Thursday, March 10, 2016

Revival - Ten Years and Counting

A few days ago marked 10 years since I had published the very first post on this blog. Yes, the blog did go into an extensive period of hibernation in the last two years, but I think, this anniversary gives me a great opportunity to make a REVIVAL! No, not religious kind, just the opposite!

I started this blog as a technical/geeky outlet of my ideas from the computer and electronics world. Slowly, as my own personal interests in skepticism and rationality evolved, I begun writing about issues in those areas of interest. In the late 2000s, the fight about childhood vaccines was raging and I felt it was important to get the scientifically correct information across to the wider audience. This also meant exposing cranks and scammers, who found their niche in the anti-vaxers movement. I did get burned a few times, I received my share of complaints and threats, but whenever I found some time, I kept writing. Then the Facebook came along and it seemed that the conversations moved to the social media realm. Not for long I think. Facebook is too noisy, too busy and too "emotional". Information comes fast, posts are reactive and unprepared, and the responses from your audience/friends are even more "in the moment". There is hardly any reasonable and skeptical discussion possible in such an environment. Twitter, on the other hand is too brief and too fleeting to have any meaningful exchange of ideas. However, both platforms might give you ideas for a more prolonged dissection of a particular topic.

So, I think it is rational to come back to the blogging scene. In the crazy political climate of an election year, in the time when rationality is needed more than ever, when hate, racism and bigotry seem to be on the rise on both sides of the pond, I think it is important to ensure that progressive and rational ideas are promoted and highlighted as wide as possible. Staying silent would be complacent and our history teaches us that complacency leads to tragedy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Long Time...

This blog is not dead... just very slow, due to extensive commitments outside of the skeptical community.

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Info About Dr. Burzynski's Therapy?

As I follow the news about Dr. Burzynski's Antineoplastons' therapy rather closely lately, I stumbled upon this article from the Polish Daily News in New York:

Lek doktora Burzyńskiego wkrótce w aptekach (in Polish)

It states rather clearly that Dr. Burzynski's anti-cancer drugs will soon be available in US pharmacies:
"W końcu możemy odetchnąć z ulgą. Wielu pacjentów będzie miało szanse na skuteczne leczenie nowotworów, uważanych do tej pory za wyrok śmierci" – tak najnowszą decyzję Amerykańskiej Agencji Żywności i Leków (FDA) komentuje, w rozmowie z "Nowym Dziennikiem, dr Stanisław Burzyński, autor nowatorskiej metody leczenia raka.
"We can finally breathe the sigh of relief. Many patients with cancers seen as the death sentence until recently, now will have a chance of successful treatment" - said Dr. Burzynski after the recent decision of the FDA.
The article also states that a new drug has been approved by the FDA, and it will treat some ailments of the liver, certain kinds of brain tumors and leukemia.

I was not able to find anything on the FDA site, nor on the Burzynski Clinic web site. Both of them have numerous mentions of the current clinical trials, but no mention of the upcoming drug release. Also, the NIH's Cancer site does not have any mention of a new drug from Burzynski's clinic.

As I said before, I hope this pans out, but I don't hold my breath for some breakthrough, and I certainly hope this is not yet another publicity stunt to get more desperate patients onto the clinical trials that never end.

EDIT: 07/12/2014

A new article in the Polish Daily News:

Tylko u nas rozmowa z dr Stanisławem Burzyńskim. Dokonamy rewolucji w medycynie - mówi dr Burzyński

This time it's an invitation to a conversation with Dr. Burzynski, published in the weekend print edition of the newspaper.
"Mam nadzieję, że dokonamy rewolucji w medycynie, przede wszystkim ze względu na nasze leki, jeden z nich już wkrótce trafi do aptek. Oprócz tego, w czwartek (10 lipca) przekazaliśmy cztery artykuły do specjalnego wydawnictwa, a dwa następne trafią tam za tydzień (17 lipca). Chcemy, by zostały one w najbliższym czasie opublikowane w specjalnych pismach medycznych. Jeśli to się uda, to – po pierwsze – już na zawsze skończą się ataki na nas i naszą klinikę, bo każdy lekarz będzie mógł stosować tę metodę i coś, co jest teraz absolutnym wyrokiem śmierci, już nim nie będzie. Pytanie tylko, kiedy lekarze wprowadzą nasze sposoby leczenia do swoich praktyk. Mam nadzieję, że się odważą, a to z kolei spowoduje przewrót w medycynie" – mówi doktor Burzyński. 
"I hope the we can revolutionize medicine, first of all, because of our new drugs, with the first one to be available in pharmacies very soon. In addition, on Thursday, July 10th, we submitted four research papers to a special publisher, with the next two articles to be submitted on July 17th. We would like them to be published in the near future in special medical publications. If we succeed, the attacks on our clinic will stop, because every physician will be able to use our methods, and what is a death sentence for some now, will cease to be. The question is: when will the doctors incorporate our methods in their practices? I hope, they will be brave enough, and that will cause the real breakthrough in medicine."  - says Dr. Burzynski.
The article on line, and probably the one in print seem the be just "infomercials" for Dr. Burzynski. The above quote is full of "if's" and "but's" and conditional statements, that do not mean much in the greater scheme of things. I remain skeptical, hopeful to be proven wrong (but I don't hold my breath).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Is Polish Community Blindly Patronizing a Crank?

Living around the Polish community in New York City for many years, I have been exposed to a fair share of cranks and weirdos. I have been to the Silva Method seminars, Reiki sittings and other New Age meetings and conventions that defied reason and common sense.

As I mentioned on this blog in the past, I had first heard about Dr. Burzynski from Texas in the early 1990s. All the local Polish newspapers and magazines were publishing rave reviews of his revolutionary cancer treatment method, and it seemed like the final victory in the war on cancer is about to happen and the future is brighter than ever.

I'd lost track of the brave and maverick doctor for a few years, until, in the mid-2000s, I started seeing reports of his deeds on the blogosphere. It seems that Dr. Burzynski was busy running a whole bunch of clinical studies on the effectiveness of his cancer treatment throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He also had some run-ins with the FDA over those studies and how he used his yet unproven research to treat patients. This typically would not be a problem, however in this case, the results of those studies were either slim, or they were not reporting any results at all, continuing forever.

At the beginning of this year an article in USA Today caught my interest: Doctor accused of selling false hope to families.

The author, Liz Szabo, presents the history of Dr. Burzynski's research, his never-ending clinical studies, their costs to patients, and finally potential and very real side effects that could sometimes lead to death. The controversy did not stop there, as the topic has been picked up by a number of skeptics in the US, including Orac, Bob Blaskiewicz, and one the best medical information resources on the Net, the Science-Based Medicine Blog. There is also a site that presents stories of patients that were not as successful, as the Burzynski Institute would like us believe.

It is a real eye-opener to follow the history of Dr. Burzynski's research, his influence on politicians and his duels with the federal regulators. For most of the lay public, the understanding of the topic usually ends at the conclusion that it is the "all-powerful" medical establishment and the big pharma that want to destroy someone who has some miracle cure for the rest of us. The truth is probably on the other end of the spectrum, as it is with most of the "independent" medial research, usually funded by the desperate people, or some powerful interests (like the supplement industry).

In this particular case, the lack of skepticism and critical thinking is particularly strong in the Polish community, which has been propagating myths and half-truths about Dr. Burzynski for decades. He is usually portrayed as a hero of the medical field, which might have been the case many decades ago, but can be questionable after years of failed medical research. As Burzynski goes back to his research, after FDA lifts a hold on it, one of the most influential Polish newspapers in the US, "Nowy Dziennik", produces a semi-advertisement for him and his Institute (in Polish). As always, there is not a single ounce of skepticism in the article, and the author just swallows Burzynski's arguments hook, line and sinker.

At the same time, Center for Inquiry, a skeptical, education and advocacy organization, releases a very strong letter to the FDA, demanding better explanation of their decision.

Let's hope this time around Dr. Burzynski can actually deliver some results of his numerous studies, and that they are positive, showing that his miraculous methods actually work. Otherwise, FDA should just circle back and take a hard look at his operation again and again, to ensure that people are not led to believe in therapies that have no result.

If he does, I'll be the first to cheer him up and wave the Polish flag in pride.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dr. Oz Gets What He Deserves

This news is almost too easy to comment on:
Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of "The Dr. Oz Show," was grilled Tuesday by senators on Capitol Hill about the promotion of weight loss products on his show.
Senators grill Dr. Oz about 'miracle' weight loss claims

Yes... he is a peddler of nonsense and just pure crap. Whether he is just a "cheerleader" for his crowd (see above), or he really believes in what he preaches, is irrelevant. As a doctor, he should know better how to tell real science from woo-woo.

Do I think he really believes in all he "sells"? I dare to say, probably not, as evidenced in this short bit from his interview a while ago:

Oz sighed. “Medicine is a very religious experience,” he said. “I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean.” All facts come with a point of view. But his spin on it—that one can simply choose those which make sense, rather than data that happen to be true—was chilling. “You find the arguments that support your data,” he said, “and it’s my fact versus your fact.”
I wrote about it here...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Visiting Poland - Better Make Sure You Are Heathly

If Poland is in your vacation plans, make sure you visit your trusted doctor first, stock up on medicine and hope (dare I say, pray) that nothing happens to you, when you are there.

Why? Because faith healing seems to be gaining popularity in that country (full disclosure: I was born there and spent the first 19 years of my life there) and I would not want to be caught sick there, knowing that depending on the doctor you end up with, your therapy might be prayer.

To give you more detail, while the health care is considered to be free and widely available in Poland, the quality is lacking and the availability is restricted by long wait times (months) and extensive restrictions on residency. To top that off, recently, with a strong backing of the very powerful Catholic Church, the doctors there were asked to sign a "Declaration of Faith", which basically gives them a way out of any modern standard of care, based on their "conscience". While signing of this document was voluntary, given the pressure coming from the Church and the local communities, I suspect there will be more and more doctors, who are afraid of performing some controversial procedures, even though they are medically viable and legal under the local law.

While the majority of discussions around this topic were focusing on abortion, it also affects other reproductive rights and many "end-of-life" issues. The problem here is not with anyone's faith, conscience, or anything in between. The problem is with a very personal decision by a someone who should be following scientific knowledge and who is expected to do so in the best interest of a patient. How do we decide where that "freedom of conscience" ends for a given set of beliefs? Is it only abortion, contraception, blood transfusions, separation of men and women in health care, prolonging unnecessary treatments, or refusing some others? Where and how that thin line is drawn? Who makes that decision?

I, for sure, would not want to end up under care of someone who thinks he (or she) knows better, based on their faith and not reason and science. So, if you are going to visit Poland anytime soon, make sure your are healthy, or your best bet might just be to pray (literally).

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Countries I Would Not Want To Visit

... or live in, for that matter.

Here is an interesting article in the Washington Post, that shows what countries in the world have apostasy laws (you get prosecuted for leaving your religion) and blasphemy laws (NO freedom of speech):

MAP: Where offending a religion could get you executed

Unfortunately, my native Poland is on the list of countries with an active blasphemy laws. Not only it has that law on the books, but it is used pretty often to silence people from expressing their views. The cases are numerous: here, here and here (in Polish).

Blasphemy laws are just a way to limit free speech, and there are no excuses for them in civilized countries. We all should have complete freedom of discussion of any topic, as that's the only way to ensure that all ideas have a chance to be heard. Bad ideas and crazy beliefs should be eliminated from the public forum, buy showing their weaknesses, not by legislating them out of existence.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Oh, That Dr Oz - The King of Nonsense

What's not to like about Dr Oz? He's engaging, uses his audience to make his points, gives people information and good advice... NOT!

Yes, he's a great TV personality and he does know hoe to sell himself to the masses, not because he has anything good to say, but simply because he delivers what the masses want to hear and see: "feel good" advice. His ideas don't help you much (maybe except the general: "live a healthy life"), they are usually pretty generic and not tested out, but they make you feel like you are in charge, doing something (anything) to get yourself in a better shape.

His problem is not only the fact that he peddles unproven therapies and medicine, which can be harmful in itself; his greatest sin is that he promotes other people who are filled with nonsense to the brim and who'll sell you their dangerous medical advises at all cost, even if it really means harm to you.

I'd say, skip Dr Oz's programs as they are not reliable source of real  information.

As always, Orac has the best take on Dr Oz on his blog: America’s quack: Dr. Mehmet Oz

Here is the best description of who Dr Oz really is (in his own words):
King finishes by asking Oz to respond to the idea that doctors should be optimists and that no doctor should tell a patient that he is terminal, because “no one knows.” To this, Oz responds that we “actually have to be more than just optimists, but irrational optimists.” Well, Dr. Oz has the irrational part down cold, at least when he’s on his television show. Sadly, my original quip about him becoming more like Mike Adams turned out to be more true than I could ever have imagined.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Interesting Debate: Death Is Not Final. Or Is It?

Great debate, with some of the best skeptical minds participating:

What's the Harm? - Part 2

So, after a brief hiatus on my part, with too many projects to complete to count, I have time to brows the news from time to time again.

And, after my last post, I have another depressing news item to share from the "what's the harm?" department.

There are news links in Polish here and here (sorry, I could not find an English version).

To summarize:

A six moth old girl was found dead a few weeks ago in the town of Brzezna in the south of Poland, while in care of her parents. It was determined that she had died as a result of malnutrition. After some initial investigation, it was also determined that the parents started using a "natural" approach for the baby's care, including refusal of any vaccines, lack of medical care and a whole bunch of holistic feeding techniques. They attempted to follow advice from a faith healer, who allegedly told the parents to use skim milk and herbs as the baby's diet staple. The healer, called "God's Man" in the area, is well known for advocating abandoning regular medical care and using herbs, fasting and prayer as remedies for any ailments (including cancer!!!).

This case is not the first one for the supposedly "godly" man. A few years ago it was alleged that he had caused a death of a five year old boy, who had kidney problems. After initial, positive reactions to the standard, hospital medical care, the mother took the boy to the healer and believed in his "miraculous" approach, which ultimately resulted in boy's death.

Those two cases are clear answers to the argument for the alternative medicine that I hear very often: "what's the harm?". The answer is very simple, the harm is in believing that unproven, often completely nonsensical treatments can and do work. When someone abandons reason and critical thinking in small cases, it is easy to do the same in cases that can cause harm, death and destruction. Belief in miracles, prayer, alternative medicine (like homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc) when your life, or life of your loved ones, is at stake, can really be deadly.