science community’s two standard measures: the papers had appeared in the journals most widely cited in research articles, and the 49 articles themselves were the most widely cited articles in these journals. … Of the 49 articles, 45 claimed to have uncovered effective interventions. Thirty-four of these claims had been retested, and 14 of these, or 41 percent, had been convincingly shown to be wrong or significantly exaggerated.

41% of the most widely cited studies were incorrect? That is an amazing percentage. That means that all the research that was done based upon these 49 articles was also incorrect. How many treatments were wrongly given or denied based upon this false research? And how much money was spent in the process?

“Often the claims made by studies are so extravagant that you can immediately cross them out without needing to know much about the specific problems with the studies,” Ioannidis says. But of course it’s that very extravagance of claim … that helps gets these findings into journals and then into our treatments and lifestyles, especially when the claim builds on impressive-sounding evidence. “Even when the evidence shows that a particular research idea is wrong, if you have thousands of scientists who have invested their careers in it, they’ll continue to publish papers on it,” he says. “It’s like an epidemic, in the sense that they’re infected with these wrong ideas, and they’re spreading it to other researchers through journals.”

Invested their careers. Thats key. Its not an easy thing to change course, and when you have invested your career and your name on something you want to see it succeed, even if it is incorrect (but still likely believed to be correct in that person’s mind)

Nature, the grande dame of science journals, stated in a 2006 editorial, “Scientists understand that peer review per se provides only a minimal assurance of quality, and that the public conception of peer review as a stamp of authentication is far from the truth.” What’s more, the peer-review process often pressures researchers to shy away from striking out in genuinely new directions, and instead to build on the findings of their colleagues (that is, their potential reviewers) in ways that only seem like breakthroughs—as with the exciting-sounding gene linkages (autism genes identified!) and nutritional findings (olive oil lowers blood pressure!) that are really just dubious and conflicting variations on a theme.

Most journal editors don’t even claim to protect against the problems that plague these studies. University and government research overseers rarely step in to directly enforce research quality, and when they do, the science community goes ballistic over the outside interference. The ultimate protection against research error and bias is supposed to come from the way scientists constantly retest each other’s results—except they don’t. Only the most prominent findings are likely to be put to the test, because there’s likely to be publication payoff in firming up the proof, or contradicting it

Except they don’t. WOW. Science fetishists claim that “science is self correcting” and in theory it is just that. But in practice, it is not. No one goes back over the results to see if they are true. There isn’t enough money or other resources to do it. And when an “outsider” tries to point out errors or bias they get beat down by the collective “science community.” There isn’t a whole lot that the remainder of the world can say about science, in the current climate, to correct its course. If you need proof look at what happens if you dare claim that fetal stem cell research is both wrong and a waste of time? Despite nearly a 100 to 0 ratio of adult stem treatments to fetal stem cell treatments all hell will break loose. Or you could just say out loud that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a fraud, but if you do make sure you are near cover.

Perhaps worse, Ioannidis found that even when a research error is outed, it typically persists for years or even decades. He looked at three prominent health studies from the 1980s and 1990s that were each later soundly refuted, and discovered that researchers continued to cite the original results as correct more often than as flawed—in one case for at least 12 years after the results were discredited.

12 years is a long time for misinformation to be floating about. Most industries could not get away with that. That the medical community can is likely just testimony to the amazing self-healing power of the human body.

Medical research is not especially plagued with wrongness. Other meta-research experts have confirmed that similar issues distort research in all fields of science, from physics to economics (where the highly regarded economists J. Bradford DeLong and Kevin Lang once showed how a remarkably consistent paucity of strong evidence in published economics studies made it unlikely that any of them were right).

ALL fields of science? Thats quite a long way from the science fetishists view of science. But of course it does fit quite well with the view of human’s as fallible.

I suspect Vox Day will have a heyday with this article once he finds it. He has been pointing out these same problems for quite some time. Dave over at Hawaiian Libertarian has also had some things to say about medical science, particularly on the nutrition side of the house.


Man Saves (Hoards) Cats, Destroys Environment

I was sent a link to a cutsie story about some guy who disliked cats but thru unforeseen circumstances started taking care of them and eventually built them a village of cat sized buildings. It is a “feel good” story tho if you don’t think too much on it. Predictably, all the comments are about how wonderful this guy is. But not a single commenter, except me of course bothered to think of the consequences of keeping dozens of cats outdoors to destroy the animals that make up the local ecology.

I doubt anyone would have a problem figuring out which are my comments.


New Pandemic! We Are All Gonna Die!

You heard it hear first! Line up for the next overhyped much needed vaccine. This news is just in time as the WHO officially declared swine flu “pandemic” was over just yesterday. (they don’t waste any time with these things do they?)

The AP brings us news that there is now a new double plus ungood strain of sooper dooper resistant bacteria out there. So this isn’t the actual start of the new and improved pandemic-that-is-going-to-kill-us-all-if-we-don’t-line-up-for-flu-shots-right-this-instant. However, it is laying the media panic layer down for the next big Big Pharma bailout scare uber deadly* antibacterial resistant strain of the flu.

Just remember that you heard it here first. I suspect to hear calls for this new latest greatest flu no sooner than late winter, but likely not till next year before the regular flu season. Hafta give the proles some time between panics lest it lose its affect upon them

* The Swine Flu is accredited with killing 18,449 people worldwide since 2009. This compared with an average yearly flu death toll in the US alone of 33,000


An End To Dental Fillings?

Looks like it may become a reality. Seems some French scientists have come up with a gel that causes the cells in the tooth to multiply

A team of scientists at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Paris tested if melanocyte-stimulating hormone, or MSH, could stimulate tooth growth, according to the Daily Mail.

The French team mixed MSH with a chemical called poly-L-glutamic acid. The mixture was then turned into a gel and rubbed on to cells taken from extracted human teeth.


Oceans Rise 6 Feet!

Thats right, due to anthropogenic global warming the seas have risen 6 feet! How do we know this? Because the New Moore island (AKA South Talpatti Island) that India and Bangladesh have been feuding over has sunk into the sea!

New Moore Island in the Sunderbans has been completely submerged, said oceanographer Sugata Hazra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Calcutta. Its disappearance has been confirmed by satellite imagery and sea patrols, he said.

“What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming,” said Hazra

Looking up further information on this island we find that the island first appeared after a 1970 cyclone and that its highest highest point was about 6 feet. Well, since this island is now underwater we have conclusive proof that AGW has caused the seas to rise at least 6 feet. If you don’t believe me, just go back up and read the above quote by esteemed scientist Sugata Hazra.

Maybe the IPCC had foreseen this catastrophic rise in sea levels and that is why they estimated that 55% of the Netherlands is under sea level rather than the 26% the Dutch government reports. Poor Dutch people. At least they have those wooden clogs. Hopefully they will be able to hold onto them and stay afloat long enough to be rescued.


30 Million Contaminated Vaccines

Some 30 million doses of Rotarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, were found to be contaminated with the pig virus, porcine circovirus 1, a virus from pigs that that they are quick to assure us is not known to cause disease in humans or animals. They didn’t know it was there but have now determined that it was there from the beginning, before FDA approval in 2008.

Personally I really like knowing that there are various viruses infecting vaccines and that only through independent research conducted by an as yet unnamed university was it discovered. Makes me feel so much safer and SO glad that I trust the pharmaceutical companies to place our safety above their profit. And it lets me know that we really don’t need that legislation Congress passed protecting vaccine companies from being sued for defective products even when it can be proved that they were known to be harmful because they are just so uber careful. [end sarcasm]


Dinosaur Extinction: Its Final, Again

This just in, we know what killed the dinosaurs! Again! And this time we really mean it! It was an asteroid impacting at Chicxulub, Mexico. This in spite of others who say that the three large craters do not date to the same time as the extinction. Another few months and the controversy will be back again, despite these 41 most esteemed scientists.


E. Coli & Biofuel

While I don’t think that this will ever be a focus on this blog, the topic has come up so I want to examine some of the various technologies that are emerging to change our future. Most of the posts that will be coming out will do with energy as it is so important. So without further ado, I give you biodiesel making E. Coli!

One problem is that oil from plants must first be chemically transformed. To purify ethanol, for example, it must be distilled from a fermentation broth.

But biologists in the United States say they have invented a genetically-engineered version of a humble bacterium called Escherichia coli that could provide a cheaper, more effective alternative.

It feasts on the simple sugars found in wood chips, straw and other biomass waste and secretes molecules of fuel.

“We incorporated genes that enabled production of biodiesel directly,” lead author Jay Keasling of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California said in an email to AFP.

“The engineered E. coli secretes the biodiesel from the cell, which means that we don’t need to break open the cell to get the diesel out. This saves substantially on processing cost,” Keasling explained.

In addition, “the biodiesel is insoluble in water, which means that it forms a separate phase when it is secreted from the engineered E. coli — it floats to the top as any oil would. This also saves on processing costs.”

This is pretty cool and simple solution to some of our energy problems as well as working to resolve the problem of waste. Harnessing nature, either by mimicking it (biomimetics) or by using nature as is or just slightly altered, is an awesome way to solve the problems we face today.


Bill Gates: Vaccines To Reduce Population?

Found this article and had to post on it. I’ve never been a big fan of vaccines and so had to watch to see what his comments were. The video is at the bottom of the article and can be watched there, comments are about 4:35 into the video
From the article we see this: Stating that the global population was heading towards 9 billion, Gates said, “If we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services (abortion), we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 per cent.”

Gates did not go on to elaborate on using improved vaccines and health care to reduce the population. It is easy enough to see how the abortion could come into play, but the mind recoils from the thought of using vaccines and health care to reduce the population.

If you watch the video all the way thru, Gates talks about a venture called Terrapower, which seems interesting and I will try to post on that soon


Study: Link Between Intelligence And Monogamy

Researchers at a British university found that men with higher IQs place greater value on monogamy and sexual exclusivity than their less intelligent peers.

But the connection between conventional sexual morality and intelligence is not mirrored in women, it seems.

The researchers could find no evidence that clever women are more likely than the general population to remain faithful.”

Some say that this is because the intelligent men are more likely to lie about cheating, but the fact that intelligent women are no less likely to cheat than less intelligent women puts the lie to this explanation. If intelligent men are smart enough to lie about it, than so are the intelligent women but this isn’t what the study found. Or alternatively, the intelligent women DO lie about it and are cheating at higher rates than are admitted to in the referenced studies.


Bird Navigation Ability Revealed?

Looks like we may finally understand how birds can make such amazing migrations and know exactly where to go despite the amazing lengths that some of them go to from year to year. Seems that there are iron particles in nerve endings in their beak.

Iron containing short nerve branches in the upper beak of birds may serve as a magnetometer to measure the vector of the Earth magnetic field (intensity and inclination) and not only as a magnetic compass, which shows the direction of the magnetic field lines.

“After we had shown the system of dendrites with distinct subcellular iron-containing compartments in homing pigeons, immediately the question was posed whether similar dendritic systems may be found in other bird species, too,” as Gerta Fleissner, the principal investigator, comments. Meanwhile they could describe similar candidate structures in the beaks of various avian species. X-Ray-fluorescence measurements at DESY demonstrated that the iron oxides within these nervous dendrites are identical. These findings were published few days ago in the high-ranking interdisciplinary online journal Plos One.

More than about 500 dendrites in the periphery encode the magnetic field information, which is composed in the central nervous system to a magnetic map. It obviously does not matter, whether birds use this magnetic map for their long distance orientation or do not — the equipment can be found in migratory birds, like robin and garden warbler, and well as in domestic chicken. “This finding is astonishing, as the birds studied have a different life styles and must fulfil diverse orientational tasks: Homing pigeons, trained to return from different release sites to their homeloft, short-distance migrants like robins, long-distance migratory birds like garden warblers and also extreme residents like domestic chicken,” explains Gerta Fleissner.

Specialized iron compounds in the dendrites locally amplify the Earth magnetic field and thus induce a primary receptor potential. Most probably each of these more than 500 dendrites encodes only one direction of the magnetic field. These manifold data are processed to the brain of the bird and here — recomposed — serve as a basis for a magnetic map, which facilitates the spatial orientation.

If you are not familiar with bird migration it is worth looking up. It will amaze you how these bird-brained featherweights can make a journey of hundreds or even thousands of miles and make the journey precisely every time. Some, like the tiny Plover migrate across open ocean to land in Hawaii every year, and they have no reserves left to find other land should they make a mistake. Some even travel up to 40,000 miles a year returning to breeding and feeding grounds time and again.


The Darwin Worship Is Thick!

Might want to throw on your waders for this one. Or at least for the headline: Did Darwin Help Predict Chilean Quake?

UGH! Give up the hero worship people! Its rather disgusting. According to the article Darwin “visited” and made “observations.” He did not predict any such quake and you Darwinphiles need to stop trying to give him credit for anything that might even potentially be connected to him. Its as if they were playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except in this case it is Darwin. A more accurate headline could have been “Darwin Surveyed Chilean Fault” but that would have been less aggrandizing and more truthful, so it would no doubt have never been written.