Denial, fraud, false hope, and more…

FSM News and Articles

Desperate Premiers call for radical redesign for health care funding: “The original State/Federal agreement on funding of public hospitals envisaged a 50/50 split of the costs. Since 2011 the Commonwealth has had in place system where it will pay hospitals on the basis of the type and volume of care they provide (Activity Based Funding) capping any growth in payments to a maximum of 6.5% per year. The application of this approach has been devastating for hospital income with the actual Commonwealth contribution to hospitals being about 42% not 50%. In an attempt to finance the demand for in-patient services hospitals have been forced to withdraw important services to the community such as the provision of specialist led out-patient clinics.”

FSM Friends News and Articles

Brain stimulation for memory: “It needs to be pointed out that this is not a disease treatment. While Alzheimer’s is mentioned both in the study and the reporting, Alzheimer’s is a biological disease of the brain. At best this would be a symptomatic treatment and would not slow or reverse progression. We are still early in this kind of research. While I am hopefully for the potential of electrical interventions for brain function, the authors acknowledge that specific applications are likely far in the future. It is certainly too early for home brain hacking through portable devices.”

Science denial, overconfidence, and persuasion: “We examine seven controversial issues on which there is a substantial scientific consensus: climate change, GM foods, vaccination, nuclear power, homeopathic medicine, evolution, and the Big Bang theory… Higher levels of opposition to a scientific consensus are associated with lower levels of actual scientific knowledge, higher self-assessments of knowledge, and more knowledge over-confidence”.

Fraud, scientific rigor, and Alzheimer’s research: “In the end the system did manage to discover the alleged fraud, mainly because the one thing you cannot fool with fraudulent research is reality itself. This case also reinforces why replication is so critical in scientific research… The institutions of science are imperfect, but strive to be self-corrective. While this is a sad and frustrating case, the response is appropriate – weed out the fraud, make corrections, and figure out how best to reduce similar fraud in the future.”

More false hope for people with Tourette Syndrome: “I would love to get his take on whether or not dental school prepared him to evaluate neurological conditions and brain anatomy. I would weigh in myself, but I think I’ve already overstayed my welcome a bit when it comes to this particular issue, and I don’t want to come across as a rabid anti-dentite.”

Polio’s resurgence: “If the endgame of the anti-vaccine movement is the elimination of all vaccine mandates, then even the high uptake and widespread protection we have against diseases like polio may be at risk. What a tragedy it will be if we ever see children in iron lungs again.”

When a science journal does the right thing: Fortunately, this time the journal took action. But so often journals do next to nothing. “A number of scientists wrote to the journal complaining that this result was extremely implausible, and that the experiments didn’t support the conclusions. To their credit, the journal editors took the complaints seriously and investigated. The retraction notice … pointed out another major problem as well: some of the figures were duplicates!”

The science of biological sex: Rejecting scientific fact in order to promote preferred narratives:  “It is absolutely true that humans display sexual dimorphism, with a typical male and typical female set of traits. [However], The notion that sex is not strictly binary is not even scientifically controversial. Among experts it is a given, an unavoidable conclusion derived from actually understanding the biology of sex.”

There is no clear rule or definition of biological sex that doesn’t have fuzzy boundaries and some cases that are indeterminate. And that’s not even talking about the complexities of gender. And yet this doesn’t stop many people rejecting science and evidence so that they can promote a simple narrative that support their preferred views on social issue. It should always be a red flag when people need to present a false picture of science in order for their opinions to be valid. We will not tell people what they should think in terms of social issues. But at the very least we should base such conversations on evidence so that we can have an accurate picture of reality to work with.


Exploring the rich vein of stories in medicine: “The columns did not, however, receive positive acclamation from every quarter. I regularly upset the homeopaths and other spruikers of alternative treatments, and didn‘t recruit many fans among those who campaigned against abortion rights or rejected the scientific consensus on climate change. The anti-vaccine movement’s extreme fringe was particularly vociferous in its criticism whenever I wrote about immunisation. Hilariously, there was an attempt to get the Health Care Complaints Commission to investigate my work at one point. Slightly less funny was the apparent death threat I received through the mail in 2021 in response to my writing about COVID-19 vaccines.”

Is the lab leak conspiracy theory dead? “Last week, two papers were finally published that, under normal circumstances, would be, if not the final nails in the coffin of the lab leak hypothesis, getting very close, were published in Science. Let’s just say that, contrary to the assertions of some optimists, these studies haven’t made much of an impact on conspiracy theorists, other than to provide them with targets to try to discredit.”

It is understandable that many people had questions about the origins of COVID-19, a situation that was not helped by blame, obfuscation and uncertainty. But issues like the “lab leak” conspiracy often become unsinkable rubber ducks. People will persist in pursuing ‘the questions’ regardless of how unlikely the purported scenario is, and regardless of the evidence. In this it is important to recognise when an issue ceases to behave like a genuine question, a genuine search for the truth, and takes on the behaviour of a conspiracy theory.

Great Moments in Health and Science 

The invention of anti-viral drugs. “Born in 1918 in Manhattan, Elion overcame early financial hardship and outright sexism to win the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, becoming only the fifth woman to do so.”

Today’s Abused Health Concept

Zinc for respiratory tract infections – A systematic review: Despite promotion by alternative and complementary medicine advocates, since 1990s the evidence for zinc has remained weak and not particularly convincing. Now there is a newer study published in The BMJ from the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University. This institute is “Australia’s leader in integrative and complementary medicine research and policy.” 

“Despite multiple trials over the past 40 years, there remains limited evidence to demonstrate that zinc offer meaningful benefits to prevent or treat respiratory tract infections. While there is some evidence it may prevent infections and shorten their duration, the effects are modest. The authors describe zinc as “a viable ‘natural’ alternative”, but “viable” is doing some heavy lifting in that sentence. Zinc products do have side effects that may be noticeable, and the topical nasal spray formulation is associated with rare but sometimes permanent disturbances in the ability to smell, which seems like a poor trade-off for a product that, at best, may provide a slight benefit.”