Flawed research, bias, bogus tests, and more…


Review finds Wilyman Anti-vax PhD “Incomplete”, “Biased” and “Flawed”: In 2015 the University of Wollongong awarded a now notorious PhD for the anti-vaccine thesis “A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy”, which claimed to review biased science, and the basis for public policy. That thesis was awarded by a non-science, non-medical faculty, but even then an examiner suggested the writing was not worth a PhD, perhaps only a masters. That thesis has now been reviewed by PhD examiners with relevant technical expertise. They describe the thesis as based on “incomplete, flawed technical assertions”.

“This thesis is notable for its lack of evidence of systematic literature review. Despite its extensive claims, there is no primary research, but there is abundant evidence of strong bias … and sometimes outright misrepresentation of facts. This thesis does not include methods for assessing the literature, does not discuss aspects of identified studies which may contradict one another, or attempt to establish the quality of relevant studies. Rather, the references used are highly selective, only citing a small number of the available epidemiological studies and clinical trial reports, all of which are interpreted to support conclusions which appear pre-determined.”

Let’s hope that this is taken as a signal to universities to be careful about the quality of argument that is allowed to make it to a doctorate level.

Herbalist gets four months in jail after 13-year-old boy who went without insulin dies:A self-proclaimed “master herbalist” is heading to jail for his role in the death of a 13-year-old boy with Type 1 diabetes after he allegedly told the boy’s parents to not use insulin.

Five cognitive biases that explain why people still don’t vaccinate: “From a psychological perspective, parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are likely falling victim to several errors in thinking, or cognitive biases. Cognitive biases frequently occur when an individual doesn’t have enough information or has strong emotions related to a complex decision.”

Doctors may be prescribing antibiotics for longer than needed: The most important determinant of duration in primary care is probably the size of the pack the antibiotics come in. But the number of tablets in a pack is rarely the same as the length of a course. One Australian study looked at 32 common prescribing scenarios and found that the pack size only matched the recommended duration of antibiotics in four cases. Other reasons antibiotics may be prescribed for longer than recommended is when patients are given “repeats” and taking a second course of antibiotics. Often, the doctor isn’t actively prescribing a second course, but their medical prescribing software is printing a “repeat” on their prescription by default. In hospitals, clinical uncertainty plays a large role. It is sometimes suggested that antibiotics are used for the benefit of the patient, but at other times to allay the treating doctor’s anxiety. While the motivation to make sure infections are properly treated is understandable and well-intentioned, particularly in patients who might still be critically unwell for other reasons, continuing antibiotics for too long increases the risk of side effects and antibiotic resistance.

Bogus breast cancer tests are putting women’s lives in danger: Just to clarify, thermography is not a completely useless screening tool. It does detect some cancers. What is bogus is the claims made by some providers that it is superior to mammography in sensitivity and has the added bonus of being radiation free. But themography is inadequate as a stand-alone screening modality for breast cancer. The false positive (detect a cancer that isn’t there) and false negative (missing a cancer that is there) rates are far too high to be acceptable. Anyone who claims thermography is better than mammography has got something to sell you.

Today’s Abused Health Concept

 ‘Super’ foods are often nothing of the sort, Queensland nutritional researchers find: Claims behind the benefits of various so-called superfoods are found to be based on “weak and flimsy” evidence, with many products not tested on humans. To those in the skeptical community this not surprising. The normal development path for a super-food is that a supplier will secure a good position to be able to market and distribute a particularly novel or unusual food. They will then consult a marketing team looking for ways to create a ‘superfood’ narrative, thus increasing the sell price. This process only has a tangential relationship with science or evidence.

Great Moments in Health and Science

The story of Pasteurization and how it changed the world: Heat-treating foods and drinks to kill food-borne illnesses has saved millions of lives and has made many previously high-risk foods safe.