Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Burzynski Clinic: More Data, Less Confidence

Following up on my last post, and the "uncertainty" about Burzynski's cancer cure, which I expressed in it, I find it refreshing to know that real experts are analyzing the data (or lack of thereof), separating facts and fiction.

Also, it is definitely not wise to try silencing your critics by threatening them, as the Burzynski Clinic attracted more scrutiny and attention than they probably ever wished for.
Orac presents a very in-depth analysis of the "proofs" and data in his excellent article Burzynski The Movie: Hitting you over the head with pseudoscience, just like Burzynski the man, which is a good primer on how to approach this controversy.

Some other articles worth reading:
Stanislaw Burzynski: Bad medicine, a bad movie, and bad P.R.
Burzynski Clinic? Meet the Streisand Effect

There is no conspiracy here, just a general lack of good data and what seems to be pure greed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Burzynski Clinic: Truth or Fiction

There is an interesting piece of news making its way around the blogosphere: The Burzynski Clinic – Another Crank Tries to Intimidate a Blogger.

First and foremost, I'm appealed that anyone, especially a scientist (and I assume Burzynski wants to call himself that), would resort to intimidating anyone who voices his or her opinion on the Internet, especially when such an opinion is backed by rather solid facts. In case of a scientist, and a medical doctor, who wants to promote modern and possibly radically game changing therapies that could cure cancer, such an intimidation is not only out of place, but it is unthinkable.

I am somehow familiar with Burzynski's claims, even though I have not been following his progress for many years. As a person born and raised in the same country as him, I was "bombarded" with news of his amazing and revolutionary therapies, by the New York City's Polish community grapevine in the early 1990s. At that time it appeared that our war with cancer had just been won, and Burzynski had been the general who'd taken the final stronghold of the enemy. And then, slowly, it faded away. People kept dying of cancer and new, amazing discoveries were made, promising new cures for cancer (vilcacora comes to my mind, which hasn't cured anyone I know so far either).

So, going back to the news, I find it shocking that Burzynski and his people would go after those who question their ideas, data and methods. If you are a real scientist, who has solid data and believes in his or her outcomes, you should publish it, let the peer review scrutinize it, and reap the benefits, if there are any. From my previous experience with this topic, and from some of the more recent articles (The Burzynski Clinic – Another Crank Tries to Intimidate a Blogger, The False Hope of the Burzynski Clinic, Harnessing the generosity of kind-hearted strangers to pay for woo, Stanislaw Burzynski and "Antineoplastons") I remain very skeptical of his claims. I hope Burzynski can change my mind, but I would not bet my life on it.

In the meantime, trying to scare bloggers with some vague legal actions is not the way to win you supporters. It is also very educational to read comments under any of the negative articles on Burzynski's clinic. The "big pharma" conspiracy hounds come out not realizing that the clinic/research institute makes tons of money too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chickenpox! Parents... Are You Really That Crazy?!

This probably speaks for itself:

The stupidity of some is beyond my understanding.
However, this news item shows how much damage the anti-vaccine movement has done in some circles. The childhood diseases are coming back, kids are really dying, and some parents rather risk their children's lives than give them a simple shot which saves them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Getting Hotter...

Global warming is an issue that has become controversial, not because of the science behind it, but because of politics. More than almost any other issue, it can be used as a litmus test of your political affiliations and beliefs. And yet, like many other scientific problems (take evolution as an example), it is fairly easy to settle, even if the science behind it is complex and difficult to understand. The data supporting the theory that our planet is getting warmer, and that we are largely responsible for it, hes been around for many years. The climate models agreed with observations, yet a small, but vocal minority kept distorting reality, making large portions of our society very confused in the process. This was an orchestrated and very deliberate process, not much different from the efforts of tobacco companies years ago, trying to squelch data showing how bad smoking was for your health (see "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming").

But data does not lie, no matter what kind of ideological glasses you are sporting.

In a recent study, led by anthropogenic climate change "skeptic" Richard Muller, data collected from over 39,000 measuring stations was re-analyzed again to ensure that some of the "biases" alleged previously were correctly taken into consideration.

The findings are, unfortunately for our children, not good: it's getting warmer and it's getting warmer fast.
While there is always additional research that can add to our current knowledge, this study is just another nail in the coffin of the global warming deniers.

At this point, with all the data available and analyzed, and with 99% of climate scientist agreeing, you have to either be dumb, uneducated, or a hard-core republican (or still watching Hannity of Fox) not be believe.

This illustrated a larger principle: Our world is increasingly complex and the issues we face require more and more expertise to understand. Therefore, always trust the experts, not a single one, but a consensus of many experts, experts in a given field of knowledge. This ensures that you get real, unfiltered knowledge and not some ideological woo-woo, paid by a corporation or a political figure.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Review: The Believing Brain

Traveling long distance by plane gives you plenty of time to do some reading and, recently, I was able to get my hands on the latest book from Michael Shermer "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefe and Reinforce Them as Thruts".
This is one of those books that take you to the very bottom of an interesting topic. You can read about pseudoscience, alternative medicine, UFOs, strange political views, etc, and you'll find plenty of reasons to see why believing in those things just does not make sense. However, Shermer's book shows how we come to those beliefs, how we cultivate them, seeing ourselves as the most reasonable people on the face of the Earth, and finally how we discard any information that goes contrary to our convictions.