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Circumcision–separating science from opinion

Circumcision is one topic that certainly brings up more emotion than just about any medical procedure. In fact, the same level of rhetoric is used for and against circumcision that one hears with regards to vaccines, or even abortion. Recently, the city of San Francisco attempted to ban the practice, but a judge ruled that only the state could regulate medical procedures. During the summer, a German court banned circumcision for religious purposes, though a German court banning a Jewish practice must have blown up irony meters across the world.

In any discussion about circumcision, there is general consensus that female circumcision, or female genital mutilation, is an abhorrent non-medical procedure that is simply an anti-female procedure in many male-dominated societies. We’re not talking about that, and any comparison between male and female circumcision is a strawman argument. It is also clear that part of the anti-circumcision argument centers around secularism and atheism, because male circumcision is integral to both the practice ofJudaism and Islam. That is a valid argument, and there could even be a concern that unskilled individuals performing ritual circumcisions could cause serious complications. I personally could care less about religious rituals as long as they don’t harm anyone, so this is where we need to determine what the evidence tell us. Read More »Circumcision–separating science from opinion

Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article on how to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles. It discusses how we should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others. With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).

Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience purveyors. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles on the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease.Read More »Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news

The importance of Cochrane Reviews to science based medicine (updated)

Cochrane Collaboration Copyrighted from the Cochrane Collaboration

The Cochrane Collaboration is a critically important source in evidence-based medicine, and a useful tool in providing analytical evidence that can debunk pseudoscientific beliefs. Cochrane’s goal is to organize research data and publications in an logical way that helps physicians and researchers make appropriate decisions about a proposed new therapy, medication or clinical idea. Cochrane Reviews are:

…are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They investigate the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. They also assess the accuracy of a diagnostic test for a given condition in a specific patient group and setting.

Each systematic review addresses a clearly formulated question; for example: Can antibiotics help in alleviating the symptoms of a sore throat? All the existing primary research on a topic that meets certain criteria is searched for and collated, and then assessed using stringent guidelines, to establish whether or not there is conclusive evidence about a specific treatment. The reviews are updated regularly, ensuring that treatment decisions can be based on the most up-to-date and reliable evidence.Read More »The importance of Cochrane Reviews to science based medicine (updated)

Vaccine denialists getting even more desperate to find link to autism

Generally, you know when a group is trying very hard to find support for their fringe beliefs when they have to find an insignificant court ruling in a small city in Italy. It’s like confirmation bias taken to the highest level of fallaciousness, trying to find that one irrelevant item that supports their pseudoscientific beliefs. In this case, it was a court in Rimini, Italy, a small city on the northern Adriatic coast. The court ruled that an anonymous child was diagnosed with autism about a year after receiving the MMR vaccine, which is a very safe vaccine that prevents mumps, measles and rubella, all diseases that are harmful to children.Read More »Vaccine denialists getting even more desperate to find link to autism

Cancer prevention–supplements

Potential causes for cancer are numerous. Infections. Radon gas. Cigarette smoking. Sun exposure. Obesity. With over 200 types of cancer, each with a different pathophysiology, there may be an equal (and probably greater) number of causes. Although many causes can be easily eliminated, such as stopping smoking, testing your house for radon, getting an HPV vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus infections, and wearing sunblock to reduce the risk of melanomas, the sheer complexity and number of types of cancer means that there is probably not going to be any simple panacea to preventing (or even curing) cancer. In fact, some hereditary cancers, such as those individuals who carry genes that are implicated in breast and ovarian cancers, may not be preventable at all.Read More »Cancer prevention–supplements

Pseudoscience and the desperate anti-vaccine intrigue

Rooting out pseudoscience out in the world is a full time job for literally hundreds of people, but many of the writers out there tend to focus on a few things. This blog, for example, mostly focuses on creationism, the anti-vaccine lunacy, and rarely, global warming. Creationism, for example, has a long tradition of pseudoscience, so the arguments debunking creationism is well known, and the creationists more or less rely upon the age old fallacies, which convince the True Believers™ but make real scientists chuckle. It has really evolved (pun intended) to a static argument but there is no scientific controversy, it’s just evolution denialists on one side and real science on the other. If this were a real debate, it would be over and the creationists would be crawling back home in tears.Read More »Pseudoscience and the desperate anti-vaccine intrigue

Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)

One of the larger problems of the internet (OK, there are a lot) is how science is discussed out in the world.  Google any science topic, and you’ll get thousand or millions of hits on any idea in science or medicine. The information is derived from other websites, news reports, rumors, or, to be cynical, from outright fabrication. In the fields of science and medicine, critical thinking is absolutely necessary to understanding it. Because it’s hard work, pseudoscience and anti-science have become quite prevalent lately.  Read More »Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)

iPhone and iPad Apps–skepticism and atheism (update 2)

There’s an app for that.

Update 2.  Just added one more app that I’ve been using and just forgot to put in the original article.

When I write about skepticism, sitting at my trusty MacBook Pro, I have access to every source and bit of information that is required to write about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the existence of sasquatch.  If I need to dig up a link to an article that debunks some silly anti-vaccination lunatic’s claim, it’s easy to do.  However, since people make pseudoscientific claims all the time, it’s always good to have access to information right at the tip of your fingers.  Of course, it’s relatively easy to put your question in google, in the hope of getting a good answer.  Then again, you have to weed through the 100 hits that might actually support the bogus claim.

Read More »iPhone and iPad Apps–skepticism and atheism (update 2)

Antioxidant supplements–hype doesn’t match reality

I’ve never been a fan of vitamin supplements.  Aside from a very few supplements intended for a few specific clinical conditions, like vitamin C and scurvy, they have little use in preventing or treating diseases.  In fact, because mammalian physiology has evolved a homeostasis for these chemicals, any excess amount that can’t be stored is cleared by the kidneys and becomes part of your urine.  I’m willing to venture that the urine of many Americans is quite expensive, with all of the cleared vitamins and other micronutrients.  A balanced diet over several weeks is sufficient to provide the body with all of the nutrients and vitamins to be healthy and strong.  In fact, you are not even required to have all vitamins and nutrients every day, as storage of a few nutrients will be released as necessary, and clinical manifestations of nutrient deficiency may take weeks or months.  

Read More »Antioxidant supplements–hype doesn’t match reality