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

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.

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.

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.

RFK Jr. as Possible EPA Chief?

I’ve railed against RFK, Jr.’s conspiracy-theorist, anti-science, anti-vaccine ways before, as have many others. I only hope someone on Obama’s team is reading some science blogs out there. According to the WSJ, RFK Jr. is one of the names being considered for new EPA Chief (thanks to Orac for the heads-up):

So who’s on the short list? Plenty of names, starting with environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., according to Politico. That doesn’t have too many environmental types very happy—beyond Mr. Kennedy’s prior adventures in linking vaccines and autism, or opposing offshore wind power, many fear he doesn’t have the managerial expertise to handle a sprawling agency that will only get bigger.

As the WSJ suggests, an RFK, Jr. appointment would be a big mistake, and certainly wouldn’t indicate ‘change’ from a previous administration that was decidedly anti-science and anti-evdience. I’ll join Orac’s call to drop a line to Obama’s team and let them know you oppose this appointment.

MIT amps up solar cells

MIT is developing a new solar cell technology that results in a tenfold increase in power conversion, takes up less space, and can be added to existing solar panels.

Photo caption:

Organic solar concentrators collect and focus different colors of sunlight. Solar cells can be attached to the edges of the plates. By collecting light over their full surface and concentrating it at their edges, these devices reduce the required area of solar cells and consequently, the cost of solar power. Stacking multiple concentrators allows the optimization of solar cells at each wavelength, increasing the overall power output.