Doctor Payola

An article in today’s New York Times shines some light on drug industry gifts to doctors. Pretty interesting stuff:

Vermont officials disclosed Tuesday that drug company payments to psychiatrists in the state more than doubled last year, to an average of $45,692 each from $20,835 in 2005. Antipsychotic medicines are among the largest expenses for the state’s Medicaid program.

Over all last year, drug makers spent $2.25 million on marketing payments, fees and travel expenses to Vermont doctors, hospitals and universities, a 2.3 percent increase over the prior year, the state said.

The number most likely represents a small fraction of drug makers’ total marketing expenditures to doctors since it does not include the costs of free drug samples or the salaries of sales representatives and their staff members. According to their income statements, drug makers generally spend twice as much to market drugs as they do to research them.


Still, a similar pattern was evident in a Minnesota database that was the subject of a series of articles in The New York Times this year. As in Vermont, psychiatrists earned on aggregate the most in Minnesota, with payments ranging from $51 to $689,000. The Times found that psychiatrists who took the most money from makers of antipsychotic drugs tended to prescribe the drugs to children the most often.

Want to hear a dirty little secret?

The New York Times writes an editorial about hospital rankings based on mortality of medicare patients from cardiac disease, and not surprisingly, misses the point on metrics of patient survival comparisons between hospitals.

Famed medical institutions like Johns Hopkins, the Cleveland Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital are lumped into the broad national average category when perhaps they deserve better (we can’t tell), and no doubt many other hospitals deserve a lesser ranking. In the next round of evaluations, the Medicare program ought to make public every institution’s mortality rates along with any caveats needed to help patients understand them.

I’ll tell you a dirty little secret if you like. It explains why all this data is essentially going to be bunk.
Continue reading “Want to hear a dirty little secret?”

CNN covers “the Secret”

And actually doesn’t make a hash of it. If CNN actually dedicated this much effort to all their journalism, people might actually emerge from their site more informed than when they showed up – a rare occurrence.

For those of you who haven’t heard of “the Secret”, it’s the latest woo-laden self-help nonsense that proposes powerful new physical laws about the universe. In this case, the Law of Attraction. That is, that “like attracts like”. Translated into self-help, it means that positive thinking makes things happen, always, every time. It is a law after all.

Now, people like me who think most self-help books, theories and advocates are scams, nonsense, and charlatans respectively, are immediately skeptical of new physical laws that are dreamed up by Australian TV producers like Rhonda Byrne and promoted by people like Oprah. CNN was good enough to actually get some skeptics’ opinions – and they nail it pretty well.
Continue reading “CNN covers “the Secret””

The drug war – another assault on reason

I’m deeply saddened by the results of the most recent Supreme Court decision on the free speech rights of students. The so-called “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case was decided in favor of the school.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court ruled against a former high school student Monday in the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner case — a split decision that limits students’ free speech rights.

Joseph Frederick was 18 when he unveiled the 14-foot paper sign on a public sidewalk outside his Juneau, Alaska, high school in 2002.

Principal Deborah Morse confiscated it and suspended Frederick. He sued, taking his case all the way to the nation’s highest court.

The justices ruled 6-3 that Frederick’s free speech rights were not violated by his suspension over what the majority’s written opinion called a “sophomoric” banner. (Watch the banner unfurl and launch a legal battle Video)

“It was reasonable for (the principal) to conclude that the banner promoted illegal drug use– and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s majority.

You hear that? Free speech is OK until it promotes something the government doesn’t like. For instance, drug use. When the hell did we become so obsessed over illegal drug use, even pot (for Jesus), as advocated in this sign that students can’t legally speak about it? Off school grounds no less? This is a bizarre case. Even though student free speech tends to be limited relative to political speech outside the school, the fact that he had the banner across the street from the school, to me at least, should have protected him from any disciplinary action.

I think Stevens summarizes just how I feel though in his dissent:

Roberts was supported by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito. Breyer noted separately he would give Morse qualified immunity from the lawsuit, but did not sign onto the majority’s broader free speech limits on students.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “This case began with a silly nonsensical banner, (and) ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs, so long as someone could perceive that speech to contain a latent pro-drug message.”

He was backed by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

This leads me to another point, and a topic I think we’ll discuss in the future here at denialism blog. And that is the anti-drug science that comes out of funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIDA. While not truly junk science per se, it tends to always be misinterpreted and twisted to present a uniformly anti-drug message. I consider this the political abuse of science by the government, and hope to write about it when it comes up in the future.

Another loss for ID

The Brits have decided that Intelligent Design creationism, is well, creationism. It will not be allowed in science classes in the UK.

The government has announced that it will publish guidance for schools on how creationism and intelligent design relate to science teaching, and has reiterated that it sees no place for either on the science curriculum.

It has also defined “Intelligent Design”, the idea that life is too complex to have arisen without the guiding hand of a greater intelligence, as a religion, along with “creationism”.

The petition was posted by James Rocks of the Science, Just Science campaign, a group that formed to counter a nascent anti-evolution lobby in the UK.

He wrote: “Creationism & Intelligent design are…being used disingenuously to portray science & the theory or evolution as being in crisis when they are not… These ideas therefore do not constitute science, cannot be considered scientific education and therefore do not belong in the nation’s science classrooms.”

No. Can’t have. Not science.

Bottled water is for chumps

I for one salute Gavin Newsom for refusing to waste government money on bottled water.

I have never bought bottled water. It’s silly to spend good money on bottled water when throughout this country it’s possible to drink clean potable water for free or a tiny fraction of the cost of bottled water – and it’s far more environmentally sound.

Penn and Teller, of all people, covered this issue the best.
Continue reading “Bottled water is for chumps”

Science Covers

Tara points out that we missed a nice little article in Science last week about our friends at AidsTruth. They discuss their ongoing efforts to counter HIV/AIDS denialism on the Web.

Launched by AIDS researchers, clinicians, and activists from several countries, offers more than 100 links to scientific reports to “debunk denialist myths” and “expose the denialist propaganda campaign for what it is … to prevent further harm being done to individual and public health.” The site also has a section that names denialists and unsparingly critiques their writings, variously accusing them of homophobia, “scientific ignorance of truly staggering proportions,” conspiracy theories, “the dogmatic repetition of the misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or mischaracterization of certain scientific studies,” and flat-out lies. “There was a perceived need to take these people on in cyberspace, because that’s where they operate mostly, and that’s where the most vulnerable people go for their information,” says immunologist John Moore, an AIDS researcher at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

Peter Duesberg, a prominent cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, whom colleagues have pilloried ever since he first questioned the link between HIV and AIDS in 1987, remains unswayed by the Web site, which he derides in an e-mail interview as a “scientifically worthless mix of ad hominems, opinions, intolerance, and religious energy–instead of a theory and facts.” Duesberg maintains that “many essential questions” about what he calls the “HIV-AIDS hypothesis” remain unanswered.

Aww, poor Duesberg. They’re persecuting him! It’s religious dogma! I’m like Galileo!

In reality, there is very little ad hominem attack, but at a certain point, it’s hard not to point out that he’s a monster. In fact, AidsTruth is a nice resource for debunking the claims of the major HIV/AIDS denialists with essays from top researchers, real science papers, and very thorough analyses of how the denialists are using the tactics. And there’s good evidence they’ve had an impact:

To the delight of Jefferys and others, a Supreme Court judge in Australia in April cited a debunking article on in a closely followed case that involved a man convicted of endangering life for not revealing he was infected with HIV to sexual partners. The man appealed, claiming that no studies prove HIV causes AIDS. His defense consisted of two “expert” witnesses, one of whom was extensively questioned about allegations that she had misused a researcher’s results on sexual transmission of HIV. The questions were inspired by an editorial posted on The judge concluded that neither defense witness–both of whom are branded as denialists on–was qualified to express opinions on these questions. “There’s a constant concern that by rebutting these things, you’re giving them more credence–there’s a thin line between slaying the monster and feeding it,” says Jefferys. “The judge’s decision made the Web site seem really worthwhile.”

He also seems to understand the nature of the crank:

“The denialists tend to be grotesquely inaccurate,” says Richard Jefferys, an activist with the Treatment Action Group in New York City who also helped start the site. “It’s almost like the more outrageously inaccurate the claim is, the more they repeat it.”

Maybe it’s because they were kind enough to host my crank HOWTO! I’m flattered.