This morning, I was alerted to the latest homeopathy shenanigan via the Forbes column of Dr. Steven Salzberg. (COI statement: I don’t know Dr. Salzberg personally, but I follow his columns, and he is a faculty member at my institution—albeit in a discipline not directly related to mine.) At the heart of it is yet another bog-standard ridiculous “study” purporting to show “clinical effect” of homeopathy, despite the preponderant evidence that homeopathy does not work. What makes this instance special enough for me to take time out from my over-burdened work schedule? The fact that it was published in Scientific Reports from the—wait for it!—Nature Publishing Group. Yes, THAT Nature.
A recently published paper, with the outcomes of a collaborative European Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) undertaken in Germany and Ukraine, is making waves amongst jubilant homeopaths as yet another evidence supporting their long-held belief in the clinical effectiveness of homeopathy. Naturally, this 2016 paper in the Journal Global Pediatric Health by van Haselen et al. piqued my curiosity and I dove in to see what the hullabaloo was all about.
It all started with a silly article that had landed in my inbox on Friday morning via the platform called ‘Medium’. The lede of the article in the Pacific Standard magazine by Elena Gooray asked: How do you beat a curse? It caught my eye even in the middle of an eye-roll. I wish it hadn’t. Because inevitably I caught the sub-lede: A practiced Santa Barbara psychic weighs in on Lil B’s so far effective curse against basketball superstar Kevin Durant. And my hackles were raised.
Serious question: has the peer review system at the PLOS journals been doing a less-than-stellar job when it comes to evaluating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) research for publication? If the answer is ‘yes’, why? Or if ‘no’, how does a paper like this go through PLOS ONE without some serious revisions? I refer to the systematic review and meta-analysis on effectiveness of acupuncture for essential hypertension, done by a group of researchers from the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in China, led by Xiao-Feng Zhao, published on July 24, 2015, on PLOS ONE. The authors conclude that there is acceptable evidence for use of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy along with medication for treating hypertension. My perusal of the paper led to some major reservations about that assumption, as well as indicated some instances of sloppy writing which should have been corrected at the stage of review – but, strangely, wasn’t.
I read with a great deal of interest a report on Vox by their science and health reporter Julia Belluz (@juliaoftoronto on Twitter) on the recently publicized story of Pandemrix, an H1N1 pandemic influenza (a.k.a. “Swine Flu”) vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and the condition of narcolepsy (a debilitating sleep disorder) that affected a small fraction of individuals who received this vaccine.
Fear does strange things to people. The fear du jour currently permeating the US is, of course, the Ebola virus disease. Despite the august efforts to reassure and educate from CDC and the WHO, there has spread a modicum of panic (often with tragic results); we have seen Ebola response become a political issue, and as pointed out recently by that redoubtable scienceblogger, Orac, a ghastly profusion of conspiracy theories and quackery has crawled out of nooks and crannies, feeding into the overall noise that is smothering rational discourse on the topic. But even before Orac wrote on it, my attention was drawn on Twitter to the latest volley of insane quackery to emerge, a supposedly “Ayurvedic approach” to curing Ebola – the Ayurveda nowadays being a catch-all term to refer to everything pre-scientific mumbo-jumbo allegedly written in the ancient Hindu holy texts, the Vedas. Because culture.
Today, the 20th of January, is the third Monday of this month. It is a cold, gloomy day, pretty much like most winter days here in Baltimore. I woke up; after my usual hesitation to leave a warm bed on a cold day, I went for my morning ablutions, and left for work at the usual time. Little did I realize that today — the third Monday of January — has long been christened the Blue Monday, allegedly the most depressing day of the year.
As a species, physicists baffle me. To my meager understanding, Physics – the study of matter, energy and the relationship between them – is the most fundamental of the natural sciences. Physics elucidates the properties of matter at level of the most basic structural units, and therefore, must necessarily underlie our understanding of the other branches of the natural sciences, namely, chemistry and biology. Therefore, I have always assumed – perhaps naïvely – the physicists’ understanding of the natural world is firmly rooted in empiricism, in critical analysis of observed data – in other words, in the conscientious application of the Scientific Method.
This week’s Scientia Pro Publica blog Carnival has a host of very interesting blogposts. I invite you all to check them out; I did, and even commented on some of them.
One particular post, by
Pamela Priscilla Stuckey, PhD, a theologist and professor of humanities, deals with an age old debate —who exerts control over the natural world— and she asserts that it is in the natural world that science and religion come to co-exist in harmony.
A Nature News item caught my attention this morning. It is a report by Janelle Weaver, titled: Animal studies paint misleading picture, a title which has rather unfortunate connotations, and which, in all probability, will become a rallying point for the committed anti-animal experimentation folks. The report is based on a paper in PLoS Biology, published today, by Sena et al., titled: Publication Bias in Reports of Animal Stroke Studies Leads to Major Overstatement of Efficacy. I draw your attention to the glaring discrepancy right there – this meta-analytical study focuses on acute ischemic stroke, a small subset of the entire spectrum of research that utilizes animals; yet, Ms. Weaver saw it fit to use a title for her report that tars animal experimentation with an egregiously broad brush.