Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Science Reading

A ran across a couple of interesting science articles this morning, and in lieu of providing anything from the increasingly depressing world of politics, thought I'd share them.

The first is an article on mammography, which starts out with this great quote:

If there’s one aspect of science-based medicine (SBM) that makes it hard, particularly for practitioners, it’s SBM’s continual requirement that we adjust what we do based on new information from science and clinical trials. It’s not easy for patients, either. To lay people, SBM’s greatest strength, its continual improvement and evolution as new evidence becomes available, can appear to be inconsistency, and that seeming inconsistency is all too often an opening for quackery. Even when there isn’t an opening for quackery, it can cause a lot of confusion; some physicians are often resistant to changing their practice. It’s not for nothing that there’s an old joke in medical circles that no outdated medical practice completely dies until a new generation of physicians comes up through the ranks and the older physicians who believe in the practice either retire or die. There’s some truth in that. As I’ve said before, SBM is messy. In particular, the process of applying new science as the data become available to a problem that’s already as complicated as screening asymptomatic people for a disease in order to intervene earlier and, hopefully, save lives can be fraught with confusion and difficulties.

The Mammography Wars Heat Up Again
It's a great quote, because if there's one common misunderstanding among the rest of us about what's wrong with mainstream medicine, it's that they're always changing their minds about things. The fact is, that's the reason it is as good as it is. One of the most reliable spotting features of quackery is that it doesn't change its ideas over time. New knowledge, and greater experience with existing technology change what we humans know about how to practice medicine.

Medicine and engineering are both consumers of science. When new chemicals are discovered, or new concepts in physics, engineers inevitably take interest. One of the interesting things about how the World Trade Center towers fell is that the method used to insulate the girders that softened and failed was abandoned years ago. We don't do things the same way we did them in the 1960s in any field of engineering, nor should we.

It's the same with medicine.

One of the reasons most people don't understand this, I suspect, is that science and technology journalism is done so badly by mainstream news organizations. The second article lampoons the way in which such articles are typically written in a witty essay at The Guardian:
This paragraph will provide more comments from the author restating their beliefs about the research by basically repeating the same stuff they said in the earlier quotes but with slightly different words. They won't address any of the criticisms above because I only had time to send out one round of e-mails.

This Is A News Website Article About A Scientific Paper
It gets much of it right - quoting whack jobs for balance, quoting people who don't know anything about the subject on the ethics of it, and the often irrelevant or useless background information, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Plus, it has a great photo of a triceratops blocking the view of a spiral galaxy. Replace each paragraph and image with a similar one that's somewhat relevant to your topic, and you'll have a science article ready for publication in our most prestigious news media.

Check them out.


Formerly T-Bear said...

Something of interest from BBC Health about newer application of science to health issues.

Cujo359 said...

Good heavens, it's like they took the Guardian article and just changed the words a little. Love that bit under new applications, where they basically explain again what a spectrometer does, and act as though this were a new thing.