Archive for December, 2011

Dec 06 2011

Organic Food, Pesticides, and Cancer

I recently received the following question:

My wife is worried about eating vegetables that have been treated with pesticides for fear that it increases risk of cancer. I have looked at some of the books she has read that pushes organic eating and I was not impressed with the authors credentials or citations. Is there any scientific evidence that supports the assertion that eating organic vegetables will reduce the risk of cancer?

Organic farming is a complex issue, and one of those issues shrouded with ideological belief to the point that it is often difficult to find objective evidence and opinion. There are also many issues within the organic farming framework. Is organic farming cost effective, more sustainable, capable of feeding the world, better for the environment, and better for human health? There is also the more fundamental question – what, exactly, constitutes organic farming? I find that often it is a catch-all phrase for any farming practice deemed to be more sustainable or environmentally friendly, or any practice considered “natural”. Unfortunately “natural” is a vague term.

Continue Reading »

66 responses so far

Dec 05 2011

Vaccine Acceptance Still an Issue

Perhaps the weak link in the effectiveness of vaccines is public acceptance. Individual vaccine types vary in terms of their effectiveness, but all are reasonably effective and very safe. Vaccines are, in my opinion, one of the “home runs” of modern medicine – scientists hit upon a way to marshal our own immune systems to make us resistant or even completely immune to certain infectious diseases. The result has been a dramatic decrease in diseases that used to plague humanity, and the complete eradication of one (smallpox).

It is ironic that the greatest barrier to the effectiveness of the vaccine program is public acceptance. Part of the problem is that very high acceptance is needed in order to achieve what is called “herd immunity” – where there is sufficient protection in the population that an infected individual will likely not cause an outbreak.

In the US the numbers are pretty good, and have remained so even through the recent increase in the anti-vaccine movement. About 68% of children complete the full routine vaccination series. Many of the individual vaccines have compliance rates in the 90s (MMR, for example, was 92.1% in 2008). The level required for herd immunity varies, but it is generally around 85-90%.

Continue Reading »

28 responses so far

Dec 02 2011

You Too Can Be a Snake Oil Salesman

Almost every day I get e-mails asking me about some new supplement, health product, or new treatment. They seem to be endless, and there is no way I can get to them all. That’s why it is so important to understand how to assess such claims – the whole “give me a fish and feed me for a day, teach me to fish and feed me for life” thing.

This morning I was asked about a product called Neurosafe, which is claimed to be a “seatbelt for the brain.” Specifically they claim that their supplement “may” help protect athletes from brain injury and help recover faster. Are the claims credible? Before I get to this one product, let me give you a how-to guide for selling snake oil.

The first thing you need to realize is that it doesn’t matter at all what you put in your product. The easiest thing to do is use everyday vitamins in low to moderate doses. Just look at Airborne – you can sell a multivitamin and pretty much make up whatever claim you want for it.

Continue Reading »

33 responses so far

Dec 01 2011

Burzynski Tries to Distract and Intimidate

The shenanigans at the Burzynski clinic (a highly dubious cancer clinic in Texas) continue. I wrote recently about the attempt by one Marc Stephens who claimed to represent the clinic to intimidate science bloggers who have (appropriately, in my opinion) been sharply criticizing Burzynski for running a quack cancer clinic. The most slimy aspect of Stephens’ actions was to go after a high school student, Rhys Morgan, with legal threats. Rhys also lives in the UK where a libel suit, even if completely frivolous, can be ruinous. Stephens also sent a Google map image of Rhys’s house to Rhys – a not-so-subtle threat of physical violence against Rhys personally (“watch out, kid, I know where you live!”).

There was some speculation about whether or not Stephens really represents the Burzynski clinic, or perhaps he is just a rogue supporter, but that speculation has now been put to rest by a press release from the clinic. The document is worth some close scrutiny, as it is an excellent example of propaganda and how such dubious practitioners will try to distract from the real issues. Here is the press release:

Continue Reading »

16 responses so far

« Prev