Saturday, January 12, 2008

Guinea Worm and the Medical Practice Symbol

I have mentioned that I am reading "Parasite Rex" by Carl Zimmer. The book is just as I expected. Wonderfully written, scary stories and anecdotes about parasites. I especially like his discussion of how the term "parasite" arose.
The word literally means "beside food," and the Greeks originally had something different in mind when they used it, referring to officials who served at temple feasts. At some point the word slipped its etymological harness and came to mean a hanger-on, someone who could get the occasional meal from a nobelman by pleasing him with good conversation....
But that is neither here nor there. Let's discuss guinea worm infection and its possible association with the symbol of medical practice....the Caduceus. The study of parasitology is filled with stories concerning history and especially biblical references.

Guinea worm, or Dracunculus medinensis, is a roundworm found in India, West and Central Africa and parts of the Middle East. The worms are found in the subcutaneous tissues of humans and the female worm can be over 30 inches in length. You become infected with guinea worm by drinking water that is contaminated with small, freshwater crustaceans that are themselves infected with guinea worm larvae. (Cyclops).

When the crustacean is consumed in contaminated drinking water, the guinea worm larvae in the Cyclops is released and makes its way through the intestinal wall, crosses the abdominal mesentaries, penetrates the abdominal muscles and make their way to the subcutaneous tissues. Fertilized females release their live larvae by penetrating the skin about a year after infection. Infected individuals often wind the body of the emerging female around a small stick so as to collect the entire adult worm rather than breaking it off in the body.

Obviously, the way to prevent this infection is to provide a clean, uncontaminated, source of drinking water. Also, the live larvae of the adult female need to be released into fresh water in order to find a Cyclops to infect as an intermediate host. So please do not go swimming or wading in fresh water if you find yourself with a female guinea worm emerging from your body.

Now, what you ask does this have to do with the symbol of medical practice? Well, you need to open your bible to Numbers 21:6-9:
And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

Therefore the people came to Moses and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
Here we have talk of a serpent on a pole. Guinea worm, by the way, causes intense pain (like fire) when it emerges from a blister on an arm or leg.

Where Zimmer gets it wrong is stating that "But it may be that that person's invention was remembered in the symbol of medicine, known as the caduceus: two serpents wound around a staff." [Chapt. 1, pg. 2]

Actually, the symbol of medicine is not the winged staff with two serpents. That would be the "Caduceus of Mercury" or the "Karykeion of Hermes". This is actually a symbol of commerce.

The actual symbol of medicine is the Staff of Asclepius. A staff, or stick, with a single snake wrapped around it. You can find all you want to know about the difference between a caduceus and the staff of Asclepius here at the website of New Zealand physician Dr. Blayney.

Why is the caduceus a symbol of medicine in the USA? Blame it on the US Army Medical Corps.

Old TV - Climax and Panic

I'm sure I'm dating my self here. We were one of the first people on our street to get a TV in the early 50's. Although I was very young at the time I distinctly remembered two TV shows. Both were anthologies.

The first one was called "Climax" shown from 1954 to 1958.
This dramatic anthology series brought such introductions as James Bond in Casino Royale, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and A Farewell to Arms to name a few.
A list of every episode can be found here.

The second one, also an anthology, was called "Panic" which was retitled "No Warning" in it's second season. It ran from 1957 to 1958. The list of episodes is here.

If I remember correctly, the first episode..."The Priest" was about a catholic priest who heard the confession of someone who had planted a bomb or some such thing. The confessee promptly drops dead of something and it's up to the priest to find the bomb and save innocent lives. Of course, he cannot say anything to the authorities because the confession was privileged.

Any other old-timers remember those tv shows?

Friday, January 11, 2008

You Suck at Photoshop

This guy has got to be one of the funniest people on youtube.

Make sure you also see "You Suck at Photoshop #1".

The PCR Song

Yes, the polymerase chain reaction is the best scientific technique to come along since sliced bread...maybe even better. But this PCR song is a bit over the top.


Whatever BioRad spent on this was money very well spent.

A New Good Blog

It's pretty likely that everyone has heard of sweetjesusihatebilloreilly. It's been around since March of 2004.

Now we have another website devoted to a media pundit. It's sweetjesusihatechrismatthews. That blog is sure to become a big hit considering what an idiot Chris "Tweety" Matthews can be. The purpose of the blog is:
Exposing the wankery, the douchebaggery, the fecal stainery, and the general foul pusbag that is MSNBC's Chris Matthews

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Obama and Clinton Won NH

Obama and Clinton walk away from the NH Democratic primary each with the same number of delegates.

Unfortunately, Hillary has more superdelegates. Superdelegates are the party "insiders" who are guaranteed a seat at the National Convention. They are generally elected office holders, such as the members of Congress, as well as party officials. There are about 800 superdelegates. A presidential candidate needs the support of about 2000 delegates to win the party nomination. Superdelegates need not vote for the candidate chosen by the voters. This whole superdelegate thing sure seems undemocratic to me.

Creationists Announce New Science Journal

A new online technical jounal, Answers Research Journal (ARJ), has been announced by Answers in Genesis.
...this will be a professional peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework.
In other words a technical journal for those that think the earth is less than 6000 years old and that the earth was destroyed by a massive worldwide flood. Should be interesting. This type of journal is necessary for young earth creationists "scientists" because they cannot get their "research" published in actual, peer-reviewed, established technical journals.

The editor-in-chief of the new journal will be Dr. Andrew Snelling, former professor of geology at the Institute for Creation Research. The new journal has put out a call for new papersand they have set their sights high.
Papers should be no more than 10,000 words long. Color diagrams, figures, and photographs are encouraged. Papers can be in any relevant field of science, theology, history, or social science, but they must be from a young-earth and young-universe perspective. Rather than merely pointing out flaws in evolutionary theory, papers should aim to assist the development of the Creation and Flood model of origins.
Here is one thing I'm sure is going to happen. Remember the "Sokal Affair"? This was the hoax paper published in the journal Social Text by physicist Anthony Sokal. Sokal wanted to find out if that journal would publish an article "if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions." Social Text had no outside peer review process and the article "Quantum Gravity" was published.

Why did Sokal do this? His answer:
But why did I do it? I confess that I'm an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class. And I'm a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover some of them. --Allan Sokal

This type of hoax is almost certain to happen to the Answers Research Journal. Read this computer-generated post-modernist "research paper". Or, go here to computer generate a computer science paper. Maybe someone will write a computer program to write young earth creationist research papers. Shouldn't be all that hard to do. Come to think of it....any paper that is published in that journal is by definition a hoax already.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What About Willard Romney?

It appears that no one who has lost both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary has been elected President. Where does that leave the Mittster? I really don't see Huckabee or McCain being the Republican nominee for President, but as I've pointed out...when it comes to Presidential elections I rarely pick the winner.

Forgotten Alfred Wallace - Evolutionist

Thanks to Dr. Olivia Judson for pointing out the birthday of an important scientist - Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) who was a naturalist, evolutionist and contemporary of Charles Darwin. Dr. Judson has an informative article about Wallace in the NY Times. It can be argued that it was Wallace who pressured Darwin into publishing the "Origin of Species" because Wallace was close to coming up with the idea of natural selection himself. However, information on the Alfred Russel Wallace page answers this question as follows:
Question: Did Wallace really, as some claim, "scoop" Darwin on the theory of natural selection?
Answer: No. While Wallace had been thinking in evolutionary terms for many years--in fact, one might reasonably argue (because of his very early interest in social evolution), for as long as Darwin had--the natural selection concept in particular did not occur to him until 1858, by which time Darwin had been studying the idea for some twenty years. Wallace's 1855 paper 'On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species' (S20), which hinted strongly at an evolutionary position, nevertheless contains not even a trace of natural selection-like thinking. Moreover . . . True, Darwin had published nothing concerning natural selection by the time he received Wallace's essay 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type' (S43) in mid-1858--and true, Darwin's contribution to the 1 July 1858 introduction of natural selection to the Linnean Society consisted only of two unpublished writings--but it must be remembered that Wallace's essay itself was also an "unpublished writing," and that he had not asked Darwin to submit it for publication. Thus, the overall presentation consisted of three unpublished, unintended-for-publication writings, and it cannot be claimed even technically that "Wallace got into print with a finished work" on natural selection before Darwin did. In fact, Wallace's first natural selection-related analysis (that he did intend for publication, that is!) did not appear until late 1863, a whole four years after On the Origin of Species was published.

In fact, Wallace gave credit to Darwin by refering to natural selection as Darwinism. Wallace was an interesting guy however and it's well worth reading the article about him on Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

USA Health Care - Still Not #1

So how does the USA stand, when compared with 18 other industrialized countries, on preventing death? Last.

This graph is from a study published in Health Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2008 by Nolte and McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (my Alma Mater). The authors point out that if the USA were able to reduce amenable mortality to the average of the top three performing countries - over 100,000 people would not have died. The authors also point out that
"The rate of amenable mortality is a valuable indicator of health care performance".

Maybe the poor performance of the USA has to do with this - Why Hospitals Are Dangerous Places for Heart Attacks. [see Delayed Time to Defibrillation after In-Hospital Cardiac Arrest in the New England Journal of Medicine, abstract here]

Hillary Clinton - Unfair Criticisms

I have been supporting Obama for President for some time. This may not be good because I never pick a winning President. On the other hand Obama seems to have made a connection with the voters. The same cannot be said about Hillary Clinton.

But it's a sad state of affairs the way Hillary has been treated by the media. She doesn't laugh - she "cackles". She doesn't project her voice seriously - she is "shrill". She isn't compassionate - she cries. None of those things have ever been said about a male candidate running for President.

It's ok for President Bush to "tear up". Hell, look at Rep. John Boehner - he cries on the floor of the House almost everyday.

It is becoming apparent that a women running for President in the USA probably faces as many unfair criticisms as a black candidate may face. Maybe more, because it's ok to criticize a woman in ways that would backfire on the opposition if it were a black candidate.

There is zero doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton would be a great President. Unfortunately, she is no Bill Clinton on the campaign trail. She seems to unite Republicans more than she can unite Democrats. Republicans are salivating to run against Hillary Clinton. They are afraid of running against Barack Obama because they don't know how to run against him.

If Hillary Clinton is not the Democratic nominee for President, I welcome her back to NY as one of the most powerful members of the Senate.

New Hampshire Primary Results

The final results are in from Dixville Notch, NH. For the Democrats it's Obama 7 votes, Edwards 2 votes and Richardson 1 vote. For the Republicans it's McCain 4 votes, Romney 2 votes and some poor sucker voted for Guiliani. Try here if the link is overloaded.

Monday, January 07, 2008

John Sweeney in the News Again

I cannot believe that John Sweeney was ever a Congressional Representative. This time he stiffed a cab driver for a fare. At a strip club yet.
The source says Sweeney refused to pay the $80-plus cab fare. The cab company called police. State troopers showed up at the Sweeney home, but he didn't answer the door. The source says troopers called Sweeney's attorney and asked that Sweeney come to the barracks to be formally charged.
Pretty amazing that the State Police know the phone number of John Sweeney's attorney. I wonder what the State Police would do if you refused to answer your door? Call your attorney? I doubt it.

Homeopathic Influenza Treatment

If you google "homeopathy remedy influenza" you get 15,000 hits. You quickly learn that one prefered homeopathic influenza remedy is Oscillococcinum. Oscillococcinum is prepared from duck heart and liver. But no need to worry, the "drug" is diluted so much that there isn't a molecule of duck heart or liver present in the preparation. Even so, this stuff isn't cheap, more so because you are paying for nothing but a bit of sucrose and lactose.

But how can I be confident that this treatment is ineffective. Well, #1 it can't be, because there is no active ingredient in the pill (just sucrose and lactose). But if you want to check on what research has been done on this "drug" go to PubMed, which is a government funded database at the National Library of Medicine and search for "Oscillococcinum". Wow! You only get 7 hits and three of them are basically the same. But click on anyone of them and you will find that Oscillococcinum (rotten duck liver) is not effective in treating or preventing influenza.

For example, click on article #1 and read the abstract. First, you will find they did not actually do a clinical trial but rather looked at other sources of data, probably unpublished or published in non-refereed journals.
In conclusion, the effectiveness of any complementary and alternative therapy for treating or preventing seasonal influenza is not established beyond reasonable doubt.
That's a fancy way of saying it has no effect, other than a possible placebo effect. Also notice that the authors of this paper are from a Department of Complementary Medicine, a department that probably uses homeopathic treatments among others. How can I say this? Simple, go back to Google and search "Peninsula Medical School homeopathy".

So for the flu, it's best to get vaccinated so you are less likely to become infected. Believe me, you do not want an influenza infection. Don't want to get vaccinated? Save your money and drink water, because that's basically all you will be getting if you take Oscillococcinum.

Now, do we need to talk about about "HeadOn"?

Unfortunately, homeopathic remedies do not need FDA approval and they do not need to be proven effective, although they do need to be shown to be safe. Of course they are safe because they do not contain any active ingredients. And, for the same reason they are not effective.

Universal CheneyCare - McHugh and Gillibrand

Would you like to have the same health insurance and health care that health-poor Dick Cheney has relied upon for many years? Then you can go here to guaranteed healthcare and sign a petition requesting CheneyCare.
I want genuine healthcare reform that guarantees everyone has healthcare coverage, without prohibitive costs , and an end to insurance company denials of needed medical care.

I support HR 676, an expanded and improved Medicare for All. I want the same access to healthcare that Vice President Cheney and all members of Congress now receive.
HR 676 (The United States National Health Insurance Act) basically proposes to expand Medicare to everyone. I think it would be perfectly appropriate to name Universal Healthcare "CheneyCare" in honor of our VP.

I do have one question about HR 676. I can understand that Rep. John McHugh would not want to co-sponsor such a bill to help his constituents by why hasn't Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand signed on to the bill? Click on your Reps. name and email them to find out why they are not co-sponsors of this bill.

Teaching to the Test

"Teaching to the test" is a phrase that frosts my ....well nevermind, I don't like the phrase. I suppose by "teaching to the test" most people think it means teachers teach material that will tested on state exams. But teachers don't know what questions are on state exams. They only know what the state standards are. The only way teaching to the test would be helpful is if you had an exact copy of the exam in hand. The point is that curriculum and assessment should be aligned. If that is the case, "teaching to the test" is exactly what you should be doing. If there is a problem, it is more likely with to be with a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep rather than the testing.

When I test my students, I make sure that I have been "teaching to the test", or at least teaching what I plan to test. What am I going to do, test them on material that I haven't taught? What would that accomplish? Moreover, my students are required to pass a state licensing exam and I have only a slight idea what is on that exam. That is a lot of pressure on me (and likely more on the students), but it forces you to teach your subject in a way in which hopefully the students will be capable of thinking their way to the correct answer to a question.

President Mike Huckabee?

In todays NY Times William "The Bloody" Kristol muses whether Mike Huckabee might be our next President. Kristol makes sure to tell his readers that he is not ready "to sign up" for a President Huckabee, but all the same....Huckabee might be good.

This is excellent news for Democrats. William "The Bloody" has an almost 100% record of being wrong in anything he predicts.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Are You Rational?

Should Bush Be Impeached?

George McGovern explains "Why I Believe Bush Must Go" in todays NY Times. Actually, why he believes Bush must be impeached is more accurate.

McGovern lays out his reasoning very clearly. Reading McGovern's op-ed reminds us of all the misdeeds done by our President. It's hard to argue that Bush doesn't deserve to be impeached. But at this point I just want him to go away. Just go back to doing whatever it was Bush did before he was President. Go clear some brush since that is what Republican Presidents seem to love doing so much. Also, I think you can make the argument that the American people are as guilty as G.W. Bush as we stood by and let him do as he wished to "protect" us from the terrorists.

McGovern points out a quote from Thomas Jefferson that will provide the hope of justice to come to some. "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just....". George Bush claims to be a "born again" believer. If that is the case he surely has need to tremble.