Junk Science, defining sickness, anti-perspirants, and more…


Is the tide finally turning against anti-vax junk science? Online debate says Yes! “We have found some possible signs of good news: Initially, most of the information on Twitter was dominated by people who opposed vaccinations. But in 2017, the scenario appears to have reversed: Anti-vaccine content is now shared only by a minority of users.”

We need new rules for defining who is sick. Step 1: remove vested interests.The aim of a functioning medical system is to create more well people within a population, not more ill people. However, corporate interests and the tendency for wider disease definitions to fit in variable populations has lead to increasing overdiagnosis and more healthy people labelled as ill. This can have ramifications such as over-medication, increased burden on healthcare workers and a waste of healthcare funds. A new proposal aims to review the problem of overdiagnosis.

14 tons of pangolin scales seized in Singapore in a single smuggling bust. Brought to you by traditional Chinese medicine: fourteen tons of pangolin scales. That’s tons, not pounds. How many pangolins had to be killed to yield fourteen tons of scales? Pangolins around the world are listed as a vulnerable to critically endangered animal. At this rate they won’t last long. And the ridiculous part is pangolin scales are keratin, like our fingernails, and keratin won’t cure anything.

Backlash to government’s natural therapies rebate ban spurs new review. Following the rebate ban on therapies showing little to no evidence of effectiveness, the government has been pressured to re-review the evidence. Predictably proponents of natural therapies claim that they have all kinds of evidence to show. I think we can imagine what the quality levels will be though. Let’s hope that the new review maintains strong scientific standards for the evidence it will consider. Watch this space.

Measles: should vaccinations be compulsory? It is only in the West, where we rarely see these diseases that parents have the luxury of whimsical pontification on the extremely small risks of vaccination; faced with the horrors of the diseases they prevent, most people would soon change their minds.

Breast cancer myths: No, antiperspirants do not cause breast cancer. Given how difficult it is in science ever to prove a negative beyond a doubt, it’s not impossible that something in antiperspirants, be it aluminium or parabens, might contribute to breast cancer development. However, given the existing state of the scientific evidence, it seems incredibly unlikely that there is a causal relationship here, given that no one has yet been able to convincingly demonstrate even a correlation. It’s certainly not for lack of trying. Indeed, scientists convinced of this hypothesis sometimes go to ridiculous extremes to show a “correlation,” as McGrath did in the graphs above.

Unfortunately, by far the most powerful predictors of breast cancer risk are not environmental. They are related to genetics (family history) and biology (age at menarche, age at menopause, number of live births, age at first live birth, breastfeeding, etc.). Lifestyle and environmental factors play a much less significant role, with protective effects due to exercise (for instance) or increased risk due to alcohol consumption (also for instance) producing much smaller effects than the previously mentioned risk factors and protective factors. None of this means that we shouldn’t study environmental risk factors for breast cancer, but it does mean that we should be cautious about spending too much time studying factors lacking strong biological plausibility when the studies aren’t yielding strong evidence of a correlation with breast cancer despite considerable effort to show a link.

It’s a matter of prioritization. Existing evidence is sufficient to conclude that there is no strong link between antiperspirant use and breast cancer and that there is very likely not even a weak link. Given such findings, it is appropriate to move on to other, more promising, avenues of research regarding environmental and lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer. This one’s been investigated and not found to be important.

We need to vaccinate against the anti-vaxxing message. “One reason we may be reluctant to vaccinate is that we live in a time when most of us have never seen the horrific consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Today’s Abused Health Concept

Randomized controlled trial of homeopathic nosodes finds, not surprisingly, that they are useless.Magic sugar pills go head-to-head against actual vaccines in a randomized controlled trial. The results will not surprise you. The authors conclude that homeopathic nosodes are as effective as placebo, noting, “These findings suggest homeopathic vaccines should not be licensed.”

Great moments in Health & Science

 The evolution of antiretroviral therapy for HIV – Past, Present, and Future. These treatments for HIV have resulted in a near-normal life-expectancy for those whose life-expectancy would often be less than 15 years from the time of acquiring HIV.