Whether it’s real or not

I know a lot of cynics will say it’s a political ploy, but this is a pretty powerful message: https://www.good.is/articles/lifelong-gop-likes-aca

Regardless of whether this guy is telling the truth, or if it’s a clever bit of political marketing, I know that the ACA helped a good friend of ours – perhaps even saved her life. Before, her pre-existing condition prevented her from getting insurance and the surgery she needed, and she was pretty much wasting away. It’s definitely not perfect, and our system’s still basically screwed up, but it’s a little less screwed up now that people who need help can get it.
What we need now is not a repeal, but a strengthening of the law, improvements in the ways insurance raise premiums, in the way data can and must be shared among providers, and in the way that states provide Medicaid expansion.

To alternative medicine and back again

This is a fascinating account of a family who were way down the alternative medicine rabbit-hole to try to treat their children who were diagnosed with autism. That the Laidlers are doctors is somewhat surprising, but that Jim Laidler also has a PhD in Biology and stumped for chelation for years is even more surprising.

Using substances known as chelating agents, the Laidlers also worked to rid Ben and David of heavy metals thought to be accumulated through vaccines and environmental pollutants. With a PhD in biology as well as his MD, Jim Laidler had become an expert on chelation, speaking nationally and internationally about it at conferences dedicated to autism and alternative approaches.

What is interesting about the Laidlers is their evolution of thinking, their eventual realization that they had been wrong:

Then, after months of soul-searching, Jim Laider took to the internet to announce his “de-conversion” from alternative medicine—a kind of penance, but also a warning to others. “I had this guilt to expunge,” Jim says. “I helped to promote this nonsense, and I didn’t want other people to fall for it like I did.”

Dangerous Ideas

I’ve been reading Big Think for a while now, and it’s always pretty interesting. Perhaps their most thought-provoking articles are in the Dangerous Ideas series, which they describe as:

Brace yourself: these ideas may at first seem shocking or counter-intuitive—but they are worth our attention, even if we end up rejecting them.  Every idea in this blog is supported by contributions from leading experts, from the world’s top theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, to linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky.

It’s worth a look. Some are definitely better than others, and none really explore the issues in much depth, but in general they’re good to get you thinking or to start a conversation. A few of my favorites:

OMGZZ! Cell phones cause cancer!


No no no no no. This guy is a crank. The first thing he does is claim that the swine flu isn’t “real medicine.” And this is Fox News, where no facts are checked, ever. He cites an “increase in the incidence in brain cancer” as proof! Well, there is also an increase in the incidence of obesity, so maybe cell phones cause you to gain weight, too. Microwaves/radio waves are too long in wavelength to affect DNA. Longer wavelengths = lower frequency (ie, lower intensity). See the graph on this page.
Look at the size of the antenna on your phone (if your phone is from 1999) or radio. That’s the size of the wave, maybe a little smaller, but still nowhere near the intensity to affect DNA. They’re longer in wavelength than VISIBLE light. that would mean that your lightbulb causes even more cancer than your phone! The worst thing microwaves could do to the human body is warm it up. That said, don’t put your cat in the microwave.

Blind to be cured with stem cells

BRITISH scientists have developed the world’s first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness. Surgeons predict it will become a routine, one-hour procedure that will be generally available in six or seven years’ time.

The treatment involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells. It was pioneered by scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital.

via Blind to be cured with stem cells – Times Online (thanks, Nick!).

Vision for all

Inventor’s 2020 vision: to help 1bn of the world’s poorest see better:

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

Such an amazing idea. With self-adjustable glasses cheap enough, and with the right distribution networks, sight could be restored to massive numbers of poor people in the world.