As if I needed another reason to love Barbara Ehrenreich

Writing for HuffPo, Charlottesville’s own Barbara Ehrenreich takes on positive psychology. I have to remember to drop by sometime with a cake and welcome her to the city, even if it is a year too late.

She addresses something very annoying about the belief that positive thinking is a universal good (and provides a backhanded slap to Depeak Chopra and “the Secret”), that there isn’t much proof that it really works – at least not in situations of ongoing stress. Further, a more insidious aspect of the emphasis on positive thinking is a blame-the-victim mentality inherent in its proponents.

The perennial temptation to blame disease on sin or at least some grave moral failing just took another hit. A major new study shows that women on a virtuous low fat diet with an extraordinary abundance of fruits and veggies were no less likely to die of breast cancer than women who grazed more freely. Media around the world have picked up on the finding, cautioning, prudishly, that you can’t beat breast cancer with cheeseburgers and beer.

Another “null result” in cancer studies — i.e., one showing that a suspected correlation isn’t there — has received a lot less attention. In the May issue of Psychological Bulletin, James Coyne and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania reported that “there is no compelling evidence linking psychotherapy or support groups with survival among cancer patients.” This flies in the face of the received wisdom that any sufficiently sunny-tempered person can beat cancer simply with a “positive attitude.”

Then, Chopra gets a snub:
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Hire Google for your denialist campaign!

An alert reader noticed that when he performed a Google search on ‘Sicko’, guess who pops up in the sponsored links? Why, our good friends at AEI, a denialist organization second only to CEI, but since they have a lot of the same people working for both it’s really just academic which one you’re arguing with. When you need your crappy industry defended from public criticism, you can always rely on AEI or CEI to chomp at the bit and pretend there is “no problem”.

What’s even more interesting is that Google actually solicited ads (fixed link) to combat Sicko’s bad PR for the insurance industry. How’s that for “do no evil”?

AEI’s criticism is pretty weak:

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Michael Moore’s Sicko (or why Orac should relent and go see this movie)

I went to see Michael Moore’s Sicko last night and it is truly worthy of being seen by every American. I say that knowing how many feel about Michael Moore and his tendency towards spectacle. I hope that people can set aside whatever prejudice they have towards Moore and see this movie.

This is a movie that contains more truth than any he has made so far. I went in with a skeptical mind, knowing the issues that face the practice of medicine in the United States in this new millennium, how easy they can be discussed inaccurately or flippantly and how medicine was once practiced in this country. Medicine is something deeply personal to me as I am a the son of two doctors – my mother a private-practice family physician who has been practicing for more than 30 years, and my father a research MD at the NIH. This movie struck many chords, as someone who has insurance, who studies medicine, who cares about fixing our current medical care system, who has known doctors, and who has received medical care. There is something for everyone in this movie, doctors, nurses, patient, and policy-makers alike, and I sincerely wish that everyone gives it a chance and an open mind. I doubt anyone will see it and be disappointed or unaffected.

Now, the rest will be below the fold, I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I’ll need to discuss some scenes in order to describe the importance of this movie.
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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.
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Victory over a parasite – the global eradication of Guinea Worm

Hooray for science! The New England Journal reports on the imminent eradication of the Guinea worm.

For those who haven’t heard of this nasty little parasite, it is a really horrible infection to get. It starts with the ingestion of Dracunculus medinensis infected water. The larvae, when freed from their copepod carriers, migrate from the GI tract, copulate, work their way to the skin, and the adult worms then cause a painful, burning blister as they emerge. The human host, seeking relief, will often seek to immerse the blister in water – and when it bursts the cycle continues as the larvae are released.


Humanity can thank the Carter Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the CDC, and World Health Organization for the following graph:
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