March 1st 2019, 14:30
What do you do when you first get diagnosed with an illness? Or perhaps when you're put on a new drug? Of course—you Google it! And why do you Google it when you've just seen your doctor and he or she has given you all the information you're supposed to need? Because perhaps you haven't really understood what was said to you, or, more likely, you want a second opinion.
Long ago, health and medicine sites—and especially alternative ones—overtook porn as the main reason people surfed the web, and search terms such as 'alternatives to (insert drug name here)' or 'alternatives to treat (insert disease name here)' have become some of the most commonly used. Welcome to the wonderful world of 'Dr Google.'
February 4th 2019, 15:01
Doctors are supposed to inspire confidence. After all, you want someone on the other side of the table who is quietly reassuring and in control. Someone who might say: "Yes, I can see you're close to a complete meltdown, but I can handle this. I've got this one covered."
And in that moment, you think this person can answer any question, from "Why do I have this disease?" to "Will I be all better very soon?" You even suspect there's a ready answer to the more metaphysical questions, such as "Does life have meaning, or are we born only to die on a soulless piece of rock created by chance in an indifferent and cold universe?"
January 1st 2019, 15:09
Collateral damage is one of those weasely words of our times that masks human tragedy and loss in war zones. Clenching a cigar between his teeth, the US general told assembled reporters: "It was a successful mission; we took out the intended target, although there was inadvertent loss of life at a nearby school." It's a militaristic take on the adage that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Medicine has been working with collateral damage for years. Doctors call it a side-effect or adverse reaction when they need to explain the unexpected consequences when a drug, for arthritis, say, also happens to cause migraine. Every drug comes with side-effects, and a weighty tome called the Physicians' Desk Reference (PDR) documented every known side-effect and required around 2,000 pages of tiny type to do so.
December 5th 2018, 15:49
This is an urgent appeal on behalf of headline-readers. This troubled group are perpetually confused and bewildered, and some have already ended up in nursing homes, sedated by round-the-clock staff.
These unfortunate people read headlines and take them seriously. As with so many things, it started out with good intentions. They are busy people who are short on time, as most of us are, but they wanted to stay on top of events, including the latest health news.
November 1st 2018, 11:50
Repeat a lie long enough and people start believing it, as Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propagandist-in-chief, once said. Medicine is full of lies—sorry, assumptions of dubious provenance—that everyone believes must be true but aren't. We believe them because medicine is a science (discuss), and they wouldn't just make this stuff up (oh no?)
Here are a few, and you probably believe some (if not all) of them yourself, but they've all been plucked out of the air by 'expert committees.'
Eat your five-a-day
This exhorts us to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day. In truth, we should be eating more than that—but where did the idea of five come from? Apparently, it was conjured up in a meeting of fruit and vegetable companies in California in 1991. Strangely, representatives from McDonald's were also there.
It seemed like a good way to sell more produce, but there wasn't a lot of scientific evidence to support the recommendation. At least McDonald's didn't influence the group to include one Big Mac in the healthy eating guidelines—although Heinz succeeded.
September 26th 2018, 11:45
Hello World, Research HQ here. Hope you're well! (And if you're not, we'll dig and dig and dig until we find out just what's wrong with you!) Anyhow, you remember how we told you that fat in your diet could clog up your arteries and cause heart disease? You know, we've been banging on about it for the past 30 years? Study after study. Frankly, we were exhausted from it.
Because of the sterling efforts of Research HQ, stores are full of low-fat this and fat-free that, and your doctor has been prescribing you a statin to help get rid of all that nasty fat.
September 4th 2018, 16:58
Innovations are often described as being the best thing since sliced bread—but what was the best thing before sliced bread? My money is on an ingredient that helps make the bread in the first place: baking soda (or bicarbonate of soda). It's the rising agent for breads and cakes that also doubles as a potent drain declogger and an efficient scrub to clean the inside of your oven.
July 31st 2018, 14:21
I can imagine that the typical surgeon, when he was a young boy (or girl, of course), was the sort who would keep fiddling around with things until his exasperated mother exclaimed: "For goodness sake, Bernard (Bernadette), it'll never get better if you keep touching it."
This fiddling around doesn't do anyone any good, least of all the patient. This universal truth struck me recently when I was reading a study that discovered that heart attack patients are more likely to survive if the hospital's leading cardiologists are away at a conference. It's like the urban myth that when doctors go on strike, fewer people die.
July 17th 2018, 15:57
If you're a doctor—or, better yet, a researcher at a pharmaceutical company—you think you've got human biology nailed. After all, you must know how it all works so that you can develop new drugs and prescribe and treat patients.
And because you've got it all figured out, you can laugh at unscientific alternatives like acupuncture and dismiss them for the quackery they are. Right?
April 23rd 2018, 15:30
We need our nay-sayers if medicine is ever to improve
The death of a maverick is always worth a moment's reflection. They often put their own personal ambitions and career on the back burner as they strive for something that's more important, such as changing the system they're a part of.
March 27th 2018, 11:59
You wouldn't ask your doctor about nutrition any more than you'd interrogate a nomadic tribesman of the Sahara about the intricacies of snow. The typical doctor's dietary knowledge is primitive, but then, he's only been taught about it in medical school for an average of 10 or so hours over his five years of training.
February 28th 2018, 15:43
The media is pulled by the forces of simplification and sensationalism, says American sociologist Robert McChesney. I'd add a third 'S' to the list: suppression. All three are amply exercised when it comes to reporting on vaccinations, a touchy subject that has had journalists tying themselves up in knots for decades.
Simplification and sensationalism were the hallmarks of the coverage of gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield and his discovery that the triple MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine was causing inflammation in the guts of a small group of children, and which, he postulated, could presage autism.
January 25th 2018, 17:54
The vaccine debate has taken a sinister turn. Any bad news you read about the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) and flu vaccines on social media sites has been placed there by Russian cyber units, plotting to destabilize the West, according to a British tabloid newspaper.
First they orchestrated Brexit, then they helped get Trump into the White House, and now those Kremlin hackers are targeting vaccines. The Daily Mirror reports that "Russian cyber units are spreading false information about flu and measles jabs, experts claim."1
December 21st 2017, 14:07
Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might have said if she'd seen some of the research papers that have been passing across the WDDTY desks in recent weeks. They're curious because they provide more evidence of the humbling fact that we have so much still to learn about how the body works and how (or why) disease develops.
November 21st 2017, 11:13
In more innocent times, there was news, pure and simple. We believed most of what we were told in newspapers and on TV. Now, in the Days of Trump, we also have fake news: blatant untruths like 'Hillary Clinton uses a body double' or 'Donald's tan is natural.'
October 25th 2017, 15:32
The Economist magazine has recently been voted the world's most trusted news source, but even such a highly rated title can get it badly wrong when it reports on alternative medicine. In an editorial, it has accused the Chinese government of state-sponsored 'quackery'—for supporting the country's own ancient healing system, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
It's quackery because it's unproven, the magazine thunders, and yet the Chinese government is set to promote the use of TCM remedies globally, while upping its investment in an already extensive domestic network of TCM clinics and hospitals.
September 26th 2017, 11:01
Proof of vaccine damage is now down to common sense.
August 29th 2017, 19:13
I'm not a mouse; nor, I suspect, are you (unless you're a highly intelligent one who reads our magazine when you're not eating cheese or whizzing around on one of those running wheels—fun, aren't they?)
If you don't have a very serious identity crisis, this is not earth-shattering news, although it could be if you're a drug company. Mice are usually on the front line when drug companies begin testing the safety and effectiveness of a new drug. If the mice give it the paw's up, the drug will be given to healthy young medical students who aren't anything like the frail and elderly people who'll actually be the targets of the drug.
July 21st 2017, 12:15
When you start something, are you prepared to see it through to the bitter end? Whatever the outcome or consequences? Without fear or favour?
June 26th 2017, 21:52
Here's a very radical thought: suppose it's all placebo. Does the thought that a remedy will work actually make it work—whether you've been given a prescription drug, a placebo or dummy drug, or a homeopathic pill?
The idea that the mind can make us feel better when we're given any kind of pill isn't new to medicine. It's the basis of the double-blind placebo-controlled trial, where a group of participants is given either an active drug or a 'dummy' placebo drug, and no one—not even the researchers—knows which they've been given. The drug is deemed a success if its positive effects outperform those of the placebo, even if by just a few per cent.