Ow my feelings! A woo-full discussion of Chinese Medicine

Ow my feelings! A woo-full discussion of Chinese Medicine

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There are times when we find ourselves talking nonsense, and in need of some harsh truths. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and more cynical, but regardless, I have very little time for pushers and apologists of pseudoscience and quackery. Recently I got into an argument with a friend of a friend who was a staunch apologist of the woo that is Traditional Chinese Medicine. I have decided to include the discussion in full (only with their name changed for anonymity) from where I first came into the conversation. Note that “in full” also means including any spelling errors. See if you can spot the flaws in their argument before I make mention of them, and if I have missed any, please mention in the comments. After the argument speech, I will then also give some post-argument thoughts.

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Snake Oil and Skepticism: Some recent examples.

Snake Oil and Skepticism: Some recent examples.

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I would like to introduce a new contributor to Mostly Science, a Mr. Bryce Harper. Bryce is a student of the humanities and if you are interested you can check out his blog here. Full disclosure, Bryce wrote this article and I edited it, adding only a minimal amount of additional text. Hope you enjoy.

 

There are so many ways to be fooled. No human ever walked the earth without falling victim to gullibility. As we grow older and further develop what is known as our theory of mind, first coined by Premack and Woodruff in 1978, we tend to grow out of our evolutionary gullibility. But for one reason or another large groups of us still fall prey to this ever lurking provocateur of deception.

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Multi-drug resistant TB: Treatment today, hope for tomorrow.

Multi-drug resistant TB: Treatment today, hope for tomorrow.

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I would like to introduce Smaranda Fillip, a colleague of mine who is studying towards her MD at my old alma mater, the University of Queensland, in addition to studying in New Orleans as part of a joint medical school program. She wrote the bulk of this succinct informative introduction to multi-drug resistant tuberculosis along with myself (in a mostly editorial context).

 

Tuberculosis (TB) is the second most common cause of death related to an infectious disease agent. It is caused by the bacterial pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Progress has been made, and the rates of TB are declining; however the numbers are still staggering. In 2013, 9 million people became ill with TB and of those, 1.5 million died from the disease. In addition, 480,000 people became infected with either acquired or primary multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Most cases occur in underdeveloped regions including African and Asian nations, India and Eastern Europe. MDR-TB affects not only the countries that have to carry the burden of disease, but it impacts the global community, as we strive to meet the 2015 millennium developmental goals.

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Picture of the Week: Shiga-like toxin

Picture of the Week: Shiga-like toxin

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Recently the University of Queensland ran the annual Molecular Design Contest, where students use pymol or related software to create a stunning image of a macromolecule of their choice. This is a contest I helped set up during my Masters degree at UQ, and I am happy to see it’s continuation by the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and the UQ Molecular Biotech Students Club. A huge congratulations to Vivek Narotam, a B.Sc student in the Faculty of Science who won this year’s competition with his rendering of a shiga-like toxin molecule (also known as verotoxin).

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Optogenetics: An understanding and mastery of brain function

Optogenetics: An understanding and mastery of brain function

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Written by William Godfrey and Christopher Weir.

 

Before we get into the article, I would first like to welcome the newest addition to our writing team here at Mostly Science, William Godfrey. Will and I are both alumni of the University of Queensland, which is where he went to the T.C. Berne School of Law and graduated with an L.L.B. After being unable to resist the intrigue of science, he made the bold decision to head back to UQ this year to begin a Bachelor of Biomedical Science with a view to engaging in neuroscience research (specifically, optogenetics). With that, I would like to leave you to enjoy Will’s first article.

For those who are unaware, the relatively new field of optogenetics can be simply described as using light to control neurons that have been genetically engineered to respond to certain wavelengths of light. The technique was developed based on a re-evaluation of how the brain functions and in this new paradigm the brain is not just an organ in the traditional sense, but a combination of sophisticated electrical circuitry combined with computational power. If this sounds enticing and exciting, then you can see why optogenetics was selected as the Method of the Year (2010) by the prestigious journal Nature Methods.

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3 Minute Thesis Talk: Molecular Methods Against Malaria

3 Minute Thesis Talk: Molecular Methods Against Malaria

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Today I competed in the Three Minute Thesis competition, which first started at the University of Queensland. Essentially, doctoral candidates have three minutes to inform a public audience what their research is all about. If that sounds easy, remember, a Ph.D thesis is typically 80 000 words of technical writing, which is not always so easy to condense down into something easy to swallow, especially for a non-expert. With that said, I thought my talk, which was titled “Molecular Methods Against Malaria”, would make a nice story for others, so enjoy.

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The Science Behind ScienceMediaHype

The Science Behind ScienceMediaHype

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The Science Behind ScienceMediaHype, or “This it how it works in the real world.”

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The cartoon linked here sums up pretty neatly a lot of things that are hard about being a scientist. If only science were as neat and pretty as what the press release sites and the newspapers described. In the world of newspapers, a line of research always yields fascinating and unequivocal results and the researchers’ cleverness and insight overcomes long odds to reveal amazing truths. Then, we pull the actual papers and the first thing we say to ourselves is, “Hmm. I wish they’d done this too. The paper would have been stronger.” And we recall the times we’ve published things ourselves that weren’t as done as we wanted them to be because it was time to move on, or because the funding was running out, or because it was time for the student to graduate.

Often, we’ve run out of time because we’ve run the same analysis 39 times and gotten 39 disparate answers, with no rhyme or reason as to why the variation. Maybe we’ll find out later that the undergrad intern reset the optics on the diffractometer, or that the rotavap was contaminated by that guy in the next lab who is a total slob.

All of us live for the “that’s funny” moments. Those moments when we see something unexpected that we suspect might hide something new and exciting. That’s not what usually happens, though. Usually, its a case of “I have no freaking clue why its doing that.” And often that means we’ve failed to control some variable or missed some confounding factor or interference. We have no idea what it is, but we do know that more likely than not, we’re going to spend the next month re-running that same experiment. Sigh.

And then. Then, inevitably we get data we believe, data that show that we’ve made the molecule we meant to make or something like that. We think about all these things and we say to ourselves, “These data look too good. I’m missing something. I’m going to run the experiment again.” Sigh, again.

It’s pretty in fashion right now in some circles to discount science as abstract and disconnected with the real world or to claim science has no advantage over various other sources of knowledge. I sometimes wonder why I don’t see more scientists speaking up about that, pushing back a little. Then, I see this cartoon and I’m reminded why they aren’t. They’re busy running that experiment for the 40th time, because this time (for reals!) they’ll figure out why its catching on fire in step 11.

This is a followup to a recent post in Curator’s Choice by Chad Haney (https://plus.google.com/105917944266111687812/posts/3r8ghecybAW)

This is a re-post from Brent’s Google Plus page with his permission.

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What is antibiotic resistance and Why does it matter?

What is antibiotic resistance and Why does it matter?

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Our world was a very different place before 1928, when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered the very first antibiotic – penicillin. Weaponless, we as humans were much more vulnerable to the microscopic pathogens around us.

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Opinion: Cancer is Hard, But Let’s Not Turn to Woo.

Opinion: Cancer is Hard, But Let’s Not Turn to Woo.

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Cancer. The word alone invokes deep emotions in many people. For some, fear, for others, anger. This is completely understandable. During my biomedical science degree I worked in nursing with a predominant focus on patients with various stages and types of cancer. Some made it and others were not so fortunate. I was even quite emotional seeing the plight of these patients, but maintained my resolve to give them the best care I possibly could. It wasn’t just me either; each patient had a large team of nurses, doctors and specialists who worked with them, investing their expertise to help every person they saw. However, the emotions of fear and anger were very real and very present. These emotions, for some, can lead to bad choices (often out of desperation). It is this that I want to focus on in this opinion piece.

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Theileria parasites

Theileria parasites

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Parasites, in all their forms, artfully exploit their unwitting host. Theileria is similar to Plasmodium but infects cattle and is spread by ticks rather than mosquitoes.

Here, a white blood cell infected with Theileria (labelled green) is dividing into two daughter cells and the parasite has adopted a cunning disguise to get itself copied in the process. By covering itself in one of the host’s own proteins Theileria is pulled to opposite ends of the cell by the spindle (stained red) along with the dividing host DNA (stained blue). When the daughter cells split both will be infected and the parasite quickly spreads throughout the blood in this way. Scientists hope that understanding exactly how these tiny tricksters operate will inspire new ways to stop them. (Written by Emma Stoye)

Image courtesy: Dirk Dobbelaere, University of Bern, Switzerland (published on PLoS Biology here)

Brought to my attention by Susan on the World Federation of Parasitologists official Facebook page, check it out for all things parasite-related!

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