Does Smoking Cannabis Cause Schizophrenia?

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

A lot of people are talking about a new study showing a 40% increase risk of “psychosis”, which I first heard news of in this story, from the Daily Mail:

A single joint of cannabis raises the risk of schizophrenia by more than 40 percent, a disturbing study warns.

The Government-commissioned report has also found that taking the drug regularly more than doubles the risk of serious mental illness.

Overall, cannabis could be to blame for one in seven cases of schizophrenia and other life-shattering mental illness, the Lancet reports.

Something sounds a little off. Let’s see what this Lancet study says.
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Now this is why political appointees shouldn’t have a say in science

We already knew from former Surgeon General Carmona’s testimony that this was happening, but now the WaPo brings us
a specific example of science being squelched by a political appointee. It’s not only inappropriate, but just despicable.

A surgeon general’s report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration’s policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.

The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate.

Three people directly involved in its preparation said its publication was blocked by William R. Steiger, a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Since 2001, Steiger has run the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Carmona told lawmakers that, as he fought to release the document, he was “called in and again admonished . . . via a senior official who said, ‘You don’t get it.’ ” He said a senior official told him that “this will be a political document, or it will not be released.”

The draft report itself, in language linking public health problems with violence and other social ills, says “we cannot overstate . . . that problems in remote parts of the globe can no longer be ignored. Diseases that Americans once read about as affecting people in regions . . . most of us would never visit are now capable of reaching us directly. The hunger, disease, and death resulting from poor food and nutrition create social and political instability . . . and that instability may spread to other nations as people migrate to survive.”

Heckuva job their Steiger. And is it an isolated incident? Of course not:

Public health advocates have accused Steiger of political meddling before. He briefly attained notoriety in 2004 by demanding changes in the language of an international report on obesity. The report was opposed by some U.S. food manufacturers and the sugar industry.

The global health document was one of several reports initiated by Carmona that top HHS officials suppressed because they disliked the reports’ conclusions, according to a former administration official. Another was a “Call to Action on Corrections and Community Health.” It says — according to draft language obtained by The Post — that the public has a large stake in the health of the 2 million men and women who are behind bars, and in the health care available to them in their communities after their release.

The report recommends enhanced health screenings for those arrested and their victims; better disease surveillance in prisons; and ready access to medical, mental health and substance abuse prevention services for those released.

But the report has been bottled up at HHS, said three public health experts who worked on it. John Miles, a consultant and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who helped draft it, said he suspects that the proposed health screenings and other recommendations are seen as a potentially burdensome cost. “Maybe they just don’t feel it’s a priority,” Miles said.

What can we do about this? Scientific integrity is at stake here when political appointees with no expertise and no respect for science can suppress information of value to the public. I encourage everyone to sign the Union of Concerned Scientists petition to restore scientific integrity to government agencies.

Who is going to see the Simpsons Movie?

I can’t quite come up with a good reason to see it, considering seeing movies in C-ville is usually a desultory experience. Our local chains, Regal and Carmike, typically play 10-20 minutes of advertisements before the trailers. Being a Tivo fan, my tolerance for commercials has decreased dramatically over the years, and the insipidity of the movie commercials is horrific.

So I find I really have to want to see a movie in order to justify suppressing the rage at being forced to watch bad commercials for 20 minutes for a movie that I’ve already paid 10 bucks for. With the Simpsons, the best I can come up with is that I owe them for 20 years of free television, but at the same time, since I can get it for free why would I want to spend 10 bucks? Is a sense of guilt enough reason to go?

I can has souls?

I couldn’t resist when I read this Guardian story about Oscar, the death predicting cat.

When the two-year-old grey and white cat curls up next to an elderly resident, staff now realise, this means they are likely to die in the next few hours.

Such is Oscar’s apparent accuracy – 25 consecutive cases so far – that nurses at the US home now warn family members to rush to a patient’s beside as soon as the cat takes up residence there.


Numerology Defeated in 5-1 Vote by the SF Taxicab Commission

Jesse McKinley reports in the Times:

It was a good day for the Devil in San Francisco on Tuesday, as the Taxicab Commission voted to keep the Dark Lord’s favorite number — 666 — affixed to an allegedly cursed cab.

The vote, which came after an amused period of public comment and annoyed looks from the commissioners, extended the satanic reign of Taxi No. 666, which is driven by one Michael Byrne (pronounced burn).

Mr. Byrne, who did not appear at the hearing on Tuesday night and was not reachable for comment, had lobbied — out of superstition — to have his medallion number changed, and had found an ally in Jordanna Thigpen, deputy director of the Taxicab Commission.

In a memorandum distributed last week, Ms. Thigpen wrote that Mr. Byrne believed the number to be responsible for a series of calamities he had endured in a streak of bad luck that had led him to have his taxi blessed at a local church, to no apparent avail.


Are metrics in medicine a good thing?

The Washington post reports on new efforts by insurance companies to rate doctors performance and their policies that penalize doctors for performing poorly according to their metrics.

After 26 years of a successful medical practice, Alan Berkenwald took for granted that he had a good reputation. But last month he was told he didn’t measure up — by a new computerized rating system.

A patient said an insurance company had added $10 to the cost of seeing Berkenwald instead of other physicians in his western Massachusetts town because the system had demoted him to its Tier 2 for quality.

In the quest to control spiraling costs, insurance companies and employers are looking more closely than ever at how physicians perform, using computers, mountains of health claims and billing data and sophisticated software. Such data-driven surveillance offers the prospect of using incentives to steer patients to care that is both effective and sensibly priced.

Now, on the surface, many people might say this is a good thing. But I will argue, that this kind of superficial measurement of performance will not only demoralize doctors but adversely affect patient care:
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The Limits of Academic Freedom

Steven Novella at Neurologica has written a thoughtful essay on where the limits of academic freedom should lie in light of the firing of Ward Churchill based on allegations of plagiarism and research falsification. Of course, many believe that calling 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns” might have had something to do with it as well.

Novella considers the current standards for protection of academic speech and brings up a good point. Academic freedom is not meant to protect professors from the consequences of lying and incompetence.

The purpose of tenure is to protect academics from being fired because of their political views or the nature of their research or other academic pursuits. Originally it was designed to protect them from influences outside the university – namely trustees or donors who would try to use their money or influence to block or fire academics they didn’t like or disagreed with. However, it was never intended to protect professors from discipline from their colleagues within the university. Such discipline is necessary to maintain standards, which every institution has a right, and some even a duty, to do.

At present the guiding principles state that a tenured professor can be removed for, “professional incompetence, neglect of duty, insubordination, conviction of a felony or any offense involving moral turpitude… or sexual harassment or other conduct which falls below minimum standards of professional integrity.”

This is a good point, and one that the denialists and cranks of the world hate, and that is “standards”. Novella makes an excellent case for the ability of universities to deny tenure, or remove professors for the teaching of baloney:
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