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.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome

At the tableau conference – he walked on stage and started talking but there was no sound then he said “just kidding! I was just messing with the sound guy” – such a great speaker and presentation. A part of the slideshow included this amazing video:

Which brought to my mind the movie Pitch Black, in which everywhere light is shined, there are things waiting to destroy you. I’m pretty sure our crippled space program will result in all of our deaths. Well, all of us except Vin Diesel.

Scientific evidence

I have a small quibble with Neil deGrasse* Tyson’s statement in Cosmos:

In science, the only thing that counts is the evidence and the logic of the argument itself

Depending on the scientific pursuit in question, logic may have very much to very little if nothing at all to do with what the evidence shows. Biological research can sometimes fly in the face of logic. In my mind, the relative weight of logic to evidence follows a downward trajectory from physics to chemistry to biology to social and behavioral sciences.

The reason I point this out is that for many individuals not exposed to research or science on a deeper level than grade school and television, science can have the veneer of a logical endeavor. When faced with evidence that seems illogical to some, such as the enduring confusion around evolution, the tendency is to reject it on a basis of logic. So I would rephrase the above statement to say “In science, the only thing that counts is the evidence and that the evidence has been repeatedly and independently verified.”

*deGrasse is a recognized word in my browser’s dictionary

Political understanding

There is an interesting article over at NPR describing how when asked to explain their own strong opinions, confronted by their own ignorance of the issues, people generally end up moderating their own opinions:

Should the United States impose unilateral sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program? Should we raise the retirement age for Social Security? Should we institute a national flat tax? How about implementing merit-based pay for teachers? Or establishing a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions?

The striking implication, for which the researchers find support, is that getting people to appreciate their own ignorance can be enough to rein in strong opinions.

What’s funny to me is that so many people never get past the mental knee-jerk; I’ll call these people knee-jerks from now on. It’s like what someone famous once said: “I may not understand what you say, but I will defend to the death what you mean when you say it.”

I’m pretty sure that’s how the saying goes.

The Drake Equation

Information is Beautiful has an excellent interactive chart up at the BBC covering the Drake Equation. I remember studying the equation, which estimates the number of civilizations that might exist in our galaxy, in an astronomy class called “The Search for Extraterrestrial Life” at the University of Texas. Why wouldn’t I take that elective? It was actually less fun than I thought it would be, but it was still very interesting. Apparently they no longer offer the course, or at least not this semester.

I don’t feel so bad about chugging coffee now

For those who drank four to six or more cups of coffee a day, this study found an associated reduced risk of bowel cancer. Of course, there’s no telling what kind of cancer drinking that much coffee might cause at the same time, but I’m caffeinated and I don’t care.

Study shows something that should be absolutely obvious to everyone

Unfortunately, it’s not so obvious to everyone. Study Finds Unvaccinated Students Putting Other Students At Risk.

Some people even in the /. comments are displaying dangerous ignorance about vaccines, to which I can only reply with a baby facepalm: