Friday, January 30, 2009

Alison Singer: My New Hero

Alison Singer has stepped down as a senior vice president of communications and strategy for Autism Speaks, the world's largest autism charity. Here's why:

"Over and over, the science has shown there is no causal link between vaccines and autism. It's time to look for answers in new and different places."

She sits on the Autism Coordinating Committee which voted against committing money for two new vaccine studies. This does not fit with official Autism Speaks policy. She also said:

"...every dollar spent looking where we know the answer isn't is one less dollar we have to spend where we might find new answers,"


Good for you, Alison Singer!

Extra-special thanks to the Quackwatch newsletter for this information.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More bad news for anti-vaccinationists

Chances are, you've already heard about the study that drives yet another nail into the coffin of the idea that thimerosal causes autism. There's nothing I can say about it that the two doctors below haven't said better, so I'll let them do the talking:

Orac

Dr. Steve Novella

Also from the Mounting Evidence desk, here's yet another report that shows how much detoxification doesn't work.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Migraines

One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about my health. I realized yesterday that I have neglected to mention my most prominent health issue. I am a migraineur. Which is the official term for "migraine sufferer". I haven't thought to mention the migraines because condition is always lurking in the background of my life. It's such a part of me that I rarely even think of it as a health issue.

In my mind, it's no different from hair color except, of course, for the pain.

If you're unfamiliar with migraines (I sure wish I was) or if you think that they are "just headaches", please read this post from medical-blogging rock star Steve Novella. It is an excellent introduction to the phenomenon. I learned some new things from it.

As far as my migraines go, I think I'm about mid-range on the severity/frequency index. I average two to three migraines a month but they are rarely bad enough to keep me from doing what I want to do. I used to be laid up far more often by the attacks but I think I've built up a tolerance to them because they don't feel any better than they used to. I've realized that very little that I do during the course of a day is going to have an effect on them for good or ill and that I'd might as well get on with my life.

Some migraines, maybe one a year, will make me so sick that I relate to what Joan Didion said in her excellent essay "In Bed",

“That no one dies of migraine seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing."


Those migraines are the bad ones. I have become intimately familiar with my migraines. If I'm going to have one, I generally wake up with it. There are things I can observe about them to determine whether it's there to stay or if I can try to chase it off. I'm not sure I can articulate the checklist I go through to make this decision because it's more intuitive than clinical but I'll try.

The first thing I look for is how much the right side of my head hurts upon waking. Migraines typically present only on one side of the head and mine are always on the right. Then I check the rest of my body. If all my nerve endings are more sensitive, I know it's going to be with me until I can sleep again. If I am more sensitive to light and sound, ditto. If it's just the headache and it's not making me wish I were dead, I have a chance to beat it back with a combination of drugs and a long, hot shower.

If I'm sick to my stomach, I know I need to call in sick. I almost never experience nausea with my migraines and the few times I have were the worst experiences I've ever had.

Compared to a lot of other migraineurs, I'm lucky in a lot of ways. I remain functional (if a bit scatterbrained) during most attacks, they rarely last more than a full day, I can hold most of them back with Excedrin, and they don't make me throw up.

This still doesn't make them feel any better.

The most frustrating thing about being a migraine sufferer is that the treatment for the condition is so personal. What works for one person makes another one feel worse. Hell, what works for me on one day might send me into a dark, quiet room during my next attack.

Migraineurs talk about triggers a lot. These are the things that can cause an attack. Lists of common triggers are always funny to read because they usually list "too much sleep" right under "too little sleep". Great. I can't freaking win. I have discovered a few of my triggers but it's almost never a single thing. I usually have to combine two or more of the following: Insufficient sleep, getting cold while asleep, and any number of possible food triggers.

There seems to be a genetic component to them because I have a cousin and a half sister who get them, too.

Are there any other migraneurs reading this? Or people with relatives and friends who get them? Feel free to comment if so.

And, yes, I'm having one right now.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Critical and Political Thinking

I mentioned the importance of critical thinking to the democratic process the other day and it got me thinking about my own experience with our government. The last eight years pissed me off so much and President Obama has said and done so many things just in his first few days in office that I am in an near-constant state of elation.

This is both good and bad.

The thing I have to remember is that every thing the Obama administration does isn't going to be something with which I agree. The trick, here, is going to be for me to keep a truly open mind. If they stick to their rhetoric, though, I will at least know that they are about to do something I don't like.

The very fact that this administration is doing a lot of things I have been wanting government to do for a long time means that I need to watch them even more closely. And they are providing the tools for the American people to do that watching. Chief among them, Recovery.gov (which currently has no content) and the White House's website (which has plenty of content).

No matter what your political beliefs are, make your opinion known and look for evidence behind the words of our leaders. Don't just trust or mistrust blindly because the person saying something is a career politician.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Barack Obama: Science President!

The latest presidential weekly address fills me with even more hope (there's that word again) for the future of our country. The whole thing sounds great but here's my favorite bit:

To ensure our children can compete and succeed in this new economy, we’ll renovate and modernize 10,000 schools, building state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries, and labs to improve learning for over five million students. We’ll invest more in Pell Grants to make college affordable for seven million more students, provide a $2,500 college tax credit to four million students, and triple the number of fellowships in science to help spur the next generation of innovation.


President Obama recognizes not only that education (proper education!) is vitally important to the economic future of America but that science education is even more vitally importanter.

And my skeptical heart grew three sizes when I heard him say these next words:

I know that some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan. I understand that skepticism, which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my Administration accountable for these results. ...every American will be able to see how and where we spend taxpayer dollars by going to a new website called recovery.gov.


Critical thinking ain't just for analyzing bigfoot, Heaven, and UFOs, folks. It should be applied to everything, politics doubly so. This level of transparency is what government should be practicing.

Here's the whole thing:


Also, I have to say that the presidential addresses being distributed via YouTube fills me with glee. Go 21st century!

Suzanne Vega is an Evil Genius


I've been catching up on the podcast version of WNYC's Radio Lab which is an awesome show that combines science and pop culture in order to lead to a greater understanding of each.

Yesterday I listened to the Pop Music episode in which the hosts mention that neither of them likes the Suzanne Vega song "Tom's Diner" but that it's got a good hook.

This morning, by coincidence, "Tom's Diner" showed up on my car radio. I listened to the lyrics closely this time and, man, that is one terrible song. The lyrics are banal, the music is an exemplar of lazy production, and the performance is lackluster.

But the Radio Lab guys are right. The hook is insidious. I'm mentally humming it now. I will continue to hum or whistle that little melodic line for the next few days. Well played, Suzanne Vega. Well played, indeed.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good Health News

A few months ago, I posted about my health. I talked about how much I like my new doctor and then about how much my new doctor scared me by checking my blood-triglyceride levels.

Back in mid-October, I weighed 224 lbs. (I'm 6 feet tall) and my triglycerides were at 310. Thanks to the 'guy sheet' that my doctor gave me and to the fact that I actually followed the suggestions I now weigh 194 lbs. and my triglyceride level is 130.

Here's how I did it:

  • I cut out almost all sweets. I indulged slightly during the holidays but even then I held myself to a bite of something here and there or a single pastry after a meal. I used to eat a lot of ice cream.
  • I replaced my two butter-covered bagels per day with two pieces of fruit. Most days, only a single apple.
  • I cut fried food completely out of my diet. I may have some fried fish again at some point but after several weeks of being on that wagon I find I don't crave it anymore.
  • I severely reduced the number of eggs I eat per week even though I'm not convinced that they are bad for me. There's a lot of conflicting information on that.
  • I'm eating a lot more salmon and other fatty fish along with turkey and chicken instead of beef or pork. Good news: I really like salmon. I haven't cut the other meats out of my diet but I have seriously reduced the amounts I eat.
  • I avoid avacadoes and olives. Who knew?
  • I cut the amount of food I eat in a day by one-half to two-thirds. This means almost no snacking and smaller portion sizes at meals. That's been the hardest part. I have had to redefine the word 'hungry'. Usually, when I think I need food, I'm just bored.
  • I have stopped putting sugar in my coffee and, for the most part, don't even use milk or cream.
  • I walk 30 minutes a day at a pretty fast clip. The wicked-awesome pedometer that Perky gave me for Christmas makes it even more fun.

All this has led to a loss of 30 pounds and triglycerides in the normal range. I look better, I have more energy, I sleep better, and I'm generally happier. If that's not incentive to keep up with this, I don't know what is. Those are some pretty radical changes but I think that merely being aware of what I'm putting into my body has been the biggest factor. I have a better idea of what to look for on nutrition labels.

The encouragement I've gotten from everyone I've told is a strong motivator, too. One of my co-workers noticed that I'm thinner and my doctor was exceptionally pleased even before my new numbers were in. Not to mention my mother and wife. Thanks!

My plan is to lose around ten more pounds but, really, I'm more concerned with my cholesterol levels than I am with how I look.

I also have the timing of these results to thank for my uncharacteristic determination to become healthier. My wife and son have been going to the incredible community center across from B's school for several months. Once I realized I needed to exercize, I began joining them there. It removes the bad-weather excuse from my arsenal of reasons why I can't get out and walk. Also, the sense of community I get from the other people who are working out pushes me to do better.

The one drawback is that I now have to get new pants. I look like MC Hammer.
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Restoring Science to its Rightful Place

I've talked a little about President Obama's good choices for his science team. The following quote from his inaugural address give me even greater (dare I say it?) hope:

“We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its costs. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.


After eight years of faith-based bullshit, I am so glad to have someone who talks like this in the oval office. Oh, also? He actually mentioned non-believers.

Needless to say, I'm happy so far.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Homologous Links

Here's why Overcompensating is one of my favorite webcomics and why Timecube isn't.

Hey, doctoral candidates! PhD Comics is here to help you write that abstract.

Do you know why science is awesome? I'll tell you why! Because it brings us amazing satellite images like these from boston.com's The Big Picture.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Take the UFO Challenge

I just discovered the existence of the Paranormal Examiner which is really just a woo-filled overlay on a link farm. The first article I read from this publication is a doozy.

Melissa Alvarez reports that there is a $10,000 prize for anyone who can debunk a set of UFO photos.

The article is filled with the usual sparse details, logical fallacies, and other things we've come to expect from woomeisters. It's worth a look, especially the pictures. However, this bit where they "explain" the revolutionary photographic technique used to capture the images contains one of the best typos I've ever read (emphasis mine):

During the penetrating photographic process special equipment uses x-ray, thermo and inferred imaging.


Wow! They accidentally said something true.


EDIT: Darn! They've fixed it. Unless the word 'infrared' is the typo now.

Keep watching the skies!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Quick note

You know? I looked all over www.huffingtonpost.gov and I can't find that David Kirby post that everyone's talking about.

Must be a hoax.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Vaccinate Your Kids

I know I'm always on about this but it's important. Vaccinate your kids.

Here's a little fine tuning on that message: Vaccinate your kids according to the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Still need some convincing? Have you read Bob Sears's book and it's raised some questions?

This article from Pediatrics by Paul A. Offit and Charlotte A. Moser should answer those questions. They take Dr. Sears to task for threatening the herd immunity of our entire species by recommending the delay or withhold certain vaccines.

Thanks to Dr. Stephen Barrett from Quackwatch for writing about this in his latest newsletter.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Science is Awesome! Also, Happy New Year!

You know why science is awesome? I'll tell you why it's awesome!

First, science gives us accurate calenders which allow us to have New Year's celebrations.

Second, science gives us fireworks! Check out the video shot by Sandra Porter from Discovering Biology in a Digital World which is one of my favorite science blogs even when she's not posting pictures of stuff blowing up.