Archive for category Health

Homeopathic vodka

In this short video, the initiators of the ten 23 campaign against homeopathy create some 30C vodka: in other words, vodka that has been diluted in water until not a single atom of the original remains. Should it be available on the National Health Service?

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World Health Organisation condemns homeopathy

Joyful news today on the BBC about a successful campaign for the charity Sense About Science. They asked the World Health Organisation to comment on the use of homeopathic treatment for diseases like HIV, malaria, TB and infant diarrhoea, and various WHO authorities have responded, stating in very clear terms that these conditions need to be treated with actual medicine and actual evidence. SAS have passed on these WHO statements in an open letter to the world’s health ministers (PDF link). Using “remedies” without any active ingredient to “treat” these horrible diseases, when effective alternatives are available, is an obscenity.

It’ll be interesting to see how much popular attention this gets (it was second-most-read on the BBC News site this morning): is the tide finally turning against alternative medicine?

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What makes humans happy?

Last week I gave a talk about happiness research. Here are some notes for posterity. I haven’t deliberately sought out happiness research, but bias research (my area of interest) overlaps with it a great deal.

First, a disclaimer. When we talk about one group being happier than another, we’re talking about the average of a large number of subjects. All the different life stories that arise from, say, having children, are boiled down to a single figure. I would prefer to see longitudinal studies of happiness displayed as a “heat map” rather than a line on a graph.

Second, a correction. Last week I hadn’t read Bella DePaulo’s Singled Out, which takes a close look at research on the effects of marriage. So when I said that marriage makes people happier by a wide margin, I was unaware of how much this apaprently “common-sense” finding was based on bad research which has been influenced by the “family values” lobby. Some of DePaulo’s findings: Read the rest of this entry »


Book Review: Free Market Madness

Review of Peter A. Ubel (2009) Free Market Madness: Why human nature is at odds with economicsĀ  – and why it matters. Harvard Business Press, ISBN:9781422126097

Despite the title, this book sings the praises of the free market. However, it soundly debunks a libertarian free-market fundamentalism that draws its legitimacy from the rational-choice assumptions of economics.

The author is a medical doctor and decision scientist, not to mention an accessible writer. The book is based on many important scientific studies, including the author’s own research, so there’s a high fact-to-opinion ratio. In his medical work, Ubel sees first-hand the obesity crisis, the stressful conditions in which we make medical decisions and the inefficiency of a market medical system. This in turn shows the danger of believing that people always make decisions in their own best interest. Read the rest of this entry »

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Helping Simon Singh

I wasn’t at the London meeting last night, but here is the New Scientist write-up about Simon Singh’s libel case with the British Chiropractic Association (previously featured). It seems that this case is capturing the mood of the nation’s skeptics to an unexpected extent, just as the Atheist Bus campaign and Godless People events succeeded beyond their wildest expectations (though I’m not saying that skeptic is the same as atheist).

ASKE colleagues have asked how to support Singh at a time when he might be about to launch a very expensive appeal.

One thing you can do to help Singh is to buy his book “Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial” (co-authored with Prof. Edzard Ernst), or if you have it already, give it some publicity. I’ve had it for a while and honestly only dipped into it so far, but it seems definitive and a large chunk of it deals with chiropractic. The end section is a set of very short assessments of the evidence relating to each of a long list of alternative practices: extremely helpful material for any skeptic.

It doesn’t help Singh’s legal case as directly as a cash donation, but it gets him some cash, raises the profile of the central arguments this case is about and adds a useful resource to your bookshelf. Reviewing or recommending the book on Amazon is a good idea as well: as expected, there are some alt-med supporters giving it one star reviews to bring its rating down, without really addressing the book’s content.

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