Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Token Skeptic, The Skeptic Zone, Righteous Indignation

The Token Skeptic featured a discussion between Dr. Leslie Cannold and Michael McRae moderated by your very own Kylie Sturgess on (cue dramatic music) BIG PHARMA!  Actually, what ensued was not what I was expecting, which would be something more of a defense of corporate free enterprise pharmaceutical companies with a few criticisms.  Instead, it was more of a very honest discussion of the many real issues that face modern medicine and how drugs are tested and marketed.  This is not to denote that this was a Meryl Dorey-style big pharma is out to cause your kid autism clap trap.  Rather, it was a frank discussion with an ethicist and Mike McRae, science communicator and educator, on some of the real problems with how big pharma operates and its shortfalls.

I will not delve into all the topics discussed but some of them are not the obvious such as how a patient can learn whether or not a medication is useful and/or safe.  Some of the topics discussed were whether a physician really understands which are the better studies and articles to put greater stock in, and what is the influence of large corporate promotion upon a physician's best practices.  Cannold brought up a point that struck me --  are the correct studies even being performed to prove the efficacy of certain mediations.  After all, if a large corporation is doing a study, will it spend large sums of money that might show the medication is not as potent as advertised, which is even greater than the "file drawer effect" of sharing and publishing mostly positive and not negative studies.

What I have pondered in the past and which was only briefly touched upon, is how much effort is spent on creating treatments and medications for lesser problems (e.g. erectile dysfunction) that a large portion of the population will purchase at the expense of creating treatments and medications to treat a smaller boutique population (e.g. sufferers of rare forms of lupus for example) which will not be purchased as frequently or as much.  I am aware in the United States there are programs to entice large corporations to create and produce "boutique" medications.  I cannot help but think that a lot of useful resources are being spent on medications to make one's erection last even longer than creating a drug to treat a rare form of lupus.

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, and I am a big fan of the two guests with a moderator format.  Unfortunately, the sound quality, especially for McRae, was less than optimal, but sometimes the listener just has to put up with such things for useful and thought-provoking content.

It is getting late on Sunday night, and if you follow my twitter feed you are aware that Lady and I are refurbishing the closed-in porch of the Skeptical Review's World Wide Headquarters with a branch in Toronto.  We're no Mike Holmes here, but rather more like a boring episode of Renovation Realities.  I am way behind on all my skeptical stuff in favor of drywall and lumber.  Here are some high points on The Skeptic Zone.

None other than Kylie Sturgess interviewed Professor David Blair of the Gravity Centre in Gingin near Perth.  Prof. Blair's center was his brain child to bring cosmology to the people.  Interestingly, he melds together religious creation myths along with the science of creation.  The center also educates on physics and science in general.  The center is also affiliated with the Australia International Gravitational Observatory.  (Which, for my money, is one of the coolest sounding names for a lab ever.)  The Centre is having financial difficulties and may not be open much longer.  The world wide economic crunch is hitting everyone hard I suppose.  Prof. Blair sounds like an interesting and eccentric fellow.  If I ever were to get to Perth, I'd go just to say I went to the Gravitational Observatory.

This was followed by a Think Tank that took place in Dr. Dunlop's front room, which from the sounds of it is about a mile from a major airport.  The take off and landing sounds punctuated the discussions as if to make up for the lack of bus announcements at their favorite chinese restaurant.  (In their honor, Lady and I had a fine Chinese dinner tonight.  Love those steamed dumplings and pork lo mein.)  The most wrenching but strangely interesting topic was Dr. Dunlop recounting how a woman died a few years of ago of bowel cancer, and instead of real medicine only treated with a homeopath over the phone until it was too late at the bitter, terrible agonizing end.  The Think Tank is always great fun, and despite the intrusion of whining jet engines (how does Dr. Dunlop live with such noise?) it is worth the listen.

Finally, the Indignates released an episode of snippets and cutting room floor bits that have not made the current last dozen or so shows as they do from time to time Unlucky Dip #4.   The last thirty or so minutes of the episode is a discussion between Marsh, Trystan, a bit of Gavin, and Skeptiko's Alex Tsarkiris and is amazing, enlightening, frustrating, and mildly depressing.  Apparently, a longer form of the discussion is on Tsarkiris's Skeptiko podcast episode #106.   It was a tour de force of Marsh and Trystan being level headed and calm skeptics trying to share what the scientific method is all about and why it is the only good way to know what is reality as best currently understood, and what is wishful thinking or just a guess.  At the same time, Tsarkiris unwittingly exhibited every flaw in those who wish to redefine science or the scientific method to suit their desired outcomes.  Tsarkiris truly and honestly seems to have a blind side to anything that debases his notions that the paranormal and psi are test and proven fact.  If I ever meet Mr. Swale, Mr. Marshall, or Mr. Schofield I will buy them a beer just for the effort.  This episode is well worth the listen.

What?  No Skeptics' Guide to the Universe commentary at all?  Luckily, Karl has kindly volunteered to take this one this week due to my numerous hours swallowed using long strings of curse words at lengths of lumbar that refuse to be accurately cut.  I am about 30 minutes into the latest episode, and so far so good.  I have to listen to the Amateur Scientist podcast as well, but for some reason it still won't download to iTunes.  I hope our friends in Cupertino take time away from the iPhone 4 launch to look into it.


  1. I really didn't like that discussion with Mr. Tskaris, he's slippery like an eel and I just felt completely useless - probably why I only got two words in. It probably didn't help that I didn't read the full study until afterwards!

    That's when I found that the study required the participants to select one of the two readings either if neither was accurate (or both were equally accurate!) I'd have brought this up if I'd known that, as this casts even more doubt on the 'hits', especially with such a small sample size.

  2. Hello,

    Well, at least Alex Tskaris is good for one thing: he makes skeptics realise that they should read the parapsychological litterature. And by that I mean the primary litterature, and not just the secondary litterature that is published in skeptical magazines, commenting on the first one. Too often skeptics relly only on the debunking published in skeptical magazines without taking the time to read the primary publications, but It's not good enough if you want to go into the depth of subjects...

    With skepticality,


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.