Various Lies

Friday, July 30, 2010

Can we agree to disagree

I just received a tweet from a friend that really caught me by surprise. I had re-tweeted something by Andy Lewis, AKA Le Canard Noir, of Quackometer. I don't know the back story behind Andy's tweet, but I gather it was in response to a pro-homeopath. He linked to this article which shows the lengths some homeopaths have gone to to hide their work in Kenya. People are dying because they are being encouraged to take homeopathic "remedies" and prophylactics for malaria. And needless-to-say, people are dying because they are eschewing medical interventions that work, for water, which doesn't.

My friend tweeted, "@Tideliar Tidy, would you stop liking me if I told you I use supplements, homeopathy, and energy work?"

And this really took me by surprise. I know my friend is a practitioner of some form of "energy healing", but I'll admit I don't know the ins and outs of her work. However, she is has a wonderful relationship with her clients, and has performed a lot of her services for free when she felt people needed her and couldn't pay. And I know her and her family have gone through hard financial times. She is not a gold-digger by any stretch of the imagination. She truly believes in what she practices and because I have no evidence to suggest that she has hurt anyone, or encouraged anyone to use her services when they desperately need to go to a medical doctor I haven't really considered her beliefs to have an impact on our friendship.

I replied, "@[redacted] of course not! I'd (I will?) talk to you about them but I see no reason to let different beliefs harm friendship!" and then, "GF is a spiritualist who believes in energy. Id be worried if anyone eschewed modern medicine in a crisis though."

I think this gets to the heart of the matter for me. I am not a strident enforcer of my worldview, unless suitably provoked. I have had some long and deep conversations with my girlfriend about her beliefs and I'll admit they sometimes degenerate into "tiffs", because we disagree on some fundamental issues. It doesn't help her that I have a strict and long standing scientific background. I might only be a biologist, but I read books on Quantum Mechanics for fun, so debating me on the nature of energy and matter is not going to be easy. But, GF believes in her karma, and likes to burn smudges of white oak (or something pungent) to clear her aura, and I have no problem with that. I'm an agnostic who still prays like a Catholic because it works for me as a form of ritualised meditation.

I know for fact, that with homeopathy, There's Nothing In it. It relies on water having some kind of magical memory, and I stopped believing in magical things a long time ago. To make a homeopathic solution you serially dilute (succuss is the homeopathic term) something until there is literally not even one molecule of active ingredient left there (and I disagree with the nature of homeopathic on like-treats-like like, too, but that's a different matter right now). Homeopaths say that the water somehow retains a memory of what was once there and this is so powerful that it works as a medical intervention. But water can't have a memory of the substance that was once dissolved in it.

The only way water could store something would be as a pattern of the hydrogen bonds that form between molecules of H2O. However, these bonds are not only very weak, they are very transient - if they weren't water wouldn't be the wet and runny stuff we need it to be. I think it was the eminent pharmacologist and scientific hero of mine David Colquhoun who measured the break-and-reformation rate of hydrogen bonds between molecules in room temperature liquid water to be on the order of 9 ns. That's 9 nanoseconds. That's 0.000000009 seconds. You break and reform new hydrogen bonds in the blink of eye. In fact, in the time takes you to blink your eye a water molecule has made and broken and remade 33,333,333 new bonds. If water has a memory, it has a very short memory.

I know these things because I am a scientist and a critical thinker (and a terrible mathematician...if there are mistakes above please let me know in the comments and I'll fix the math). Homeopathy never made sense to me, so i looked into it and found it lacking in critical honesty. That's why I don't "believe" in it; because it is scientifically unsound. But I guarantee you, if someone could do a fair and balanced clinical trial and show me a significantly positive effect over a drug intervention i'd be all over that shit like...insert metaphor of choice. As a clinical scientist I'd be virtually honor bound to go investigate further.

I say all that to try and stop the "well you have an agenda" arguments. The only agenda I have is to find the truth in how things work. And then to use the best practices to help fix people who are broken. Now, one of the things we know helps people is the placebo effect. And I know it works on me too. If my allergies are playing up, I'll pop an anti-histamine. I stop sneezing immediately even though I know there is no feasible way for the medicine to have had an immediate effect!

So, if you have a cold, or are feeling run down and you find a homeopathic remedy works for you. Well, it's your dollar to burn. I'd suggest a glass of Florida Orange Juice and a good night's sleep. If you find your thoughts are confused and you're having trouble sleeping, feel free to align your shakras, and cleanse your aura. Personally, I go to the gym and spar. Hard.

As long as you promise me that if you get sick...really sick, you'll use the accumulated knowledge and experience of hundreds of years of modern and clinical medicine. You're my friend and I don't want to see you hurt or dead. And you promise me that you'll vaccinate your child and keep your own boosters up to date. We all have to share this place, and we might not all get on, but we can do our best to find some common ground.

And as long as you don't mind me pestering you with science from time to time I reckon we can still be friends.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Your rush isn't the same as my rush

I'm presenting a poster at The Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this fall. This year it's in San Diego, which is fucking awesome - I get to spend a week in California on the company cheque. What could be wrong with that?

Anyway, this topic will evolve over time, and if any fellow Sci-bloggers are attending and want to de-anonymise over a pint or two, let me know.

Today's irate posting is to do with Getting Shit Done in the office. Around 33,000 delegates register for the SfN meeting. It's fucking huge...and because it's huge and powerful, the Society prevents you from booking a hotel at Conference rates until you've registered for the conference. The problem here is that I can't afford to pay the $260 registration fee myself and need it to get processed by our business manager. Advance registration for Society members closed on Tuesday, which means that every motherfucker and hir fucking dog can book their hotel in downtown San Diego.

And I just checked and the BM hasn't processed my godamned registration yet. Quoth she, "This is in my stack to do. I’m hopeful to get it started this week. Registration deadline is September 8th. Is there something I’m not aware of that you need to take care of on your end, but cannot do until your registered? If so, just let me know."

Fucking hell, yes, dude, I told you repeatedly this was urgent and that I can't book my motherfucking hotel room until I get registered. Now one of two things is going to happen, both of which have happened before:

  1. There will be no goddamned hotel rooms left downtown and I'll be stuck miles out of town. This happened in 2004 and I had to rent a motherfucking car to get to the conference every day.
  2. There will only be the incredibly expensive hotels that company CEOs and Famous Profs with fat consulting fees can afford. This happened in 2006 and I got fucked for almost $2000 in hotel fees when my roommate backed out at the last minute.

On top of this I found out that I can't attend a mini-conference next week I was looking forward to either. I just wish, for once, people would get their shit together. Tell me, Dear Reader, does this happen to you too, or do i just have the worst luck?

**Note added in proof: it's not all staff know I am addicted to spring rolls; one of my programmers just came into my office with a gift from their lunch at the local Vietnamese place...***

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A New Kid on the Blog

Many moons ago when The Tideliar was but a small hatchling, the Birth-Dragon decided He needed a sibling. And Lo it came to pass, via some nefarious mechanism involving storks, pints of beer and a cabbage patch, The Beasel was introduced to this World. The Tideliar and The Beasel, although at first unsure of each other have become firm friends, and Tideliar was fortunate enough to act as Best Man at "The Wedding of The Beasel", a great event held with much fanfare some years ago. Which event also provided The Tideliar with his last trip back to The Land Far Away.

The Beasel is currently off work with a bad back, in fact has been off work for several months due to the shocking ineptness of the Heath 'Care' System. Quoth The Beasel unto The Tideliar a few days ago, "Oi, fuckface, tell me more about this 'blogging' of which you do." So instructions were sent, and suddenly there is a fresh and shiny new blogger on the block.

Go and enjoy A Pondering Beasel, and perhaps, if you feel his musings and ponderings warrant such, leave him a message of support. For although he is but a n00b in the interchoobs, he already knows the bug of blogging and recognition. Also, he is fucking funnier than a crippled child sliding down a banister rail into a poorly placed newlpost. I think he's shaping up to be a fairly prolific writer and he already has a good voice for a yarn.

Friday, July 9, 2010

TV Hater Redux/Revisit

Written on Monday and only just noticed I went into MarsEdit's Draft folder...DOH!)

After bitching about having nothing to watch about a week I am deluged with several new shows. Nice to know that high ranking television executives read my blog.

As soon as I got home I turned on the TV, which is rare for me. It normally goes on a couple of hours later, after food is prepped, cats are fed, blog posts are drafted etc. Anyway, today for some reason I broke tradition and saw an advert for the premiere of the second season of the SciFi (SyFy?) show "Warehouse 13" and conveniently they had the decency to run episodes from last season right before it aired. This means that while I don't know all the details, I still saw enough to get a feel for both the show and the main characters. To be honest, it isn't that plot heavy, but it's silly fun and the kind of pap I love to tune out to. It's also the kind of show I would have adored as kid so it feels homey. I used to invent shows like this in my head, and write short stories about them.'s...ah...nice to know high ranking television executives can read my thoughts too.


Anyway, at 2000 CST just as the new season started, both "HawthoRNe" and "Deadliest Catch" popped up. I'm not a huge fan of medical dramas; I was spoiled by early seasons of ER, but Jada Pinket Smith is a great actress and the first season was pretty good so I thought I'd give it go. Unfortunately, I also wanted to watch Deadliest Catch and my DVR only tapes two channels at the same time (yeah, I know, that was deliberate) so I had to cancel "HawthoRNe". I hope I don't regret that, although I kind of already do... be honest, Catch got a bit samey after the first couple of seasons and right now it's the drama around Captain Phil's recent stroke that has me watching. As far as I know he dies, given the RIP notes posted on Discovery TV earlier this year/end of last, as well as the empty seat and constant eulogies on "After the Catch", the 'live' interview show after each new episode.

Anyway, no sense in crying over spilt cow-juice. Right now I'm enjoying "Memphis Beat" on TNT. Another genre of show I'm not keen on are police procedurals, having been spoiled by Hill Street Blues as kid, and NYPD Blue as a young(er) man. And also this kind of light-hearted show turns me off most of the time. I don't want Bruckheimeresque drama at every scene change, but at the same time, if I wanted slapstick, I'd watch "Scrubs" (which I don't because I don't like slapstick either...fuck I'm hard to please!).

So far it's pretty good, I'll likely give it a few weeks (assuming it stays on the air that long...fuckers). And it's interesting watching a show filmed in a town I know well. "West Wing" was filmed in and around DC when I lived there, but I've lived in Memphis much longer than I did in DC and know the city commensurably better. Seeing them piece together several locations rapidly for a single scene gives me a new understanding of the hard work editors do. Once brief scene as the cops walked towards an arena where a pageant is being held (in real life, a council building downtown), then through the interior (a building on the University of Memphis campus about 5 miles away) to grab a suspect, and then into a dressing room to "interrogate" him (a staged interior in a TV sound stage somewhere I expect).

One thing very odd is their accents though, the squad Captain sounds more Big Easy, than Bluff City. And the end of the episode right now has the cops busting in to "rescue" a white beauty queen "kidnapped" by her black lover. The cops draw down on him as she screams "no!". But they didn't shoot him, which is very odd for Memphis.

Note added in proof, once again...of course now SciFi, or whatever the fuck they re-branded as are reshowing the "Warehouse 13" episode I DVR'd earlier at the expense of "HawthoRNe". Bugger. It's great having a TV will a gazillion channels and DVR and shit, but unless you don't work, are a stay at home parent or plan ahead, there isn't enough time to find out what's on and when and plan the evening. Or...maybe this is what "normal" people do and I'm only just figuring out that I need to plan ahead. Fuck it. I'll work on it...

An as a random aside because it's Friday and I'm stoned on anti-histamines, "Gish" is a fucking brilliant album. Jimmy Chamberlain is a fucking genius drummer and an inspiration to get back behind my kit...