Next meet-up: SitP 2015-03-23

Mt View Hotel, Bridge Rd, Richmond.
Image: Mattinbgn / WikiMedia Commons

Our next meet-up is the Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 23 March, 2015.

As usual we meet at the Mount View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road in Richmond from 18:00 (6pm) onwards. Find us upstairs in the lounge, grab a meal and a drink as you please, and chat with other freethinkers!

Patients indulge wishful thinking in medicine

We humans are a species of animal that tends to look for the hopeful side of anything, especially when addressing our health.

A new meta-study conducted at Bond University in Australia finds that most patients are unreasonably optimistic about the potential benefits and the risks of medical procedures.

“What struck us is that, in general, people thought that treatments were going to be much more beneficial to them [than the evidence suggested],” says researcher Professor Chris del Mar of Bond University.

“And that the harms would be much less,” says del Mar.

He says clinicians and patients need to make decisions based on more accurate information on the pros and cons of such interventions.

“This is one of the most important ways we can save the healthcare system from going bust.”

Del Mar and Associate Professor Tammy Hoffmann carried out a systematic review of 35 studies analysing patient expectations of tests and treatments.

The studies covered such interventions as mammography, prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests, angioplasty, stem cell transplants, statins, kidney transplants, bariatric surgery, inflammatory bowel disease drugs and resuscitation after a cardiac arrest.

This wishful thinking must be a factor in the general mistrust of medical science. Either the facts are poorly communicated by the medical profession, and/or patients are strongly prejudiced against factual assessment — biasing their understanding toward the overly optimistic.

Such mistrust in medical science is powerfully exploited by practicioners of alternatives to medicine, whether they are “Big Placebo”, “Big Herba”, or any other industry of quacks preying on the sick and vulnerable who hope for more.

The science-based medical profession is often rightly criticised for spending so little time with each patient that they treat symptoms, not people. This in turn is also exploited by charlatans promising “holistic” treatment, but providing nothing more than would be expected from paying closer attention to overall health with any non-expert.

The Bond University researchers argue that better consultation is needed in medicine, but find that this doesn’t need to occupy significantly more time.

Del Mar says some people argue that more talk will lead to longer consultations but he says studies show this is a “myth”.

“You can do it all in the same time frame. All you’re doing is exchanging one kind of discourse with another,” he says.

“It does require a change in mindset.”

In fact, evidence suggests more talk results in less intervention, says del Mar, citing the case of PSA testing.

“If you talk to people first before you do the screening, and explain all the downstream consequences of being screened, a lot of men say they don’t want it,” he says.

While unnecessary or unwanted treatment and tests add to the cost of healthcare, del Mar says “overtreatment” can also result in physical and emotional harms.

“I think [more talking] will save money but I don’t think that’s the main driver. The main driver is delivering better care,” he says.

Here’s hoping better science will lead to better health services.

Next meet-up: SitP 2015-02-23

Mt View Hotel, Bridge Rd, Richmond.
Image: Mattinbgn / WikiMedia Commons

Our next meet-up is the Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 23 February, 2015.

As usual we meet at the Mount View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road in Richmond from 18:00 (6pm) onwards. Find us upstairs in the lounge, grab a meal and a drink as you please, and chat with other freethinkers!

Federal court penalizes Homeopathy Plus! over false vaccine claims

A homeopathy seller’s claims, undermining of public health, have been dealt another strong blow in Australian federal court.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) prosecuted Homeopathy Plus! in Australian federal court, and the court has ruled in favour of the ACCC:

The Court found that Homeopathy Plus! and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false or misleading representations by publishing statements on the Homeopathy Plus website to the effect that:

the whooping cough vaccine is short lived, unreliable and no longer effective;
the vaccine may not be the best solution for, of limited effect, and is unreliable at best in protecting against whooping cough; and
the vaccine is largely ineffective in protecting against whooping cough,

when in fact the whooping cough vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people from contracting whooping cough.

By itself, a homeopathic product is wholly ineffective because they are entirely devoid of active ingredients (although the products are regulated very loosely, so the products sold may cause harm if they differ from what the package claims are the ingredients).

When homeopathic practicioners or producers make misleading claims about actual medicine, though, they become agents of harm to public health. It’s very heartening to see the Australian federal court recognise this, and is an excellent evidence-based gift for the Solstice season, to all Australians.

Please be happy and safe in the festive season, and we will see you in 2015!

Next meet-up: SitP 2015-01-26

Mt View Hotel, Bridge Rd, Richmond.
Image: Mattinbgn / WikiMedia Commons

Our next meet-up is the Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 26 January, 2015.

As usual we meet at the Mount View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road in Richmond from 18:00 (6pm) onwards. Find us upstairs in the lounge, grab a meal and a drink as you please, and chat with other freethinkers!

(We will not meet in December; have a merry Grav-mass on December 25th, everyone!)

Next meet-up: SitP 2014-11-24

Mt View Hotel, Bridge Rd, Richmond.
Image: Mattinbgn / WikiMedia Commons

Our next meet-up is the Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 24 November, 2014.

As usual we meet at the Mount View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road in Richmond from 18:00 (6pm) onwards. Find us upstairs in the lounge, grab a meal and a drink as you please, and chat with other freethinkers!

New CSIRO head wants to make water divining easier for farmers

The incoming leader of our top scientific research organisation is promoting water-dowsing to Australian farmers.

The CSIRO has a new leader, Dr. Larry Marshall, who will take the reins in 2014-12.

Currently the managing director of the California-based Southern Cross Venture Partners, an outfit specialising in creating and growing Australian technology companies, Dr Marshall holds a doctorate in physics from Macquarie University. He has 20 patents to his name and has co-founded six companies.

The 52-year-old, who admits he hasn’t applied for a job in 25 years, suspects it was this combination of science and business that got him the CSIRO’s top job following a competitive global search.

“I started as a scientist, became an entrepreneur and learnt a lot about business the hard way,” he said.

[…]
Innovation Minister Ian Macfarlane, whose portfolio takes in science, welcomed Dr Marshall’s appointment.

Highlighting his commercial background, Mr Macfarlane said Dr Marshall’s arrival came at a time when the agency was embarking on a “significant new phase” in which the CSIRO would play an increasingly important role in the economy. This included strengthening links between business and science, he said.

The leader of CSIRO is chiefly welcomed by Australia’s Innovation Minister? What about our Science Minister? Oh that’s right, Australia’s current government has scrapped the ministry for science. Instead, our Prime Minister has appointed himself the head of a Science Council, with no minister responsible for science — and CSIRO left to the mercies of the “industry” portfolio.

So our federal government’s appointed head of CSIRO, Larry Marshall, himself seems to place much more emphasis on what is financially profitable than what is scientifically sound. He’s not been working as a scientist for a very long time; the past 25 years was spent as a venture capitalist.

And now, on the basis that charlatans can fool him, he wants to use his new position as head of CSIRO to fund research for water dowsing.

He’d like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said.

“When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’

“I’ve always wondered whether there’s something in the electromagentic field, or gravitation anomaly.”

Dr Marshall believes the CSIRO can ‘push the envelope’ with such projects and contribute to improving agricultural productivity.

Really? Shouldn’t we reserve funding for technologies whose claimed phenomenon can pass a simple blinded controlled objective study, rather than assuming Larry Marshall has seen it and he can’t be fooled? (The Victorian Skeptics has a guide to dowsing among other educational materials.)

In an age when all of climate science shows that we are in for, among other catastrophic results, devastating drought unless we act now to reverse our damaging activities, Australia’s leading government science body will spend its precious attention on pseudoscience and fakery.

We are under the rule of one of the worst governments in Australian history, in terms of the scientific soundness of policy.

Next meet-up: SitP 2014-10-27

Mt View Hotel, Bridge Rd, Richmond.
Image: Mattinbgn / WikiMedia Commons

Our next meet-up is the Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 27 October, 2014.

As usual we meet at the Mount View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road in Richmond from 18:00 (6pm) onwards. Find us upstairs in the lounge, grab a meal and a drink as you please, and chat with other freethinkers!

Next meet-up: SitP 2014-09-22

Mt View Hotel, Bridge Rd, Richmond.
Image: Mattinbgn / WikiMedia Commons

Our next meet-up is the Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 22 September, 2014.

As usual we meet at the Mount View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road in Richmond from 18:00 (6pm) onwards. Find us upstairs in the lounge, grab a meal and a drink as you please, and chat with other freethinkers!

Perth Zoo hosts an “Animal Dreaming” course

Brochure of Animal Dreaming course

If you’ve got a spare thousand dollars, you might like to spend some of it travelling this weekend to attend this AU$660 course in “Animal Dreaming” at the Perth Zoo.

During this event, you can expect to:

  • Look to the Earth Mother for wisdom, guidance and healing and remember the sacred bond you forged with her at the beginning of time
  • Interpret the messages offered by animals encountered during real-life encounters, dreams and vision
  • Learn how to invoke animal spirits to aid in healing, manifestation, protection, fertility and more
  • Enjoy impromptu readings from Scott
  • Learn about ‘stilling the mind’ and finding your very own ‘Power Spot’
  • Participate in a guided meditative journey to find your Totem / Power Animal
  • Reconnection to the heart essence of Earth Mother herself
  • The sacred act of surrendering, offering thanks and showing gratitude
  • Spiritual coaching and intuitive development that ensure a deeper connection to Spirit, the Earth Mother, your Higher Self and the Life Force in all things
  • Ways to develop intuition and inherent psychic abilities
  • Ways to shed and release your old ‘familiar’ self, and heal, rebirth and activate your inherent creative self
  • Ways to turn FEAR into FERTILITY on ALL LEVELS
  • Techniques to ensure spiritual health and psychic protection for the self, the family and the home / office
  • Ways to realise and embrace your Life Purpose and Personal Power

No mention of getting the course fee refunded if one’s expectations are not met — like, say, the expectation of “Reconnection to the heart essence of Earth Mother herself”.

Why is a zoo giving their facilities over to this scam? Maybe our Perth friends – or any Zoo members – can contact their management and express their opinions.

(credit to The Worst of Perth)