Science advocacy, Lyme disease, The Brady Bunch, and more…

FSM Friends News and Articles

Timothy Caulfield: Are we enabling harmful wellness woo?  “In this age of misinformation, fake news and twisted science, we need a stronger and less equivocal response to misinformation and unproven healthcare practices. Can we blame people for believing science-free nonsense when there are government-funded homeopathy programs and un-ironic media stories about the healing powers of crystals? If respected, publically funded universities and healthcare institutions integrate life-force energy modalities into their programs, perhaps there are “natural” replacements to vaccines and alternative cures to cancer? (To be clear, there aren’t.)”


How best shall we advocate for the sciences? For our Melbournian FSM friends, join us for the Melbourne edition of this year’s global March for Science event, hosted by the Royal Society of Victoria. Bring a picnic lunch and a poster to celebrate science with us, and join in a panel discussion that will challenge and inspire you to be a better advocate for science.

Science or not, IV ‘wellness’ drips are booming:The logical consequence of an alternative health industry that can make all manner of claims without having to back them up with evidence – $300 vitamin infusions for the “worried well-off” claiming to treat everything from hangovers, to libido and detoxification (whatever that even means).

Weight loss improves polycystic ovary symptoms. But don’t wait until middle age – start nowInstead of going on unsustainable diets, which could lead to weight cycling and a sense of defeat, aim for small (and therefore sustainable) changes in diet and exercise. Find something you enjoy. Set yourself the overarching goal to maintain your weight and improve your health, whatever that is now. Keeping track of your weight by weighing yourself regularly (say, once a week) can help. If you have regular medical appointments, having your doctor monitor your weight changes between visits can also help you maintain your weight. If you are 25 years old now, simply holding on to your current weight would be equivalent to permanently losing more than 20kg when you are 50. We know that can feel next to impossible. Staying the same weight is a far more achievable goal, and just as beneficial.

New York vaccine mandate – judge rejects anti-vaxxer challenge: Anti-vaxxers challenging the New York mandatory vaccine mandate have had their case struck down and found to be a baseless complaint. Note that a mandatory vaccination is one that imposes a consequence for failing to vaccinate (ie Fines and school attendance bans). This is NOT forced vaccination. The Judge rejected claims about the dangers of MMR, finding them completely unsupported in the medical literature “or other acceptable evidence.” The Judge also found that religious preferences could not override school attendance bans during the state of emergency. Interestingly the anti-vaxxers claimed that mandatory vaccination was an unfair restriction of their freedoms, but also argued that that forced quarantine (ie a physical loss of freedom) would have been a more appropriate course of action. Apparently they are very good at compartmentalization.

Today’s Abused Health Concepts

Prolonged antibiotics for (so-called) Chronic Lyme Disease: Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by ticks, with debilitating symptoms, but is easily treated with a course of antibiotics. Some people claim to have ongoing chronic symptoms that they may attribute to Lyme disease, often on basis of non-standard, invalid medical testing. “There is no evidence that ‘Chronic Lyme’ exists. Well-designed studies have shown that long-term antibiotic treatment – beyond standard recommended treatment – is of no more benefit to the patient than a placebo, but caused significant adverse events in up to 26% of participants. People who believe they have ‘Chronic Lyme’ are suffering and deserve compassionate treatment. But giving medicine not based in evidence is magical thinking, not good science. Regrettably, practitioners that do believe they are treating ‘Chronic Lyme’ continue to propagate erroneous information and offer dubious treatments despite good evidence they are ineffective.”

‘Brady Bunch’ episode fuels campaigns against vaccines — and Marcia’s miffed: This is unbelievable, a new low has been established that will be hard to surpass. We’ve had appeals to tradition and the ever-popular appeal to authority. Now we have the appeal to sitcom. Yes, people opposing vaccination are pointing to a 1969 episode of The Brady Bunch as a reason why we should not be concerned about measles. After all, the whole Brady household came down with measles and they had a great time! Home from school, playing board games, it was an unexpected holiday. Nobody had a fever or actual symptoms, just an outbreak of spots.

OK, let’s be serious. At the time the episode aired, measles was still not uncommon because the vaccine had just been introduced. In fact, all vaccines were still a novelty and kids were still getting polio. The Brady Bunch ran an episode with the kids getting sick. But who would want to watch the lovable Brady’s lying in bed seriously ill? So they made it a fun time. But measles is not fun and it can kill. So let’s not appeal to 60s sitcoms as evidence for medical practice. If I’m sick, I don’t watch episodes of House or ER, not even Doogie Howser. It’s best not to trust Hollywood script writers to inform our healthcare.

Great Moments in Health and Science

A brief history of vaccination:  One of the most successful public health preventative interventions in human history, it is an unfortunate aspect of human psychology that those who are privileged to have never lived through pre-vaccination diseases can drastically undervalue and under-appreciate something that many of them statistically owe their lives to. It is also ironic that many people who incorrectly claim that modern medicine “doesn’t do prevention” reject one of the most important preventative health strategies ever.

Thanks to Science

Cancer death rates are falling; five-year survival rates are rising: While our ageing population means that cancer is still expected to be common, we are much better at diagnosing it early and treating it than decades past. A fantastic example is childhood leukaemia, which halved mortality rate in the 70’s due to development of new therapies. We are also understanding the role of environmental factors – like smoking, carcinogen exposure and diet – in cancer risk. These days, exciting cancer breakthroughs are mostly centred around immunotherapy (harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer) and personalised medicine (understanding the unique genetic and proteomic signature of a tumour to best target it).