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Part 3. Marijuana and neurological disorders – assessing the science

This is Part 3  of a series of six articles discussing marijuana’s use in medicine and health care. In this part, we discuss marijuana and neurological disorders – probably the only field of study regarding medical uses of cannabis that has a robust area of clinical research.

Although research into the use of marijuana and cancer takes all the news these days, there is probably just as vigorous research into neurological disorders.  If you read the story regarding CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who claimed he changed his mind about marijuana, you’d know he was also convinced that marijuana had some great potential in mental health. But is there really any high quality evidence?

In this article, I’ll look at some of the more prominent claims, along with a skeptical analysis of those claims.Read More »Part 3. Marijuana and neurological disorders – assessing the science

Water fluoridation benefits and risks – a systematic review

Water fluoridation has become a fairly common public health practice, as communities across the world accepted the evidence that fluoridated water is relatively safe and reduces cavities (known properly as dental caries). Several decades ago, it became a part of the public health strategy in many communities.

However, as fluoride became more available, especially in the forms in toothpaste and various mouthwashes, it has become time to review water fluoridation benefits and risks – especially as it becomes one of those “things” that cause concerns with the public.

As I’ve mentioned literally a few hundred times in this blog, the very highest level of research is a meta (or systematic) review, which tries to identify, appraise, select and synthesize all high quality research evidence relevant to a particular question or hypothesis in medicine. Systematic reviews of high-quality randomized controlled trials are critical pieces of evidence that forms the basis of science-based healthcare.

Systematic reviews are best when they select hundreds or even thousands of research studies over decades of clinical studies, eliminating studies with bias (or pointing out the bias), and combining data from the best of the best. Now it’s time to look at one of the newer meta-reviews regarding water fluoridation benefits and risks from the Cochrane Collaboration, probably the premiere group that produce systematic reviews.

Using data from a wide variety of resources (from clinical trials to peer-reviewed studies to recommendations from public health organizations), the Cochrane Collaboration attempts to find the best and least biased data to answer a question. In case you’re wondering who is this “Cochrane,” they are either a group of brilliant scientists trying to provide better data for medicine or dentistry. Or they’re a cabal of evil wizards, hiding from the world in a dungeon in one of Big Pharma’s creepy castles in New Jersey. My guess it’s the former.Read More »Water fluoridation benefits and risks – a systematic review

Marijuana and cancer – what are facts and what’s just smoke

Editor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

If you spend any amount of time on Twitter, Facebook, or just researching cancer treatments on the internet, you will run across something about marijuana and cancer – someone will claim that smoking pot, eating pot, hemp oil (which is manufactured from the seeds of cannabis plants that don’t contain much THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active hallucinogenic agent of cannabis), or some other consumption of cannabis will cure or prevent cancer.

Of one hand, studies of cannabis’ effectiveness in reducing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy, one of the the most common claims,  has generated negative results in some well done clinical trials and some positive results in others. But that has nothing to do with actually curing or preventing the cancer itself, just dealing with the effects of the treatment.Read More »Marijuana and cancer – what are facts and what’s just smoke

Evaluating scientific research quality for better skeptical analysis

This article has been substantially updated, and can be read here. Please read and comment at the newer article.

One of the most tiresome discussions that a scientific skeptic has when debunking and refuting pseudoscience or junk science (slightly different variations of the same theme) is what constitutes real evidence. You’d think that would be easy, “scientific evidence” should be the gold standard, but really, there is a range of evidence from garbage to convincing.

So this is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet. This is a major update of my original article on this topic, with less emphasis on Wikipedia, and more detail about scientific authority and hierarchy of evidence.

In today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media pretending to present knowledge in a manner that makes it appear authoritative. Even detailed, 2000 word articles that I write are often considered to be too long, and people only read the title or the concluding paragraph. This happens all the time in the amateur science circles specifically. For example, many people only read the abstract and, even there, only the conclusion of the abstract for scientific articles.

Read More »Evaluating scientific research quality for better skeptical analysis

The results are in – homeopathy is water, overpriced water

This article about homeopathy has been substantially updated and republished. The comments on this version has been closed. Please go to the new article for newer information and to comment

I intensely dislike all forms of medical quackery. Of course, my passionate, full-throated, defense of the scientific consensus on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is fairly obvious. There are literally mountains of evidence that support my skepticism of the antivaccine beliefs.

But there’s more junk medicine out there than the pseudoscience pushers running around the vaccine world. One of my favorite ones is homeopathy. It is a scam that tries to convince people that a vial of nothing more than water (and sometimes ethanol) has some magical medical properties. And it’s expensive water, much more expensive than some bottled water that claims it’s bottled at the source of some glacier in the Alps.

Read More »The results are in – homeopathy is water, overpriced water

Medical uses of marijuana–hitting the bong of science (updated again)

Marijuana_Cures_CancerEditor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

As the push to legalize marijuana for personal or medical use gains traction in the USA, the “pro-pot” arguments become more enthusiastic and more off the beaten track of real science. I suspect, like legal same sex marriage, social norms have changed, and legal marijuana is something that will become commonplace across the country, except in some deeply conservative areas. The Federal Government has shown little enthusiasm in enforcing Federal law, which retains the highest authority in regulating certain drugs, in states that allow legal marijuana.

I personally have no issue with smoking marijuana, since other “drugs”, like alcohol, are completely legal and socially acceptable. I think that legalizing marijuana will reduce much of drug trafficking, reduce the burden of law enforcement and penal system costs, and have other beneficial effects to society.

I still want regulations such as control over public smoking (I don’t want second hand cannabis smoke wafting over me or my children, as much as I don’t want to inhale other people’s tobacco smoke), there needs to be regulations about when it might be illegal to be high (I don’t want my Delta Airlines pilot to be smoking weed before flying my jet, and I don’t want automobile drivers to be under the influence), and I want age regulations no different than there is for alcohol and cigarettes (despite . But I think those are reasonable boundaries for legalization of cannabis that would be reasonable to most people. But this isn’t the point of this article.

What troubles me about the “debate” about legalization of cannabis is that the pro-pot side seems to make claims about various medical benefits that appear to be only tenuously supported by real scientific evidence–in fact, some of the claims are downright dangerous. The reasons for doing this is probably, though I can only speculate, to make it appear that marijuana is some miracle product, so let’s speed up the legalization of it. It’s like the Food Babe telling us that kale is the miracle food, except that kale isn’t illegal. It does taste awful (but not the point).Read More »Medical uses of marijuana–hitting the bong of science (updated again)

No more “debates” about GMO safety–thanks to trillions of data points

GMO-protestAs I’ve written a few hundred times before, there’s really no such thing as a “debate” in science, at least in the sense that two sides argue in front of the public, and then there is vote on who is “right” or “wrong.” All that matters in science is the quantity and quality of evidence, that’s it. Yes, sometimes scientists do argue about evidence, but that’s usually done in peer reviewed articles, notes, and other forms of communication. It is mostly civil. And eventually, the evidence drives to a consensus.

Only to the public is there a delusion that there are debates on science. You might think there are debates about anthropogenic global warming, evolution, vaccines, HIV/AIDS, and GMO/biotechnology, but there really isn’t. Scientists aren’t sitting in bars across the world throwing bottles of beer at each other because everyone is divided between pro and anti-GMO. Because that’s just plainly not happening.

When I read that 97% of climate scientists support the fact of global warming or that 99.4% of natural scientists agree with the fact of evolution, it implies that there’s some sort of vote. But if there were, it would be, what we call in US elections, a landslide. But in reality, scientists come to a consensus about broad principles over time, and that is based on published evidence, not logical fallacies or bad data.

Read More »No more “debates” about GMO safety–thanks to trillions of data points

Mumps vaccine effectiveness and waning immunity

MMR-vaccine-mumpsIn a previous article, from our vaccine legal expert, Dorit Reiss, we learned that there’s a whistleblower lawsuit against Merck regarding the possibility that the company may have engaged in some inappropriate actions in determining the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine (for mumps, measles and rubella), specifically the mumps component of the vaccine. As Reiss stated, despite the suit (and recent ruling which just whether the case could go forward) being a boon to the antivaccination crowd, so far no facts have actually been presented.

In essence, the whistleblowers claim that Merck, the manufacturer of the MMR vaccine, through either direct falsification or poor study design, may have overstated the effectiveness of the mumps component of the vaccine. Merck had been claiming that the vaccine was approximately 95% effective (meaning at least 95% of children given the vaccine were protected against the disease).

So let’s be clear about this so-called whistleblower lawsuit–no evidence has been presented, and that evidence hasn’t been cross-examined. And one more thing–courts do not decide science, it’s not their role. Science is not a debate, it is a cold evaluation of evidence. And in science, the weight of the evidence is both in quality and quantity. Unless you’re a complete anti-science cult member, whatever this court decides, whatever malfeasance was practiced by Merck, whatever the whistleblowers have to say, the scientific evidence tells us that the mumps vaccine component is highly effective and extremely safe.Read More »Mumps vaccine effectiveness and waning immunity

Opinion: why vaccine denialism is so annoying

SwineFluVaccineI’m writing this opinion piece not for those who vaccinate themselves or their children, because they accept the science either because they reviewed it and accepted it, or they just know that vaccines work and are relatively safe.

On the other hand, this article is not written for the antivaccinationists, because they don’t listen to logic anyways. They ignore real science to invent their own, based on lies, pseudoscience, and logical fallacies.

No, this article is written for those who may be on the fence about vaccines, and thinks there’s some sort of balanced discussion or debate about vaccines. It’s time to dispel the false-balance discussion pushed by pseudoscience for the simple reason because they lack the intellectual and scientific evidence.

Let’s look at how the antivaccinationists have gone off the rails of real scientific understanding.Read More »Opinion: why vaccine denialism is so annoying

Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science

ginkgo-health-benefits-bullshitGinkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed also contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in a sufficiently large enough quantity. Read More »Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science