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February 11, 2009

What we don't know

Taubes’ article is rather scathing. A lot of the problems in medicine stems from the incredible complexity of the human body. Hard-core theoretical physics is easy by comparison: we know much more about the inner workings of the universe than we know about ourselves.

Continue reading "What we don't know" »

February 10, 2009

Everything taken with a grain of salt

I think the best thing to take away from this article, and one that Taubes does a very good job of conveying, is that there is an information overflow. There are too many people conducting too many studies, which only vary slightly enough to cause opposite results. There might be two studies on what level of smoking causes lung cancer and depending on who is sampled out of the population or how the study is conducted; there might be two very different answers. This is exactly what Taubes was proving time and time again with his numerous examples of conflicting data. The problem, at least in my eyes, is that there is too much outside influences to really get consistent data. While one study alone might produce consistent and reliable data, simply changing where the study was done, who it involved or how it was conducted might produce drastically different results. This is exactly what is happening in the medical research field. We have too much data and statistics to be able to make clear judgments about the risks or benefits of partaking in certain actions or using different drugs. The scope of the research has become so large that we can no longer find the real answers buried underneath the constant inflow of information. What we are left with is nothing more than common sense. Everything you eat, drink, or do has the potential to benefit you, have no effect, or negatively hurt you. So be careful what you believe, because what heals you today might hurt you tomorrow.

Studying the Statistics of Science

This article is quite interesting to me. It brought back many memories of the AP Statistics course I took as a junior in high school. I never realized how important this class would be, and I found many statements involving statistics within Taubes’s article. I’ll mention some of the statistical terms below.

A placebo trial, one that most are familiar with, is an experiment involving the use of an object, usually a medication, in which the patient assumes it will “cure? the problematic issue (half are given the real medication while the rest receive a fake medication in order to determine if the pill is really necessary). The people, also referred to as subjects, expect a positive effect, when it is merely their belief that they are getting better.

A double-blind trial is another way to prove the use of a drug. Neither the subjects nor the people who have contact with them know if the medication is real or a placebo. This insures more information that is accurate.

Observational studies involve watching what will happen, and an experimental study involves testing to find an outcome.

Bias can make a huge impact on statistical data. Some of the most common issues that arise are the personalities amongst the subjects who take a certain medication. Those who are more active and more concerned about their health are more likely to take a medication, whereas those who don’t take care of themselves are less likely to take the medication at the times directed by the physician. This can significantly distort the results and make the positive outcomes seem more or less probable.

These are some of the terms brought up in Taubes’s article. If this subject is interesting to you, I suggest taking a statistics course. It is quite useful for anyone, especially for those who are interested in medicine.

What Can We Trust?

In Taubes' article, "Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy," his point was clear; large observational health studies should be looked at carefully. Taubes developed this "logos" through his explanations of many case studies that were more or less based upon cause-and-effect relationships of a human habits (such the use of hormone-replacement therapy). He uses this as evidence to support his claim that these studies should be looked at carefully before taken into consideration. We need to consider the patient in the trial, and if they are liable test subject to base results. The answer to this is "no" more commonly than not, so this raises the question; what can we trust with our own health if we can't trust science all of the time? To answer this Taubes goes on to explain how the only way to test these hypotheses is to test them in a randomized-controlled trial, or what we like to call an experiment. The only problem with this is that they are hard to initiate and very costly, so many times experiments are not viable. As technology develops though, I think that it will become easier to perform experiments that test different hypotheses to give us answers to some of our health questions, but until then we are just left to question; what can we trust?

What Can We Really Be Sure On?

This article made me really think about the things in my own life that I do because I believe they are healthy for me. For example I eat mostly organic fruits and vegetables for many reasons such as studies have shown how pesticides can cause cancer and other problems. Some scientists say that there is no health differences between organic and non organic foods. Other scientists say that the pesticides found on foods that are not organic are linked to cancer and other diseases. This makes me wonder if the scientists for either side of the argument misinterpreted what they saw.
“Do We Really Know What is Best for Us? reminded me of the controversy with antibiotics and how with medicine, what is advised to patients with confidence one day is reversed the next. It makes me really wonder what will be advised against next, and what I may be doing right now that could be causing me serious harm in the future. For example, people used to think smoking cigarettes was healthy, now we know that it is a major cause of many different diseases. This also reminded me of the article about how the Malaria drug is losing it’s potency. A drug that has saved millions of lives is now going to need to be replaced.

February 9, 2009

Great Argument--I only got a little lost

As someone who has always been skeptical of health studies that use statistics to imply causation, I felt like this article did a really great job of laying out the potential flaws in that particular line of reasoning. After going over the concept of “logos? in class this afternoon, I could really see it in Taubes’ writing. Taubes sets up his claim—that large observational studies in health should be looked at critically—gives several reasons—the absence of consideration of patient habits, for example—and then presents several case studies as evidence. Taubes’ also takes on the “hedge? in which many may argue that large observational case studies have lead to major discoveries in correlations between such things as smoking and lung cancer. I could not help but picture my statistics teacher last year in front of the class making this exact same argument (only with a lot of passion and snappy retort). I sent her a copy of the article after reading it.

I did have one problem with the article: Did anyone else get lost in the details half way through? I found myself wandering off the course in his argument. What is the best way to give a great argument to your reader without the risk of losing them in the details?

February 7, 2009

Should we bestow trust into recommendations of medical professionals?

The article “Do We Know What Makes Us Healthy,? is not alarming to me since I believe in the importance of public health and because this article identifies with my logic in regards to handling recommendations from medical professionals. As this article suggests, there are individuals who do what is suggested of them and there are those that do not. I am a person who is reluctant and hesitant to readily do what is suggested especially with respect to health-related issues. So I definitely do not agree to do what the doctor always suggests and I also make this point clear to my family. In other words, I question everything and though experiences I have every reason to do so.
Every year millions of people get the flu shot and I ask myself, why is it that many people find it important to get the flu shot especially since it is not a hundred percent effective. Influenza is continuously evolving especially when antiviral medication is developed to prevent it. The flu shot doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the flu but it might offer slight protection from it. Once the drug is excessively used the virus will develop resistance to the antiviral anyway. I have come across several cases where people receive the flu shot and still get the flu. One of these cases pertains to me. I honestly don’t know when was the last time I received the flu shot once I concluded that with the shot I still get sick. Thus, in the long run it seemed useless to get the antiviral. My mother came to the same conclusion not to long after me. In fact, we both noticed that when we receive the flu shot, we get sick not to long afterwards. This is after the ten day period after receiving the shot when the body slowly becomes familiar with the virus and there are slight symptoms of the flu. My mother and I actually found that our chances of not being sick dramatically decreased when we do not get the shot. Thus we both concluded that although it is recommended it was also useless.
Furthermore, there is also the newest recommendation that I am currently against and that is the HPV Vaccine that is now available. This vaccine is strongly recommended by doctors and is supposedly proven to prevent cancer. However, the dilemma with the vaccine doctors are failing to mention is how long is it guarantee to offer protection and how efficient is it. The drug is so new out on the market and is publicized to be administered to girls but yet there is no certainty in its long term affects. In other words, it seem like a marketing scam to me. They have commercials on TV suggesting that the HPV Vaccine helps by preventing cancer among those that are sexually active but yet there is no indication for how long. Thus, the significance of the commercial is to increase sales. This HPV vaccine seems irrelevant to be giving girls especially before the age of ten. Presently, the health and pharmaceutical industries are trying to get the HPV Vaccine administered to infants. In my opinion, this seems useless because infants are not sexually active and it’s uncertain how long the vaccine could provide protection for the infants in the future. I suspect that it is for this very reason why the vaccine is not required for all females.
The HPV Vaccine and the flu shot are examples as to why I do not submit so easily into recommendations and suggestions. Overall, I just hope to teach others around me to be more responsible for their health and the health of those they are responsible for by at least questioning some of these suggestions instead of overlooking them.