Health industry corrupts scientific journals

Here’s a précis from Slate magazine, referring to an article in the New York Times:

The NYT fronts new court documents that shine a light on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on medical literature. Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company that sold nearly $2 billion of its hormone drugs in 2001, paid ghostwriters to produce 26 scientific papers that advocated the use of hormone replacement therapy in women. The articles were published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005 and all made a point of emphasizing benefits of taking hormones.

The articles, which were signed by top physicians who often did little or no actual writing, failed to reveal Wyeth’s involvement in the process. Of course, the question now is how common is this practice. “It’s almost like steroids and baseball,” said a doctor who has conducted research on ghostwriting. “You don’t know who was using and who wasn’t; you don’t know which articles are tainted and which aren’t.”

This is a very serious infraction of an unwritten code of ethics. Science is an evidence-based discipline, which is not supposed to cook the results to suit a client with deep pockets. We know that the pharmaceutical industry (like the tobacco industry) is capable of manipulating research. But when scientific journals become the mouthpieces for such research — as the doctor says, people can no longer trust what the journals are saying.

Capitalism corrupts. Absolute capitalism presumably corrupts absolutely.

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GWDCS: Episodes 2 and 3

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son.

Some delay in the video production, since our main man Carlo was away last week. Two episode are ready for your viewing pleasure.

First up: Week Two — Bottle Rockets! Caution: Contents may include extreme coolness and loud music.

A tough weak on the ego, as the video makes clear. But a good one for bonding. We had a blast failing at the bottle rockets, and still have tons of cokes left over. After the attempt, Mike bought pizza for the three of us and we went back to the Bridge, where we talked about what it means to be a godly version of a manly man. I brought up Stu Weber’s Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart, an excellent read for the last few generations, since one of the clear struggles is finding the balance between strength and love.

The next week: Potato Launchers!

I was absent for this particular episode (as well as this week’s), but the guys still had a great time, and it looks like their experiment actually succeeded. Hopefully with all the success, the male egos were able to be kept at bay.

I’m looking forward to being back in the mix next week. We’ll see how progress comes on the videos, as Carlo is in Italy for the next few weeks. Enjoy these, and keep on keeping it real!

Injury, meet insult

It’s bad enough when your account is debited 23 quadrillion dollars for the purchase of a package of cigarettes:

“I thought my card had been compromised. I thought somebody had bought Europe with my credit card,” [Josh] Muszynski said. “It was very concerning.”

Muszynski swiped his debit card at a local Mobil gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes for a few bucks, Instead, his Bank of America account indicated he spent $23,148,855,308,184,500 at the gas station.

But then, just to add insult to Muszynski’s injury, the bank charged him a $15 overdraft fee.

Let that be a lesson to you kids out there. Smoking is bad for your health; it’s a filthy habit; and it’s very, very expensive!

The Disappearing Male

Plastic Soldier

Yesterday, a fascinating documentary by CBC on a topic I’d never encountered outright before was passed on to me by a friend. It is entitled The Disappearing Male and refers to an incredible increase in male infertility, and links it to synthetic chemicals that are a product of fossil fuels. Check it out here. A note: It’s 45 minutes long.

Some thoughts:

  1. Plastic is going to be the end of the world.
  2. It is fascinating, although unsurprising, that this has received virtually no attention from the media, despite the large amount of research. They’re far too busy talking about Michael Jackson.
  3. Part of the reason I’m sure it’s received so little attention is our social structure. Whether it’s people living near Sarnian factories or people using an excessive amount of plastics, those most exposed to these chemicals are the poor. Wealthier citizens live in more sanitary areas and can afford wood, glass, or metal products that are more attractive and seen as status symbols.
  4. Another part is the fact that plastic is so pervasive in every part of our market that no business would want this to become mainstream.

Running is different

Running — as exercise, I mean, not as in “running for office” — is different from other activities.

Most human undertakings follow a familiar trajectory. At the beginning of the project, you’re full of enthusiasm, and the task is fun (even if it’s also hard work). The same thing happens at the end of the project:  you’re enthusiastic because the goal is within sight, and the work is enjoyable.

But the middle segment is tough. The project isn’t new anymore:  it’s familiar and boring. And the goal seems far off — too far off to provide much immediate encouragement. So the middle segment of any project tends to be a hard slog.

Not so with running! The beginning can be tough, at least for some of us. The body resists; the psyche resists. It requires self-discipline to get into your running apparel and out the door.

After four or five minutes, I find that my body warms up, my muscles get limber, and I fall into a comfortable rhythm. At that point, I feel like I can run indefinitely. It is almost effortless; I begin to enjoy myself.

But then, toward the end of a typical run, fatigue sets in. It takes an effort to add another stride, and another, and another. The end of the run is near, and that’s the only thing that keeps me going. But fun? Not usually — not for me, it isn’t.

Thus running reverses the usual pattern. Instead of easy/hard/easy, the pattern is hard/easy/hard.

But not this morning, I must admit. I woke up with a headache and a knotted muscle in my back. I went running anyway (Yay, me!) but after five minutes I knew it wasn’t going to get any easier. It was going to be a hard slog all the way through.

Some days are like that. On those days, running isn’t different. It’s just like any other human endeavor:  there is no success without sustained, dogged effort.

Orwell Versus Tolkien: Good and Evil Part One

Good-Evil

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son: Orwell Versus Tolkien is a series of posts which seek to compare key components of the worldviews presented in Orwell’s 1984 and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by considering excerpts in tandem.

Having established the core of the worldviews in both 1984 and The Lord of the Rings, it’s now worth considering what some of the implications of these worldviews are. The first I’d like to look at is each author’s depiction of Good and Evil throughout their novel. Each of these depictions bears the mark of the worldview. And each presents a clear difficulty for the respective worldview to overcome.

Running with the idea that Orwell does not intend the reader to ascribe to the Party’s arguments, I put forth that he was actually attempting to advocate for a naturalistic humanistic worldview. Both portions of this worldview are necessary albeit not directly linked. The perspectives established thus far, concerning man and hope, are essentially derived from naturalism. To say that man has a conscious and subconscious mind is not a judgment of character, but a mere observation of natural phenomena. A naturalistic perspective ultimately reduces all fact to the present, which I argued became a hurdle in establishing any sort of hope within humanity. But it is here, in the consideration of Good and Evil that Orwell really begins to demonstrate his humanistic inclination, rather than his naturalistic one. Naturalism in its brute form does not contain morality, as has been pointed out in past comments. But humanism is a moral position. And it holds that certain actions are good, while others are evil.

Consider this excerpt:

“Do you believe in God, Winston?”

“No.”

“Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?”

“I don’t know. The spirit of Man.”

“And do you consider yourself a man?”

“Yes.”

“If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your kind is extinct; we are the inheritors. Do you understand that you are alone? You are outside history, you are non-existent.” His manner changed and he said more harshly: “And you consider yourself morally superior to us, with our lies and our cruelty?”

“Yes, I consider myself superior.”

O’Brien did not speak. Two other voices were speaking. After a moment, Winston recognised one of them as his own. It was a sound-track of the conversation he had had with O’Brien, on the night when he had enrolled himself in the Brotherhood. He heard himself promising to lie, to steal, to forge, to murder, to encourage drug-taking and prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases, to throw vitriol in a child’s face. O’Brien made a small impatient gesture, as though to say that the demonstration was hardly worth making. Then he turned a switch and the voices stopped.

As one can see, there are some difficulties with concepts of good and evil. Orwell seeks to establish Winston as the better person, morally. The book, in my opinion anyways, genuinely conjures up emotions of sympathy and camaraderie for Winston within readers. When he is oppressed, we, too, feel oppressed. When he and Julia are tempting fate for love’s sake, one cannot help but feel that this is a moral stand against the regime. When Winston looks down upon the prole woman in the courtyard and notes the fact that her hardened, aging body is a good and beautiful thing, we agree wholeheartedly, even as we struggle to reject that part of us that finds plastic surgery and youth aesthetically pleasing. And at this scene, when Winston is in the middle of being tortured for having lived a full life, his courage in defense of the “Spirit of Man” is praiseworthy! How can one not feel some connection with Winston in the face of O’Brien and the Party?

But, inevitably, the entire scene crashes in around us as O’Brien’s logic works its magic. Always with the quiet, perfectly-honed response, O’Brien shatters those illusions which Winston holds dear. The Spirit of Man exists even amongt the collective. (Your kind is extinct). This principle will defeat the Party? (You are alone). Right and wrong, good and evil, exist! (You, and thus they, are non-existent). In a world which is entirely physical, and under the control of one omnipotent force, nothing can be contrary to it. Morality, as a concept, ceases to exist outside of the Party.

The only possible response? Destroy the Party! If it can be destroyed, then surely that is a sign that morality can overcome power! And yet, this hope, too, becomes caught in its own contradictions. Winston, so excited to see the Party fall, agreed to join the Brotherhood in a full-fledged resistance. He was willing to do anything — with the exception of betraying Julia — to see Right and Wrong restored. To have man returned to his peaceful state. To see love, life, liberty, and happiness become permissible again. But, in promising to resort to any tactics necessary, he promised away his moral high ground.

This is an age-old battle for humanism. A classic example: the Black Rights movement in the United States was divided along these lines, with men like Martin Luther King Jr. paralleled by groups like the Black Panthers.  More recently, Obama appealed to the Middle East to relinquish its right to use any means necessary to reject Western influence, and Dr. George Tiller was recently murdered for his abortion practices, which was immediately rejected by Albert Mohler and other pro-life members. For members of each movement, whether Black Rights, Pro-Palestine, or Pro-Life, there is a difficult position to be taken. Do you accept abuse, and potentially jeopardize your ability to see results in favour of your cause? Or do you lose any traditional sense of morality and begin attacking with everything you have in your arsenal?

In each of these cases, though, a limited degree of freedom was still held by the population. Non-violent tactics actually have an impact in these contexts. In Winston’s, on the other hand, it is very clear that even quiet resistance, in the form of romantic relationships, leads to dire consequences.

Will this extreme scenario ever be faced? It’s impossible to say. But this is a premium difficulty for anyone who wants to hold onto both naturalism and humanism, and I believe Orwell himself struggles with this fact. To suggest that there is no good or evil outside of man (no “God”, that is) means that any morality is essentially relativistic. But one man’s relative good (killing a kid to take down the Party) is another man’s evil. And when two men disagree about morality, and there is no objective judge, might inevitably makes right, whether that might is a gun or a simple majority vote.

To keep these posts shorter, the next Orwell Versus Tolkien will consider Christianity’s own struggles with Good and Evil, as in Tolkien’s writing…

Subtle Muslim Politics

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son.

From Slate:

If President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo on Thursday is designed to hit “reset” on Washington’s relations with the Muslim world, the White House may soon find that it is pushing the wrong buttons. Public diplomacy in the lands of Islam is a deeply complicated affair, and Muslims do it much better than U.S. presidents.

[…]

“By addressing the ‘Islamic world’ from Cairo,” writes Goldman, “Obama lends credibility to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and other advocates of political Islam who demand that Muslims be addressed globally and on religious terms.” In other words, the American president is playing into the hands of those who seek to bring down the U.S.-backed order in the Middle East.

The point makes excellent sense. I’ll admit, I hadn’t even thought of the fact that addressing Islam as a whole would be a political statement out of the norm. I tend to take it for granted that the “Islamic World” does exist. Not as a uniform, unshifting mass, of course, but as a general term, the same as European or Western Nations. But since the demise of the Ottoman Empire, technically the term is different.

But does that make it so?

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