There is no denying the fact that visual representations —photos, graphics, and video— play a significant role in telling a story and conveying a concept. Even if the adage from early twentieth century, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, may have lost its charm a bit in this age of easy digital image/video manipulation, it’s not difficult to imagine why images and illustrations would have a tremendous impact in the communication of complex content, such as science communication. As James Balm (@JustBalmy), blogger and Social Media Assistant for BioMed Central, explained in an informative 2014 post:
Having been born and growing up in India, the land of the sacred cow, I am no stranger to this domesticated, quadrupedal ungulate of the subfamily Bovinae, genus Bos. It’s difficult not to have respect for an animal whose scientific name already proclaims it to be the boss, and I am culturally well-conditioned (‘well-done’, one might say) to accord an immediate reverence to this multi-faceted (not to mention, delectable) animal. After all, Gau-mata, or Cow the Mother, is an enduring socio-religious meme in India, stemming from simpler, more agrarian times — possibly a testament to the species’ intimate association with human history ever since it was domesticated about 10,500 years ago (archaeological and genetic evidence suggests that cows in Southeast Asia, Bos indicus, a different lineage from cows in Europe, were domesticated about 7000 years ago in the Harappan civilization).
Those who read my regular posts (Yes, that rare breed of people…) are amply aware that I am no fan of pseudoscience and quackery, as well as the relentless invasion of quackery into academia, leading invariably to scientifically implausible, nonsensical “research”, for which Dr. Harriet Hall had aptly coined the term “Tooth Fairy Science” several years ago over at Science Based Medicine.
It has been more than two years since I wrote about a tale of woe, the sad reality of being a non-immigrant biomedical researcher in the US. I chronicled the travails of my wife, who – even with a STEM PhD from a top-tier medical school in New York – was facing the murky uncertainties associated with doing science on a visa in the US. That uneasy disquietude still continues to haunt her; even though her Green Card application has been submitted, nothing is certain until she actually gets it in her hand – and we have no clue when that is going to happen.
Last month, PLOS One published a study which held significant interest for me; as a long time sufferer from acid reflux (which is currently reasonably controlled by regular use of a PPI – Proton-pump inhibitor – class of prescription antacid), I was curious to dive into this Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) study from Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston, in which the investigators observed that Patient-Provider Interactions Affect Symptoms in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) as well as dyspepsia and other acid-reflux related issues, which affect 2-4 out of every 10 people in Western world (similar statistics were observed in the Northern part of India). The name of the study medication, Acidil, wasn’t immediately familiar to me, but it turned out to be a ‘homeopathic preparation’, which – along with the placebo-controlled designed – piqued my interest further. Although the severity of GERD symptoms may fluctuate due to different reasons, it is usually not one of those self-correcting conditions in which homeopaths often claim beneficial effect. So, sufficiently interested, I delved deeper.
The world of alternative medicine – nowadays more fashionably known as complementary and integrative medicine (CIM), replacing the erstwhile CAM (A = alternative) – encompasses a wide range of practices. Some of these practices involve physical motion of parts or whole of the body, such as massage, Yoga, and Tai Chi; if one subtracts the dollops of mysticism, especially of Eastern origin, that have come to be associated with these practices, one finds that they perform much of the same functions as any other regular exercise regimen, providing similar benefits. A few practices employ dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, various salts, et cetera) and folk-remedies based on herbal medicine (Traditional Chinese Medicine/TCM, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Amachi, and so forth) – some of which may and do contain biologically active substances, but the evidence for those being functional, safe, and effective therapeutic modalities in actual clinical situations is extremely scant, and the wide-ranging claims made by the practitioners are mostly never backed up by solid, scientific empirical methods. (Further reading: 1. Veteran ScienceBlogger Orac explains how the multi-billion dollar Supplements Industry takes their adoring clients for a ride; 2. I argue how the recent accolades for work stemming from the use of herbal medicine as a resource is not a context-less validation that herbalism works.)
Yesterday, on October 5, 2015, one half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to scientist and pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou (alternatively, Tu Yo Yo, 屠呦呦 in Chinese), for her discovery of the anti-malarial Artemisinin. (The other half went jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura, for their discovery of a novel therapy for roundworm infection.)
Frederick Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 – May 19, 1971), often referred to simply as ‘Ogden Nash’, was an American poet with a signature style of whimsical light verses replete with puns, deliberate misspellings, strangely irregular meter, but always ending in rhymes. Having read Ogden Nash as a child, I always find his poems delightful and utterly enjoyable. I recently came to know that I have another connection to him; apparently, Ogden Nash, a New Yorker by birth, called Baltimore his home, having moved there in 1934, and the Johns Hopkins Hospital was where he was being treated for complications of Crohn’s Disease, and sadly, breathed his last. [Source: Ogden Nash Biography]
People reading this blog (I sure hope someone reads it *bites nails*) may be familiar with the name ResearchGate. It was envisaged as a social networking site focused on scientists; founded in 2008 by Ijad Madisch and Sören Hofmayer, both physicians, and Horst Fickenscher, a computer scientist, the site’s stated mission statement is: to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share and access scientific output, knowledge, and expertise. Although not unique (or the only player) in this field, ResearchGate offers several features which are valuable for academic collaborations:
The dénouement that was inevitable came to pass. I woke up yesterday to the sorrowful news that Professor Sacks, the neurologist and author extraordinaire, had passed away at the age of 82. Of the two obituaries in two leading dailies that I read one after the other, the NY Times Obit seemed more of a commemoration of his life’s outstanding work, whereas the Guardian Obit seemed (to me) a celebration of his amazing life, but both were moving in their descriptions of this ex-biker/weightlifter polymath physician/author I have long admired. My time at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in The Bronx, NY, overlapped the last five years of his presence there. I met him from afar a couple of times in the hallways, but never had the courage to approach him and talk. I wish I had. Journalist and author Steve Silberman, who has for years had close contact with Professor Sacks, expressed eloquently on Twitter what I have been feeling: