Category Archives: just sad

So sad

I gave a quick presentation at my lab meeting this afternoon and felt sad when I realized that all the work I have done over the past month and a half could be reduced to four bar graphs on a single powerpoint slide.  It was the saddest presentation I have ever given or witnessed.  Here is one-fourth of that work.

Sad

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had some cool pictures of neurons, but no such luck.

Oh, and today I found out that I make less as a grad student than I was on unemployment.  That’s a fun fact to learn.  Fuck.

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Filed under animal research, crazy, grad school, just sad, life, Those Other Sciences

Natural substances/products and a common claim

Don’t fall for nonsense, just because a product is found in nature does not mean it is good for you or is any better than man-made substances.  When people mention that something is “natural” in order to make you more interested in it they conveniently want you to forget that there are a lot of natural substances that are potent enough to kill you hundreds of times over.

Also, remember that the danger is in the dose.  Normally toxic substances can be harmless in small amounts and typically safe substances can be very toxic in large doses.  We put toxic substances into our bodies every day and most people will never see the effects of them because they are in such small doses.  This whole concept is why the EPA and other agencies can post acceptably safe levels of things such as mercury, arsenic, dioxins, etc.  A “natural” product doesn’t necessarily have safe levels of ingredients

And while I’m on the subject, if you ever see a product that claims to “boost your immune system” run away from that product.  What the hell does that statement even mean?  First, the company that is promoting their product would have to show that it somehow modulates some part of the human immune system (increasing T-cells?).  They would then have to show that the modulation their product induces actually has the desired effect on whatever problem/disease it is trying to alleviate/cure (because you can’t just assume that an increase in something in the immune system is actually going to change the immune system – a bit counter-intuitive, but that’s how science works).

Personally, I stick to well-known, tried-and-true drugs, and I think you should too.

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Filed under cancer, crazy, just sad, medicine, pet peeve

An odd anniversary

So yesterday was my third wedding anniversary. It’s interesting because I am currently in the process of getting a divorce. So… yeah.

It actually wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be; the still-current-but-soon-to-be-ex wife and I just got drunk on cheap whiskey and had some fun. All in all it was better than our first anniversary where I dropped $300 on dinner and then got yelled at by my wife because I wasn’t “romantic” enough.

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Filed under just sad, marriage

A much needed response

My last post brought about a very important comment from Sarah about some mothers she has met. I was just simply going to comment on what she said, but then I saw the front page of the Chicago Tribune today and saw this and my blood began to boil and I decided that I had to post about vaccines, autism, and pseudoscience.

First, let me say that while I’m somewhat knowledgeable about the subject I am far from an expert. However, there are plenty of excellent resources for science-based autism and vaccine research right here on the interwebz. I’ll give a very quick overview of what lead to all of this craziness.

-Vaccines have effectively eradicated (at least in the first world) smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, and many other diseases. The development of vaccines is easily one of the greatest medical advances in human history. Seriously, it’s right up there with cleanliness and antibiotics.

-Some vaccines contained a mercury-containing preservative (thermiosal). When autism started getting huge about a decade ago people started blaming vaccines because a few quacks were being very vocal about their hypothesis that it is the mercury in the vaccines that is causing all these cases of autism.

-Looking for any explanation as to why their children were sick, parents all over England and the US began making the false connection between their child’s autism and vaccinations.

-To stem fears the mercury-containing preservative (which is harmless in the dosage received during vaccination) was removed from the majority of vaccines and is now only found in trace amounts in a small number of them such as the flu vaccine. Lo and behold, autism numbers didn’t drop. INSTEAD, THEY HAVE BEEN CLIMBING!

-Anti-vaxers (as we call them) refuse to believe the evidence before them and still believe vaccines to be the root cause of the autism epidemic.

So, with that said here’s my take on this whole debacle. It’s human nature to want answers. Unfortunately, science takes a long time and hasn’t come up with an answer to autism yet, so people whose worlds have been turned upside down because of the disorder look to people who say they know the answer and, due to a lack of other options, listen to them and believe what they say (also, because many times the very same people have “cures” for autism)

What makes this problem all the more difficult is autism itself. What we call autism is in fact a sort of catch-all group of early onset developmental delays. Though we don’t like to admit it diagnoses can become “trendy” (remember ADHD?) and it seems now that if a child shows any signs of a developmental delay s/he is automatically labeled as autistic. This is not a new disorder, it is a new label. There have been and always will be kids with such delays, but while they simply may have been called “slow,” “retarded,” “weird,” or whatever back in the day we have an actual medical diagnosis for them now. And just like any other disease, the more people who know about it, the more people will see it.

The most important thing to know is this: autism is not developmental stasis, it is a developmental delay. Unfortunately, these delays become apparent around the time children should be getting their first shots. See the problem here? People have a very very hard time distinguishing between correlation and causation. Just because something two things happen around the same time does not mean one caused the other, but for some reason a lot of people can’t seem to wrap their head around that fact. All they know is that little Jimmy got his vaccines and then developed autism.

What they don’t know is the damage they are doing. First, they are weakening the herd immunity and becoming serious threats to the overall health of our nation by refusing to vaccinate their children and spreading their ridiculous health claims. Second, they are pulling funding away from real autism research by focusing on stuff that has already been studied time and time again and found to be false. Lastly, they are further eroding confidence in our medical system. Our fucking incredible medical system. God I’m pissed.

Oh, and Oprah can go fuck herself for getting Jenny McCarthy a pedestal to spew her ridiculous and dangerous nonsense. Fuck them both.

Alright, now I’m pissed, so I’m going to stop writing.

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Filed under crazy, just sad, medicine, morality, Those Other Sciences

Wandering through medicine

I had this whole long post about the complications of medicine, but in the end decided I could sum up a very long post with a few simple lines.

1. You don’t know more than your doctor. No matter how good you are at Google searches YOU DON’T HAVE A MEDICAL DEGREE.

2. If there are legitimate, science-based, treatments then use them in place of alternative treatments. They’re alternative because they don’t work. You know what they call alternative treatments that do work? Medicine.

3. Your doctor really does want to help you no matter what anyone else may tell you.

4. Your doctor is not omniscient or infallible, but s/he is the best bet you have at staying healthy.

5. Like I’ve said before, modern medicine has become so good that we have begun to expect too much from it. Do we expect a single person (or even two or three) to know how the entire space shuttle works and be able to fix it at the drop of a hat? Then why do we expect a single person or even a small group of very intelligent people to figure out everything wrong with something significantly more complicated like the human body? It doesn’t make sense.

6. Medicine is harder than you know, so leave it to the experts.

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Filed under grad school, just sad, medicine, pet peeve, Those Other Sciences

Cancer and the drug companies

Ever since I can remember there have been a small but vocal contingent of people who hold the belief that the big-time drug companies (Big Pharma as they’re commonly known) are willingly and purposefully withholding cures for various diseases, but most notably cancer. No, not any specific cancer, but “cancer” in general.

First off, cancer isn’t one thing. It’s an umbrella term for a very wide ranging number of diseases that happen to share a few defining characteristics. It may be theoretically possible to treat a very large number of them with a specific therapy (such as halting angiogenesis – blood vessel formation), but since not all cancers act the same way I think it’s impossible to have a “cure for cancer.” If there was one out there it would be decades beyond our current medical technology since we simply don’t have the basic science of cancer understood well enough to form a reliable “cure” for it.

Even more damaging to this idea is the amazing cooperative conspiracy Big Pharma would have to have to be undertaking to keep such an amazing scientific breakthrough under wraps.

But what puts this idea to rest is this: science is all about prestige.  Anyone who has spent any time in the academic sciences knows how absolutely ruthless (seriously) people can get about new scientific discoveries.  I know loads of people who would disown their families to be a first author on a ground-breaking paper because they know it opens up the scientific world to them. Prestige equals power, money, powerful positions, and authority in science, and everyone wants it.  A cure for cancer would be in a class of its own when it comes to scientific accomplishments; instant Nobel prize (along with many other prestigious prizes), any tenured university position you want, the ability to charge tens of thousands of dollars for speaking engagements, becoming top dog in biology, knowing that you’re going to be personally responsible for saving millions of lives, and the inevitable millions of dollars that will be generated by the cure (most will go to the university, but s/he’ll make money off it too).  This makes the notion that somehow a cure is out there that is being suppressed by the very scientists who created it is so absurd as to be unbelievable without some form of evidence.

It has been said many times, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  If you believe junk such as this then pony over that evidence. Oh, that’s being suppressed too? How convenient…

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Filed under animal research, cancer, crazy, just sad, pet peeve, Those Other Sciences

A new class of antibiotics? Don’t hold your breath.

Science reporting of new advances often pisses me the fuck off.  Take this for example.

Sounds great, right?  Of course it does!  It’s a fucking miracle antibiotic because it doesn’t trigger resistance.  Too bad it’s pure shit.

This isn’t the first time we have thought we could outsmart simple evolutionary processes and it won’t be the last (Carl Zimmer’s book Microcosm covers one or two of these false hopes if I remember correctly – it was an amazing book by the way).  The problem is that a single-celled organism is a very complex beast that has numerous ways of getting around nearly every problem it can come across because this organism doesn’t act as an individual.  Evolution works though populations, and an entire population of bacteria can arise from a single individual cell.  All it takes is one (what I term the Highlander Cell); this poses a serious public health issue.

These bacteria are crafty little buggers and every single year we learn more interesting things they do to survive and thrive in the face of even the most extreme environmental insults.  All we can do is attempt to slow their progress though an intelligent use of our current arsenal of weapons while continually developing new ones.  Current antibiotic resistance issues arise mainly because we use the few weapons we have in a very haphazard manner, and articles such as this one will do nothing to better educate the public to respect their single-celled invaders and urge those in charge of public health to act in the best interest of the public.  Instead, I see this therapy going the exact way every other antibiotic has gone in the past; it works great at first, but it is a false sense of security that will then lead to its overuse and eventual resistance.

I know I’m looking at the glass as half empty, but what else do you expect when ALL the glasses you’ve seen have been half empty?

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Filed under Biology and Evolution, just sad, news, sleep deprived, Those Other Sciences