29 July, 2011

Ploughboy sinks to a new low

The amazingly ignorant and obtuse commenter called Martin (aka Ploughboy) on the Premier Christian forums consistently infuriates a lot of people with his antagonistic commenting style. See here for a long and frustrating exchange I had with him about transitional fossils.

Now he has pretty much sunk as low as possible. He made this particular comment on the topic of the innocent people (mostly children) who were murdered in the recent Norwegian massacre:

So stop worrying about those who have died, they have received what they deserved, worry about yourself, that you might not receive what you deserve.

What an incredible asshole.

I'm glad to say that all commenters, both Christian and non-Christian, have responded to tell him so. To make it worse, some of the commenters he continues to insult and bicker with are currently in Norway experiencing the tragedy firsthand.


28 July, 2011

The end of SETI - as we know it

That's right. According to the latest edition of Nature, Californian budget restraints mean that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is to come to an end.

If further funding is not secured, this means that all 42 radio dishes of the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek Radio Observatory will be shut down and possibly dismantled.

The melancholy vista at Hat Creek makes it easy to entertain equally melancholy thoughts about the SETI enterprise itself. It's the ultimate in high-risk, high-payoff science, pursued by only a handful of passionate researchers. In 50 years of searching, they have turned up nothing — and they can't quite shake an association in the public mind with flying-saucer sightings and Hollywood science fiction, all of which is so easy for cost-cutting politicians to ridicule that any substantial federal funding for SETI is impossible. Private support for the search is getting tighter because of the global recession. And many of the pioneers who have championed the search are now well into their 60s, 70s or 80s.

It's a sad thought that SETI might soon be gone, because althought they have been scanning the skies - without success - for 50 years, they have literally just begun. As Jill Tarter, head of the search programme at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, puts it:

...giving up now would be like dipping a cup into the Pacific Ocean, finding nothing but clear water and declaring, 'the oceans have no fish'

So what next?

According to the article, although SETI itself might officially be shut down, the search for extraterrestrial life will go on regardless. A website called SETIstars.org has been set up to try and raise some basic operational money - this seems unlikely to succeed though given the current worldwide economic pressures. A more plausible approach that is being considered is to simply cut back and do smaller scale studies with the help of SETI enthusiasts around the world who might have access to the appropriate equipment - sort of a SETI equivalent of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPs).

Either way, I think it's inevitable, and important, that the search will go on - albeit in a different way.


22 July, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly of Lyme disease treatment

Treating human disease is difficult for a number of reasons, not least the fact that patients have preconceptions about what treatments they want to receive. If a doctor prescribes a certain medication, and the patient - in full knowledge of the facts - decides not to take it, then there is not much more that the doctor can do. A case in point is highlighted in the March 2011 edition of Nature Reviews Rheumatology, specifically in a Case Study article entitled: "A case revealing the natural history of untreated Lyme disease".

In this article, a rheumatologist named Robert T. Schoen recounts the story of a patient he had who was determined to use a combination of acupuncture and homeopathy to cure her Lyme disease, a condition brought about by a bite from a tick of the Borrelia genus. Although the alternative treatments occasionally gave her some relief from her symptoms (the placebo effect - alive and strong), her Lyme disease, and painful arthritic episodes, kept coming back.

But still, she refused to take antibiotics:

The rheumatologist confirmed the diagnosis of Lyme arthritis and prescribed amoxicillin (500 mg, three times daily for 28 days) to hasten the resolution of the current episode of arthritis and to prevent subsequent flare-ups. The patient initially agreed to take this treatment and to return at the completion of antibiotic therapy. When seen a month later, however, she had not taken any of the prescribed antibiotic therapy.

Medically speaking, this was obviously not an ideal situation for the patient. However, through her refusal to accept the convential Lyme disease treatment, the disease was able to progress naturally over a period of almost 4 years - Lyme disease is usually treated successfully with antibiotics. This situation gave the doctors a unique opportunity to study how the disease progresses and, ultimately, determine how effective the conventional treatments are following such a long disease period.

Below is a timeline for the four years (click to enlarge). Symptoms are displayed above the timeline. The visits to the homeopath, acupuncturist and rheumatologist are color-coded and displayed below the timeline.

Notice how even the homeopath eventually admitted defeat and prescribed antibiotics for the patient - and she still didn't take them!

Eventually, after four years of failed alterntive treatments, the patient was in so much pain that she had confined herself to bed for a month. She relunctantly visited and listened to the advice of a rheumatologist and took a 30-day course of doxycycline. Six months later, she had no further arthritis and remained well.

Schoen concludes:

...patients who are not treated with antibiotic therapy are known to have recurrent episodes of oligoarthritis, often affecting the knee. Indeed, this Case Study demonstrates that Lyme arthritis, if untreated, continues to occur in a well-characterized pattern that can last for years. Furthermore, the arthritis in this patient is thought to have resulted from B. burgdorferi infection (in the absence of previous antibiotic therapy) rather than a postinfectious inflammatory process, and her condition was cured with a relatively short course of antibiotic treatment. The clinical identification of this increasingly uncommon long-term form of Lyme arthritis is important and appropriate management, even at this late-stage of disease, can result in gratifying treatment outcomes.

This case shows two things quite clearly:

1 - Even after four years of allowing Lyme disease to progress naturally, the patient was still successfully treated with antibiotics (the good)

2 - Acupuncture (the bad) and homeopathy (the ugly) are not effective at treating Lyme disease

The first point above bodes well for Lyme disease patients; conventional medicine can still be effective, even years after contracting the disease.

The second point simply serves as a warning to those who seek out unproven remedies for serious illnesses - do so at your own peril.


12 July, 2011

Thunderf00t vs Westboro Baptist Church

Following his debate with Ray Comfort, and hot on the heels of Louis Theroux's recent revisting of the most hated family in America, Thunderf00t has posted an interview he conducted with some of the wackos from the Westboro Baptist Church.

Should be interesting!

From Thunderf00t's blog entry on the subject:

I had hoped to try and keep it all on a civilized, clear and logical level, but it became almost instantly obvious that this was a lost cause. The hostility of 'Meg the Eldar' was really something I was unprepared for. The volume, the amount, and the hostility in the pitch of her voice was that of a bitter, bitter woman. Like a dog that's been tormented daily till all it knows how to do is attack anything that comes within biting distance. The daughter, I had the feeling was only there for eye-candy, or was just there as a spectator so Meg the Eldar could show her how to properly hate something not of the cult. The daughter spoke softly and had it just been me and her we might have made some progress. She had a venomfangx look to her. Every argument had a 'memorized by rote' unthought through answer, but given time it might have been possible to untangle some of the mess. But alas, Meg the Eldar, from the very start was throwing in pointless insults at every opportunity, 'your nothing special' 'your country is worthless' 'your mother...' etc etc. Water off a ducks back for me of course, I've had more shit thrown at me than that before. Battle-hardened to the childish feces flinging :-) . Eventually, I decided that Meg the Eldar could not be allowed to streamroller the events by doing 90 % of the talking, only 5% of which was relevant, but when I accosted her about it she threatened repeatedly to leave.

Realizing that she essentially had the trump card of just walking out, I went for the 'Jesus endorses homosexuality' gambit.

It hit the spot, and they 'RAGE-QUIT'...