About me

This page essentially describes where I am coming from on this blog. Here you can find a summary my take on various issues covered in this blog.

Vitals

I am a thirtysomething guy, married with two children. My perspective on a whole lot of issues has changed as a result.

By training, I am a Ph.D. statistician (with a background in education), and I have been working in the clinical research industry for several years. I spend way too much time on the computer, and try to do as much yoga as the busy life of a father of two small children allows.

Politics

I am generally libertarian by philosophy. In general, I believe that government intervention makes things worse, and, in every case, unchecked government intervention is dangerous, and we must do anything we can to avoid it. However, I don’t go as far as many other libertarians and say that government is the only institution that can use force on individuals.

The Libertarian Party has lost my vote. In 2000, they seemed to at least be organized, and had a candidate with a good message and a good strategy. In 2004, they nominated the lunatic fringe to lead their national election strategy (Michael Badnarik, who espoused leaving ZIP codes off letters and forcing Congress to attend his Constitution law class). Every two weeks I get mail saying “Is the Libertarian Party Shutting Down! Send money!” On the issues side, despite acknowledged deficiencies in their platform on poverty and the environment, they haven’t come up with a real strategy for addressing those, unless they have since I stopped paying attention to them. And in 2008, Bob Barr for President?! Sheesh.

I’ll sign to get them on the ballot, but I’ll vote Democrat in the  2008 elections to stem the neoconservative tide. I don’t really like the Democrats, but my strategy pretty much involves getting Congress involved in gridlock a more balanced view of the issues.

Science

Because I talk about medicine (especially pharmaceutical research) so much, I’ll leave that as a separate topic of explanation. I’m a big believer in the power of science, applied properly (ethically and morally), to make humankind better. Science can also destroy us, and I don’t think that the process of science really cares one way or the other. It is, after all, an abstract concept generated by humans to create believable results and explanations of the world around us.

Science here I define as the study of our physical world through careful observation and the scientific method. Observation and intuition drive new ideas, and the scientific method (with reproducible results) either confirms those ideas or forces us to reconsider or discard them. Science then includes a body of knowledge, a set of conjectures and hypotheses, a process, and people who make it happen.

Science requires an open mind and a healthy serving of skepticism, even of one’s own pet theories and results of experiements.

Medicine (conventional and alternative)

This issue raises strong feelings, and small wonder because we all have to make medical decisions. For parents, it’s even harder because they have to make medical decisions for other people (the same goes for children of aging and sick parents). And in our new new economy, healthcare prices are soaring, insurance companies are laying on the cost controls thick, and it’s really up to each person to keep track of it all at least as it pertains to their own health issues.

I’ve found the division between alternative and conventional medicine to be contentious, to say the least. A few years ago, I was unwilling to try alternative therapies. There are a couple of events that changed this for me. The first was when my daughter had severe constipation problems. Conventional doctors poked, prodded, and ordered expensive tests that found nothing. However, an osteopath in cooperation with our conventional medicine pediatrician helped resolve the problem very nicely. The second was when my child developed a recurring ear infection. The doctor kept prescribing antibiotics, which would alleviate the pain for a only a few days. However, consultation and advice of a homeopath helped alleviate the problem, and it has not recurred. Finally, I have seen an osteopath for some of my own health problems, and have been very satisfied with the results.

This doesn’t mean that I go off and blithely trust my life and my family’s life to some crackpot making wild claims. I’ve been to some alternative practioners that didn’t help, and I am very careful now in selecting new practitioners. If possible, I avoid it and go to people I trust.

This also doesn’t mean that I don’t see conventional practitioners. I am grateful to the doctors who diagnosed a recent case of pneumonia I had, and I faithfully took the antibiotics they prescribed.

On the internet, perhaps unwisely, I get involved in discussions of alt-med vs. conventional/Western med. Usually, there are two sides, one categorically declaring the other false. On occasion, a few clear-headed individuals take a balanced view. When it comes down to it, one of the dangers of alternative medicine is the number of people who try to take advantage of the apparent lack of regulation. One of the dangers of conventional medicine is false sense of security that comes from regulation. If you are aware of these dangers and take steps to get informed, you can reduce the risk of both these approaches, and you have more options for treatment.

Clearly, since I work in an industry that assists physicians and pharmaceutical companies, I believe in Western medicine. I simply don’t believe that it holds all the answers, nor do I believe it has to hold all the answers to be a viable system of medicine.

Spirituality

While I believe that the process of science in general benefits humans, I do not believe that it will uncover all truths. Some things we will simply know, through intuition or inspiration or contact with the gods. I believe that most traditions have elements that tap into the same power — yoga, Buddhism, shamanism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism. I use the Dalai Lama’s metaphor of the mountain of life, with different traditions being paths up the mountain. Near the top, the view from one path starts to look like the view from another path.

It’s these views and insights that give us purpose, a reason to live and study science, art, music, math, humanity. It guides our appreciation of beauty wherever we find it, and inspires us when reason takes us to a dead end (or, for that matter, our emotions).

Skepticism

I’m all for healthy skepticism, or a personal re-examination of an assertion, explanation, theory, or system of beliefs. However, there’s a rather virulent movement of self-proclaimed “skeptics” (which I call “skepdics,” after the website http://www.skepdic.com), that I don’t think is skepticism at all. Rather, it is a set of beliefs that wear the badge of “skepticism.” Robert Carroll spends a lot of time in his “faith” entry trying to justify his set of beliefs to the exclusion of religious or spiritual beliefs. In it, he also denounces alternative medicine and accuses Dr. Deepak Chopra of fraud while citing weak evidence and using insinuation to complete his argument. To make a long story short, I don’t find the this brand of “skepticism” very convincing.

I am also finding blog entries written by skepdics that don’t come near the standards to which they hold others. (See the quackwatchers and skeptic’s skeptic’s dictionary categories for specific examples.) I view this “skepticism” movement with strong skepticism.

People placing too much faith in modern science don’t hold a monopoly on pseudoskepticism, however. The HIV denialism current, for instance, has produced only words, while real HIV researchers have turned a horrible disease fatal within just a few years (in general) into a nasty, but still manageable, chronic disease. Mike Adams the “health ranger” and Dr. Joseph Mercola can’t find anything nice to say about Western medicine despite the advances in acute care, the changing landscape in aging and illness, and the effective eradication of such nasties as polio and smallpox from a large part of the world (and, with dedication and effort, from the rest). And don’t give me the whole “Western medicine only treats symptoms” garbage.

Evolution vs. creationism

I’m not sure what to say here. Words on this topic are about as caustic as they get, almost equivalent to the vaccines vs. genetics arguments in autism. It’s like an academic version of a playground fight. Ok, maybe I’m suffering from the bias that the first arguments I see come from the most extreme and vocal crazies, with a “silent majority” taking a more moderate view like mine.

Personally, I’d like to see a cage match. It might get a little ugly. I mean, a match between the “Fossils? They only prove Adam and Eve frolicked in the Garden of Eden and rode them to church on Sundays!” crowd vs. the “Phylogenetic trees prove God doesn’t exist!” crowd can only end in blood.

But seriously, creationists, meet facts. Anti-religionists, meet the truth of quiet contemplation. And get a grip.

Computers

Apple rules. Microsoft sucks. Deal with it.

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