Early cancer detection

I never thought I would see the day where I would call a piece written by David Gorski (aka Orac — I guess it’s good form to associate the two now since he’s blogging under his true name at Science-Based Medicine) well-written.

But here it is: his description on the difficulties of disentangling the effectiveness of early detection in cancer in treatment and prognosis is well written and worth a read. The comments, however, seem to degenerate into a “discussion” about whether “pre-moderns” had cancer.

Brian May (guitarist of Queen) is getting his Ph.D.

In astrophysics, even. Good for him.

Evolution vs. ID

Of late, my watching the evolution vs. intelligent design debate is like my watching Duke play Kentucky. (I’m a UNC alum, and have a genetic hatred for the two schools I mentioned. In such games, I lament the fact that someone gets to win. What can I say? It’s in my Carolina Blue blood.) On the evolution side, you have people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who simply want God to leave the consciousness of humanity. On the other side, you have people who make up such terms as “irreducible complexity,” state without evidence that evolution could not have produced “irreducibly complex” systems, and QED you have the existence of God! Then they try to convince school boards to stick numbskull stickers on biology textbooks as if that’s going to invalidate what the textbook says about evolution.

The fact of the matter is evolution happens, and it’s an issue we have to contend with. The study of, for example, antibiotic/antiviral resistance, genetic disorders, and cancer all benefit from understanding the mechanisms of evolution. (In fact, one direction taken to cope with antibiotic resistance is to target the mechanism of evolution in bacteria to prevent resistance from developing!) This isn’t just about describing the history of life on Earth (where the theory of evolution is more speculative — and evolving!) but also about coping with life on Earth as it is now. Denying this process on religious grounds isn’t going to solve anything.

On the other hand, the theory of evolution says nothing about the existence of God. Archaeological evidence and the theory of evolution provide good evidence (not unshakeable proof) against a young Earth theory, but says absolutely nothing about God. Discussions about the Big Bang and the formation of galaxies is based on the existence of microwave radiation in space where we would not have expected it, and the arguments for abiogenesis (creation of life where there was none before) is even more speculative. In fact, I would argue against using science to prove or disprove God, since science looks for a physical explanation for everything.

At any rate, I’m not going to look to either scienceblogs.com or uncommon descent for any authoritative statments on how we got here or where we are going. 

Blind people can use their hearing more effectively

And here’s how to reproduce the effects in the seeing.

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Google has a patent search!

Sweet. Any guesses as to which patent I searched for first?

Ph.D. means Piled higher and Deeper

PhDComics shows us the “difference”:http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=761 between the scientific method and the actual method we use in research.

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The other side of the risk-benefit ratio

A few days ago, I wrote about a drug with “statisticially significant, but perhaps not clinically relevant, effect”:http://www.randomjohn.info/wordpress/2006/09/12/significance-statisticical-and-otherwise/. This is the benefit side of the risk-benefit ratio that the FDA tries to evaluate when deciding whether to approve a drug.

The other side, of course, is the risk. The “Campath”:http://www.fool.com/News/mft/2006/mft06091422.htm story illustrates this issue quite nicely. “Campath”:http://www.campath.com is currently on the market for B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (_i.e._ a form of white blood cell cancer), and Genzyme is trying to develop the drug for “MS(Multiple Sclerosis)”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_sclerosis. Campath seems to have beaten its competitor Rebif in a recent Phase II trial (_i.e. it is efficacious if these results are replicable), but a small percentage of patients who took the drug had the life-threatening immune reaction “ITP(immune thrombocytopenia purpura)”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiopathic_thrombocytopenic_purpura. (Note on link: the Wikipedia describes the idiopathic version, which doesn’t have a cause. However, you can get an idea of the reaction for which the cause is known.)

While MS(Multiple Sclerosis) is a chronic disease that requires a major change in lifestyle to cope (as well as frequent trips to the neurologist and periods of being unable to carry out life’s normal activities without at least major help), it is not immediately life-threatening the way that this rare serious adverse drug reaction is. While there is benefit, there is also a major risk. Analysts are not to sanguine about the future of Campath as a MS(Multiple Sclerosis) treatment.

See “here”:http://www.bizjournals.com/sanantonio/stories/2006/09/11/daily26.html for a slightly different perspective (and wildly different headline).

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