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Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 35,162

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"Living in the Age of Stupid: How to comprehend Brexit, Trump and the Anti’s"


This piece cuts to the chase on what's happening to our world, all too well.

The rise and inevitable fall of Vitamin D


"It’s been difficult to avoid the buzz about vitamin D over the past few years. While it has a long history of use in the medical treatment of osteoporosis, a large number of observational studies have linked low vitamin D levels to a range of illnesses. The hypothesis that there is widespread deficiency in the population has led to interest in measuring vitamin D blood levels. Demand for testing has jumped as many physicians have incorporated testing into routine care. This is not just due to alternative medicine purveyors that promote vitamin D as a panacea. Much of this demand and interest has been driven by health professionals like physicians and pharmacists who have looked at what is often weak, preliminary and sometimes inconclusive data, and concluded that the benefits of vitamin D outweigh the risks. After all, it’s a vitamin, right? How much harm can vitamin D cause?

There’s no lack of research on vitamin D. Unfortunately, much of that research has been observational, which can find interesting correlations, but can’t demonstrate cause and effect. While there have been some high-quality, large prospective trials using vitamin D as a therapy, there are also a huge number of smaller, poor-quality trials, many of which have produced positive results that haven’t been replicated in larger studies. The net effect has been lots of positive press, but some persistent questions that may not be as widely understood. A new paper from Michael Allan and colleagues set out to summarize the evidence base for vitamin D across multiple uses. It was published in the Journal of General and Internal Medicine, and is entitled “Vitamin D: A Narrative Review Examining the Evidence for Ten Beliefs.” And scanning the list, most of the common claims and beliefs are there: osteoporosis, falls, colds and the flu, cancer, etc. As a narrative review, it is important to note that this type of paper has a high risk of bias. The authors do state that they preferentially sought out systematic reviews and meta-analyses (which, when well conducted, can produce very objective information) but when wrapped in a narrative commentary, the risk of bias increases. This doesn’t mean the findings are incorrect, but that the conclusions emerging from a narrative review (compared to a well-conducted systematic review) will be less robust and quantifiable. While the paper is behind a paywall, I will touch on each of the myths and the evidence they cite, because the paper neatly summarizes the overall evidence base for many of the claims made for vitamin D that I and other contributors have discussed in past posts.


#10: No role for routine vitamin D testing

There’s a lack of evidence to demonstrate that routine vitamin D testing is necessary. The Choosing Wisely campaign recommended against routine testing as the results of the test are not likely to change the medical advice you’ll receive, which includes basic lifestyle advice (stop smoking, control your weight, be active, and to focus on getting your vitamin D from food and the sun). Despite the recommendations against testing, it has become widespread: In 2011, US Medicare spent $224 million on vitamin D tests for seniors.

Conclusion: More hype than hope

Despite the correlation of low vitamin D levels with an array of medical conditions, the evidence for supplementation remains unconvincing for most uses. Given the modest benefit, low cost, and relative lack of side effects, vitamin D, when used with calcium, retains a role in the prevention of fractures, along with the possibility it may modestly reduce falls and mortality. As for testing, you might need one if you have osteoporosis, or have any medical condition that affects your ability to obtain or use vitamin D. In the broader population, there’s no clear need for testing at all. This area, like a lot of nutritional research, is plagued with lots of low-quality evidence that is more than likely to steer us in the wrong direction. Until better evidence emerges, taking a cautious approach to vitamin D seems sound. Supplementation at modest doses is safe. If you do decide to supplement, remember that more isn’t better, and keep your dose low enough to avoid potential harms."


The author, a pharmacologist, assesses the state of the science for several claims regarding Vitamin D supplementation.

Good info!

Will Scotland and Northern Ireland vote to leave GB and join the EU?

If so, what does that mean for the world economy, if anything?

According to this, the GOP did something similar to support off shore drilling in 2008.


"...The aide further noted that Democrats, back in 2008 when they had control of the House, had turned cameras, lights, and microphones off during one similar GOP attempt to push for a vote allowing offshore drilling.


Publicity stunt? Maybe. But at least it's one that's trying to move things in a positive direction for the population. And any GOPer who wasted time on anti-ACA votes the past few years, hasn't got a leg to stand on in regard to publicity stunts.

Americans Spend $30 Billion a Year on Alternative Medicine


"Americans seem to believe in alternative medicine, shelling out more than $30 billion in 2012 alone for treatments ranging from acupuncture to homeopathy, federal researchers reported on Wednesday.

They found that 59 million Americans paid for some sort of alternative or complementary treatment in 2012 — an average of $500 per person. That's even though there is little evidence some of these approaches work.

"Substantial numbers of Americans spent billions of dollars out of pocket on these approaches, an indication that users believe enough in the value of these approaches to pay for them," the team at the National Center for Health Statistics reported.

"These expenditures, although a small fraction of total health care spending in the U.S., constitute a substantial part of out-of-pocket health care costs and are comparable to out-of-pocket costs for conventional physician services and prescription drug use."



But, you know, it's no big deal.

Mistrust after Tuskegee experiments may have taken years off black men’s lives


"The damage from a series of unethical syphilis experiments on Southern black men may have reverberated far beyond the test subjects themselves, a new study has found.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was a government-run project from 1932 to 1972 in which hundreds of black men in Macon County, Ala., were deprived of a known syphilis treatment so that researchers could observe how the disease progressed. The tests were later widely condemned and President Clinton issued a formal apology for them in 1997. “Tuskegee” has also come to be a stand-in, historians say, for the centuries of abuse that African-Americans have suffered in the medical system.

The syphilis study was known in the medical community, but came into the public spotlight with front-page coverage in 1972 in the New York Times. That same year, the US Public Health Service halted the study. But its legacy carried on, according to a new analysis, which finds that after 1972, black men’s health suffered because they avoided doctors and died earlier than they would have been expected to. The authors claim that the Tuskegee revelation contributed to an eroded trust in doctors.

That finding “adds greater credibility to the conclusion that the Tuskegee Syphilis Study had an impact not only on the men directly involved, but on generations that followed,” said Stephen B. Thomas, director of the Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, who has been studying the legacy of Tuskegee since the early ’90s.



Getting Slapped Around: An Interview with Dorthe Nors



I spoke with Nors on her final day in the U.S. following the book’s launch. She is warm and confiding and possessed of a Northern European glamour that favors dark sweaters and disdains what most New Yorkers would consider a major and ongoing snowstorm. Throughout the hour we spent together, she drank trucker-strength coffee and held her chin in her hand. She told me about bucking tradition with new forms, the finer points of Danish comedy, and how life finds a way of slashing us all.

After four novels, it’s a short story collection—your first—giving you a breakthrough into the U.S. market. Why do you think that form did it?

Without me realizing it, I found that the short story—this compact, intensive way of writing—suited my voice. The short story isn’t really part of our tradition in Denmark. This is the country of Hans Christian Anderson and Karen Blixen, but for some reason there’s this sense that we don’t want to dirty our hands with the short story. That’s why it’s such a blessing that this is happening for me in America, where there’s such a strong tradition for the form. I feel like I’m presenting my work to a nation without having to explain what I’m doing.

How did you first step outside that tradition and decide to give the short story a try?

I always thought that writing short stories would be too difficult, but I knew this teacher who worked with at-risk teenagers and he asked me to come write a story about his class. So I spent some time with these kids and cooked something up. Afterward, the teacher assembled the entire school to hear me read this story, and when I was done, the kids were actually cheering. They could see themselves in it and they loved it. That experience boosted my confidence.



Nors' "Karate Chop" is incredible.

Her second US book, So Much For That Winter, is released today.

I can't wait!


The love affair between science and poetry


"Poetry and science seem like opposites – but the two have long been intertwined. At London's Roundhouse in June, performance poet Robin Lamboll's take was wonderfully dramatic. It featured a shouting, angry and judging voice performance on "science being fun facts of the natural world and religion being Nietzsche's The Antichrist".

Watching it made me think about the flirtation of poetry and science and how deep a romance it is. In the late 1700s, scientific treatises were written in poetic form because poetry was considered the language of intellect and the future. In the 1800s, Lewis Carroll experimented with mathematical logic to create The Square Stanza.

And who can forget Dante's The Divine Comedy; a smorgasbord of history and religion which at its damning best was underpinned by solid science such as the action of gravity as he travels to the core of the earth and on Lucifer's fall through the galaxy.

In 1984, the paper The Detection of Shocked Co/Emission by physicist J. W. V. Storey was published in The Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of Australia as a 38-stanza poem, much to the irritation of his colleagues (and his sadistic pleasure).

Poetry in the DNA

Today, many poets embrace and explore both the confirmed and the working theories of physics, astronomy and nature, the most popular scientific fields for poets. The idea of scientists as poets is surprisingly common; a variation of the "writer with the day job".



Yes, a good read.

Or so I think.

The Improbability Principle (Or things that have a one in 64 million chance happen... ALL the TIME!)



But don’t worry, this just means you have to think a little harder about how likely things are. David Hand writes about this in his 2014 book: The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. This is making the rounds again in the media because of the recent “rare” astronomical events.

Yesterday the Summer Solstice coincided with the Strawberry Moon – the first full moon in June. The last time this happened was in 1967. Recently we have seen “rare” transits of Mercury and Venus across the sun.

These events are not that rare, and I really don’t see what the fuss is all about (I guess the media is desperate for anything they can hype.) Don’t get me wrong, I love astronomical events, it is their rarity that I think is overhyped.


First it is important to recognize that when you have lots of opportunities for unlikely things to happen, they are bound to happen by chance. As I like to say, in New York City, which has a population of over 8 million people, a 1 in 8 million coincidence should happen every day.



A good read by Dr. Novella. Of course, Tim Minchin cuts to the chase:

"A woman had given birth to naturally conceived identical quadruplet girls, which is very rare. And she said, "The doctors told me there was a one in 64 million chance that this could happen. It's A MIRACLE!" But, of course, we know it's not, because things that have a one in 64 million chance happen ... ALL the TIME! To presume that your one in 64 million chance thing is a miracle, is to significantly underestimate the total number of things that THERE ARE. ... Maths."

-Tim Minchin

“Health Ranger” Sells Remedy for Disease He Doesn’t Think Exists


I love the phrase "useful substance free" as a correction for "100 % chemical free."

Oh, Health Ranger, you crack me up. No, really.

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