Thursday, October 7, 2010

Woo, Part Two

Suffragettes A short follow-up to my previous post. There was something else said to me that I wanted to address.

i would remind you that this way of dismissal has been going on for thousands of years, and thank goodness some were courageous to challenge those angry stances. and frankly beth, if it were not for open minded (alternative) expression and action, you (as a woman) would not be in a position to work in your chosen field or express your took bold action to look at alternative methods of dealing w minorities, and stop witch burnings and such...and don't tell me its apples and oranges - its not. the same stubborn, attacking, finger pointing methods were used by those in charge then, and still used today, and done so to keep things the way they are...personally, i prefer to evolve, and that means looking beyond what is on front of us...

Hey, guess what? It's apples and oranges! Seriously, what a ridiculous comparison. One involves societal changes and human rights; the other involves medical research that is reproducible and verifiable. I found this interesting on a couple of levels. The fact that he brought up the women's rights movement and said that if it weren't for that, I wouldn't be working in my chosen field or able to express my views strikes me as a subtle misogynistic remark. In other words, hush up, you uppity woman. Know your place. (By the way, women are not a minority.) Perhaps he was a little miffed that I wrote that this conversation was the funniest thing I'd seen on his page in some time. >:] Why yes, I can be a little ornery at times.

I'm not in charge of anything. I am simply someone who prefers facts over faith and science over quack remedies. It's certainly okay to look beyond what is in front of us as we explore philosophical questions, but looking beyond a well-researched and scientifically sound paper to reach for magical solutions is just delusional.

As I pondered this a bit today--I like to evolve, too, and that means examining things below the surface for a broader interpretation--I came to the conclusion that this guy and his friends were angry at me (and Darren) for questioning their beliefs. We were both told that we were "angry" and accused of name-calling. I can assure you that there was no name-calling. I may get forceful in my opinions, but I don't resort to something so childish in a debate. When I used facts to advance my Lab argument concerning vaccinations, they responded with defensive remarks about alternative methods and how they've "seen it work," or talked about bizarre things like "quantum healing." When I said that I'll take antibiotics over a prayer any day, they made false accusations of name-calling. I was accused of saying that I hope they find out the hard way, when I said explicitly several times that I hope none of them, and especially their children, have to find out the hard way. I knew this before, but this whole incident sure confirmed it: people feel threatened when anyone dares to question their belief system, no matter what it concerns. That's exactly what I was accused of, except I had research and facts to back up my belief system...they had nothing but "it's worked in my life." If that's all you've got, don't get pissed at me for being skeptical, and you sure as hell better not accuse me of doing or saying things that I did not. I will bite back. Count on it.

Okay, time to move on. As I wrote there last night, I'll leave them to their happy little world of woo. They can light candles, hold hands, and sing "This Little Light of Mine" and just have a ball. And then when they get a nasty little pustule that won't go away and it turns out to be MRSA, they will probably go to the doctor and get an antibiotic; or when their kid is gasping for breath because they never got them immunized for pertussis, they'll probably take them to the hospital for respiratory support. That's what really irritates me about this kind of thing. It's convenient for them to rail against the evils of Western medicine, but the vast majority of them will use it when they actually get really sick. It's easy to talk about alternative methods when you don't have a massive infection...probably a little harder when your kidneys are shutting down because you caught E coli O157 from that medium rare hamburger you had last weekend.

The Wonderful World of Woo

Hot button Hot button issue...I haz one.

Some of you can probably guess. Class? Anyone?

No, not Sarah Palin and the fruit flies, but it's somewhat related. Nothing gets me het up like anti-vaxxers. I've written about it before (I'm too lazy right now to find the post, but if you're dying of curiosity, you can just search my blog for 'anti-vaccination' or 'Jenny McCarthy.' You should find the entry/ies that way.), and I've made it abundantly clear that I am firmly on the side of science on this issue. I should actually say 'non-issue,' since numerous studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism.

I generally try to stay away from lengthy Facebook arguments about anything these days. It just takes up too much time, it makes me too agitated, and it raises my blood pressure. But every so often, I'll be in just the right mood, and something will hit me the wrong way. Then it's Game On.

That happened last night. Someone posted an update about all the vaccines that kids get now, all the "new illnesses" that we're hearing about, all the drugs that are pushed upon the populace. While I don't disagree that we are a pill-popping society, antibiotics are important, as are vaccines. Both save lives. So I started on the vaccine thing. It turned out I'd entered a hornet's nest of new age, holistic, alternative medicine, holding hands, "quantum healing" (I'm not kidding), and basically thinking that Western medicine is bad and Eastern medicine is good. (Guess they missed that part about the numerous parasitic infections that occur in many Eastern countries.)

I tried to stay respectful and factual as long as possible, but I was unable to sustain it. When I dared to question the efficacy of prayer, said I'd take medical treatment over it any day, I was told that someone would "pray that I get my head out of my ass." [laughing] I'm always so impressed when I find those kind of caring, Christian people, aren't you?

There was the lady who asserted that vaccines were made by infecting cows and then harvesting the pus (or as she put it, "puss"--haha) from the "blisters" and making the vaccine out of that. When I said that no, we make vaccines under controlled, sterile conditions now, she said I was wrong...that she'd seen it on TV.

Then there was the lady who talked about colloidal silver as an alternative to current treatments like antibiotics. Before antibiotics, that was a possible treatment, because it does kill a lot of organisms. Including the good ones. It can also cause some pretty serious side effects, and colloidal silver can turn you blue. I'll have Bactrim instead, thank you very much! The same woman told me to investigate how an alkaline environment is toxic to bacteria. (It's also kind of toxic to people, but apparently that wasn't a concern.) I said, oh, not so, there are many bacteria that can survive in an alkaline environment. She said yes, but those are good bacteria. I said that is simply wrong. Bacteria like Staph aureus, E coli, Clostridium sporogenes (it causes gas gangrene), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Strep pneumo can all survive in alkaline environments. At that point, I said she didn't know what she was talking about.

Snake oil There was more, and the discussion continued the following morning when the owner of the page read all of this and told me that I was being condescending and angry. My friend Darren (a mutual friend of this person) chimed in with his own thoughts on the subject, and was also told that he was being angry and "mean-spirited." Apparently disagreeing with someone who ignores the facts and ignores scientific research is seen as "being angry."

Did I get sarcastic? Definitely. How can I not when someone talks about their experience with miracles and treating their own cancer and how the power of positive thinking has healed them? Of course, I think that a positive outlook can affect our immune systems; but when it comes to a systemic MRSA infection, give me the big gun of Vancomycin--don't tell me to fucking meditate and think positive thoughts! That shit can kill within a matter of hours, and "laughter therapy" just doesn't make the grade.

I was told that it was typical that I would say that they'll all find out the hard way. I made it clear that I had said no such thing, in fact, I said the opposite--that I hope their actions don't lead to them finding out the hard way, and especially their kids. That goes against my entire career in which I and my colleagues helped doctors diagnose the infections their patients had and how to treat them.

Specific questions were asked including a request for links to studies that showed the healing powers of meditation and "divine consciousness." Those requests were ignored, because both Darren and I were told that we obviously had closed minds and didn't want to have a true discussion. We were accused of being the type of people who burned witches at the stake, despite the fact that the people who actually burned witches at the stake were those who believed in magic, Satan, and demonic possession, exactly the opposite of the rational thought that both of us were trying to get across. We were also both accused of name-calling, but I don't recall any instance of that. Again, apparently just disagreeing means that you are slinging epithets and calling them names.

There was more, but frankly, I'm bored of the whole thing. Such irrational thinking gets tiresome. Oh, and I forgot to tell you! The qualifications of the person whose page this was on? Stand-up comedian. Yeah.

Although he chose not to answer some of the questions that I posed and Darren posed, he asked several of his own, and I will reply to them here. I was done with that thread; perhaps he'll read them here, and then I suspect I'll be defriended, which I would have no problem with whatsoever. This was all in a huge paragraph, but I took the liberty of separating it for clarity.

people like me or people who look to alternative methods have little to gain, except sharing wellness alternatives with folks who might be hearing it for the first time.. our goal is to assist others, so why attack that agenda?....

I have no problem with those who seek out alternative therapy, and think that there are probably some things that work. However, I think there are many vultures out there who would try to capitalize on the gullibility of people like this. Snake oil salesmen have been around for centuries, and there will always be people who fall for "miracle cures." When it comes to vaccinating children, I attack that agenda and I attack it HARD. There were comments about why do we need all these vaccinations in our hygienic, clean country? It's one thing for places like India where drinking water is contaminated, we haven't had polio in this country for years, and blahbitty blah blay blue. For fuck's sake, people...that alone shows the success of vaccinations! These bacteria and viruses have not gone away. We have vaccinated enough people that we have herd immunity (a phrase that was also ridiculed). It has protected us for a long time, but the drop in vaccination rates has resulted in outbreaks of diseases that we haven't seen for a while, or only rarely. Things like polio still happen in Africa, and in case you hadn't noticed, people travel a lot these days. This is such a profound lack of comprehension of the full scope of the issue that it just makes my head explode.

if it were true that we accept your supposition that "they" are after our best interest, then why is there such an increase in aliments, illnesses we previously never heard of and diseases?

By "they," I think he means the pharmaceutical companies. Of course, they want to make a profit. Every business does. I am not always in agreement with Big Pharma, especially about things like Restless Leg Syndrome and other such "aliments." (I'm guessing he meant ailments.) I think we, as a country, pop way too many pills; when it comes to antibiotics and other treatments for infectious disease, that is important. What illnesses and diseases are increasing? There are things that we haven't heard of because we're still doing research on them. That's how science and research work. There are certainly some infectious diseases that are increasing...because there are douchebags that are choosing not to vaccinate their kids!

why are we not hearing about cures, instead of being made aware of more drugs?

Cures don't happen overnight. It can take years of research to even find out what causes an infectious disease, let alone find a cure for it. As far as things like cancer or AIDS or Parkinson's...all these things are being researched. These are complex problems, and usually cures happen incrementally. Every piece of research, done by people all over the globe, contribute to our understanding of such diseases. Researchers build upon the findings of others. Again, this shows a complete lack of understanding of how medical research takes place. I liken it to archaeology: not every discovery is Tutankhamen's tomb. There is much more time spent sifting endlessly, piece by piece, through small discoveries in the hope that it will lead to the big one.

why are we bombarded with messages of what drugs can fix things (with half of the ad being warnings of deadly side effects), but hear nothing about the condition or chosen lifestyle that caused it to begin with?

You get messages about side effects because it's an FDA regulation. That's why. And bullshit that we don't hear about the "chosen lifestyle" that caused it. If you have half a brain, you know that your knee problems are partly because you need to lose weight; or like Christopher Hitchens, your heavy drinking and smoking led to your esophageal cancer.

when is the last time we poured money into finding a cure and heard about a cure or breakthrough?

Again, cures do not come overnight. They happen with decades of study, with many people working on the problem. And again...complete lack of comprehension of medical research.

where is the modern day jonas slake?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that he means Jonas Salk. I'll tell you where the modern-day Jonas Salk is: he or she is in every research lab all over the world. Working hard to find cause, effects, pathology, cures, prevention...perhaps sometimes because they want their name known, but most likely because they care about humanity and want to help. Perhaps they've had a loved one affected by cancer, or a mentor devastated by Parkinson's. Or perhaps they just have the insatiable curiosity that most scientists have in trying to figure out how things work and what they can do to change the progress of a devastating disease, or how they can prevent it from even occurring. I still remember the thrill of something working the way it was supposed to, and doing trials to evaluate a new method and seeing the good results that meant that we'd found a better way to do a test. I wasn't a research microbiologist, I was a clinical one, but we still evaluated new methods to decide whether or not it was a better diagnostic tool. It was always a great thing to realize that a new method worked better than our current one, and to be a part of its implementation. I can only imagine how research scientists feel when they find something that will lead to a better outcome for patients.

why do so many reduce it down to "woo woo" with little to back it up by exploration of other holistic approaches that have had tremendous success rates in other cultures?

I question the "tremendous success rates" mentioned. References, please? Funny that he mentions “little to back it up,” when he backed up none of his claims. I’ll put facts up against “because I think so” every time.

and yes, how much do we hear about the all the laughter studies that point to evidence that changing your circumstances can change the outcome?....simply answer my queries, and try to do so w out more venom....

As I said earlier, if I've got a systemic infection, give me the antibiotics. I don't expect my doctor to come in and guide me in laughter therapy. I expect him or her to give me the antibiotic or drug that will hit my infection and get rid of it.

Vaccine chart I love that tactic of ignoring other questions, then posing your own and saying "simply answer my queries." My arguments throughout the evening were factual and based on my experience as a microbiologist, as well as extensive reading I've done on the subject. When you are presented with facts and ignore them, then fail to provide any of your own other than "I know what I see," your argument is invalid. Dude, you have no argument. I don't pretend to know everything about my profession; it was a constantly evolving thing, with new technologies and findings all the time. But I also don't pretend to be an expert on something I have no training in, and I don't ignore facts.

For me, it all boils down to a real lack of understanding of how medical research works and how conclusions are reached. It's not a matter of some Ph.D. working in his lab and shouting "Eureka! I've found the cure for cancer!" It's years of repetitive and difficult research across many areas of study, including biology, chemistry, genetics, and on and on, and many different researchers working on different pieces of the puzzle.

I honestly don't think I've ever had a discussion that was so frustrating and so absurd. On the upside, I think it may have cured me of anti-vaxxers pushing my hot button. I'm not going to waste my time on dealing with people like that anymore. It's an exercise in futility.

The other good thing is that it gave me a wonderful new phrase: "I'll pray for you to get your head out of your ass." That's gold, right there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What if?

Kennedy brothers I generally try not to engage in hypotheticals. We can't change the past, and we shouldn't even think that would be a good thing. Just think of what happened when Captain Kirk saved Edith Keeler! Seriously. Everyone knows that you don't tug on Superman's cape, and you don't fuck with the space-time continuum.

However, I'm currently reading Ted Kennedy's autobiography, True Compass. The other night, I finished the chapter entitled "1963," and yesterday, I finished the one entitled "Bobby." Although Ted Kennedy didn't dwell on details (I wouldn't expect him to...plenty has been written about both brothers' assassinations, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s.), it was enough to bring tears to my eyes. I was too young to remember any of these tragic deaths, and I only remember a vague hint of unrest happening in my young world. My Dad was in the National Guard, and I believe he got called out a couple of times to deal with civil unrest in our city.

I can only read about it, and I can't help but wonder how things might have been different if John Kennedy had lived. Ted writes that the President was becoming increasingly convinced that the war in Vietnam was not winnable, and had expressed his desire to begin to extricate ourselves from our involvement there. After he became President, LBJ increased troops, despite advisors telling him it was a futile effort. Bobby had also come to the conclusion that we needed to get out of Vietnam, and was gaining ground in his presidential campaign by running on an anti-war platform.

Both brothers were committed to civil rights efforts, and felt that our humanitarian efforts in our own country and around the world were the best way to serve mankind. They truly saw the promise of our country, and the good that it could do for all. It's ironic that those born into such privileged circumstances would be so committed to helping those who were less fortunate.

Ted lived to carry on the fight. I know that not everyone likes him, and I didn't always like him myself. However, I feel that in his latter years, he redeemed himself. He seemed to get a grip on his addictions and seemed to settle down with his wife Vicki, working towards passing legislation that would help the least among us. Ted got to spend his whole life in service to his country; so did John and Bobby, but their lives were cut cruelly short. How can you not wonder how things might be different, what might have changed in our atmosphere and direction, if these two bright, compassionate, and remarkable young men had been able to continue in their efforts to serve our country?

It seems like things are out of control in America right now. The rhetoric is bountiful, the passions are running high, and civility and honesty seem to be at an all-time low. However, I think it's important to keep in mind that things have been much worse in the past. Just forty or so years ago, there were riots in the streets, violent protests, kids being shot on college campuses, and three of our very best got bullets to the head, ending their promising lives just as they were getting started.

I feel as passionately as anyone about politics; you all know that. I am not afraid to offer my opinion, and I have been known to piss people off because of it. But I never, ever want us to return to the atmosphere of the '60s, when those who dared to protest or dared to put forth ideas that strayed from the status quo were killed for their beliefs. Not just silenced, not put in jail...killed. We can disagree in this country and that is part of what is good about it, and about us. Crossing the line from disagreement to violence is an unacceptable option.

I get in some lively discussions with some friends on Facebook. One advocates very aggressive tactics, basically doing whatever is needed to win; the other says that such tactics solve nothing, and that stooping to such levels does us no good. I'm somewhere in between. Violence is no answer, and I will never condone that. Lies and deception is also not acceptable. I want to see aggressiveness, though, in responding to the lies and deception that are perpetrated by the GOP. I'm tired of being conciliatory when I hear people like Christine O'Donnell talk about how evolution is a myth, or Jan Brewer talk about fallacious beheadings in the Arizona desert. We can't just say, "Oh, you're entitled to your opinion!" In cases like that, I think it's important to say, "No, that's wrong, and here is why."

I know that some will not be swayed by facts and logic. Those people are beyond reach, and I refuse to argue with them. But there are some who still cling to a little reason and a little respect for the facts, and I still think it's worthwhile to try to reach them.

I also think it's important to ask those who espouse anger and violence (including Sharron Angle, who has spoken of "Second Amendment solutions" to those who oppose her) if they really want our country to return to the dark days of the '60s, in which people were killed in cold blood because some nutcases took the rhetoric just a little too much to heart. Sarah Palin seems to get off on the culture and the language of the gun, exhorting her toadies to "Don't retreat...reload!"

I would urge anyone who thinks that is funny, or who carries a gun to a political rally, or who believes that violence is any sort of a solution to read up on the events of the '60s. It was not a pleasant time in our history, with much civil unrest and people being hurt and killed. It bothers me greatly that people are so ignorant of history that they would want to repeat it. Read about the grief that gripped our country during those dark days. Look at the picture of the tiny little John, Jr. saluting his father's coffin, or the picture of the Kent State student wailing over the dead body of her friend who was killed by National Guard troops. Investigate what happened when Bobby Kennedy gave a speech in Indianapolis when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed; numerous other cities around the country were gripped by riots, but Indianapolis stayed calm because of Bobby's compassionate and masterful words.

King-RFK-shot I know that there are quite a few who want our President dead. Death threats against Obama are up over 400% from what President Bush faced. The hate mongering of people like Beck, Limbaugh, et al fuels the fire and provides perceived legitimacy to those who wish to do the President and his family harm.

It is one thing to be passionate about politics. I certainly am, and people like John and Bobby Kennedy were (not that I'm comparing myself to them...not by a longshot!). That is a good thing. Passion to the point of violence is quite another thing, and after over four decades, you'd think we'd have progressed beyond that. We haven't, and that makes me very sad.

I asked "What if?" in the title of this entry, wondering what if the young Kennedys had survived and continued to make policy and serve our country. My "What if?" has a darker side: what if we've learned nothing from that horrible time? What if someone decides that our current President deserves the same fate? How would our country and how would the world react? People like Beck and Palin and others who foment violence care nothing about such questions, and they care nothing about this country. They only care about their ratings and their place in the public eye.

Look at the second image and ask yourself if that is really what we want again. I would hope that the answer is no, and if so, it is up to all of us to condemn the suggestion of such violence and remind people of what a horrible result such a thing would engender. It breaks my heart just to read about what happened forty years ago; I can only imagine what it must have been like to live through it, both for the families and for the country and for the world.

Is that really what we want again? If not, what are you going to do about it?