Evidence is not optional in medicine

July 2013 SAMJ (Source: http://www.samj.org.za)

On Thursday I attended a lecture given by my dad to a cardiac support group on the topic of evidence-based medicine (EBM). It was really good, even though I don’t think he’s given a lecture for over 20 years. While he was preparing I gave him a few resources to help out, such as Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial and one or two papers and blogs that I stumbled upon that looked relevant. One of the papers I sent him was Evidence-based medicine – are we boiling the frog? which is in the latest issue of the South African Medical Journal. It’s only two pages long and open-access so it’s worth reading. It’s one of those interesting times when you agree with everything the person says but then differ on the conclusion. In this case the author’s conclusion is that EBM is important but not necessarily a reflection of the truth. Continue reading

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Quicklinks: GMOs

I happened to find a number of stories about genetically modified organisms this past week and thought they might be worth sharing. Not only have the early pioneers of GM plants been awarded the World Food Prize but the British government seems to be pushing strongly for GM crops. I think this is great. The technology can do amazing things, especially if we’re going to be facing issues with climate change.

There are many people who claim it’s not safe but there’s really no evidence of that. The technology itself should be safe and the few studies that claim it’s not are poorly designed. There’s a post on Science Based Medicine that looks at the many flaws with a recent study that claim GM crops are hazardous to our health.

There may be valid criticisms of the behaviour of some companies, like Monsanto, but that’s no reason to jettison the whole field of GMOs. If you think a company makes computers unnecessarily expensive or hard to use you wouldn’t tell people not to use computers, you would tell that company to change it’s practices. Similarly, if there’s a problem with the way GMO producers behave then it’s fine to focus on that but don’t make unscientific claims about how dangerous GMOs are.

Must we choose animals or science?

Lab rat (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

You might have heard about it already but, in April, animal rights activists broke into an Italian lab and released a number of lab animals. All it really accomplished was to slow down research and the animals will almost certainly die in the wild. This is an example of the wrong way to protest animal experiments. That’s not to say I don’t sympathise but I don’t think their methods are particularly constructive. Continue reading

Balancing privacy and security

DNA as seen during gel electrophoresis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

South Africa has a serious problem with crime and DNA profiling offers a real chance to do something about it by providing accurate and reliable evidence. There is currently a push to bring in a legal framework to deal with this issue and, as I’ve stated previously, I support the DNA Bill and signed the petition. However, it’s important not to lose sight that these advances come at a trade-off between security and privacy. The DNA Project itself has noted opinions on both side of the spectrum; from a piece from the US that suggests a mandatory DNA database would be ideal to a comment from someone who refused to sign the petition because arrestees are innocent until proven guilty. I think the South African DNA Bill has done a good job of trying to balance privacy and security but I do want to warn against the dangers of sacrificing privacy for security. Continue reading

Quick link: Mind-controlling parasites

Currently I have a lot of work going on, a test and presentation for Japanese and trying to finish lab work and then write up my masters, so it’s hard to find time to post. I do have two good ideas though so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime you can follow this link to see a cool talk by Ed Yong on mind-controlling parasites.