Groucho Marx

Blog Archive – May 2006

Click here for translations

“ I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives. ”
Leo Tolstoy

May 23 2006

Evidence? What evidence?

And so it goes on ...

It really is extraordinary to what lengths people will go to try to keep the world within their comfort zones. Whatever happened to the concepts of open mindedness and free choice?

Today we have Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London, along with 12 other doctors, writing to 476 primary care trusts urging them to discontinue the funding of complementary therapies. Never mind that an estimated 50% of GPs recommend their patients for complementary treatment, these 13 people clearly believe they have the right to dictate national policy on the matter. Signatories to the letter include Nobel Prize-winner Sir James Black, Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Science, and Edzard Ernst, the UK's first "professor" of complementary medicine. The letter describes homeopathy as an "implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness".

Seems these august gentlemen have got their facts just a little bit wrong here, which ought to royally backfire on them, but probably won't because so few people bother to read beyond the sensationalist headlines and examine the data on which the conclusions are based. For example, linked from this article on the BBC's website, is one from November last year publicising the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital study in which 70% of 6,500 patients reported positive health changes with homeopathic treatment. The article mentions last year's Lancet meta-analysis, saying:

"The Swiss-UK review of 110 trials found no convincing evidence the treatment worked any better than a placebo."

Again, factually incorrect. The review gathered a total of 220 trials for examination, but its conclusions were based solely on a comparison of just 8 homeopathic trials (selected from a total of 110) with 6 conventional medical trials (out of a total of 110). 8 undisclosed trials at that, making it impossible to determine whether what was being measured even falls within an acceptable definition of "homeopathy". Further, the authors of the study declared their bias from the outset. They believed homeopathy to be placebo and there appeared to be no attempt to do any more than support that opinion. The quality of this study has been so widely condemned by serious academic scientists that it prompted the following comments from Mikel Aickin PhD, Research Professor at the University of Arizona:

“The Lancet article appears to be part of a recent trend, in which medical journals are publishing articles of exceedingly low quality to justify attacks on controversial therapies.”
[...]
"There is unsettling evidence that we are now in the midst of a methodological degeneration in biomedical science. This appears to be occurring in, of all places, our fundamental approach to inference – using observation and evidence to decide how to act or believe. That it might be happening in medical research makes it of more than just academic interest."
(Aickin, Mikel. The End of Biomedical Journals: There Is Madness in Their Methods. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5: 755-757)

(For a more detailed exposé of the Lancet study and the wider context in which it was produced see Blog, March 18 and Myths and Misconceptions about homeopathy, both on this site.)

Edzard Ernst is quoted in the BBC article as saying, "I believe we need one single standard in medicine and that is the standard of evidence based medicine." Indeed. Couldn't agree more. Perhaps these 13 devotees of evidence-based medicine should take a closer look at their "evidence" before pontificating so loudly and publicly? If we're to take their conclusions as representative of the quality and rigour of scientific investigation found in the upper echelons of the medical elite then biomedical science is, as Mikel Aickin suggests, in very deep doodoo.

Several news websites are conducting polls based on this letter. If you would like to take part, try:
BBC
Sky News
Daily Mail

May 23 2006 | | | Permalink

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“ In the Garden of gentle sanity may you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness. ”
Chogyam Trungpa

May 21 2006

The web of life

A brief introduction to the Santiago theory of cognition by Fritjoff Capra in Resurgence Magazine. First proposed by Gregory Bateson and elaborated by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, this theory overturns the militaristic analogies so often applied to the functioning and purpose of our immune systems and introduces a far more intelligent (in all ways) description of our functioning which supports the theories and practices of holistic medical therapies.

And, on the other side of the coin, for anyone seriously concerned about the Orwellian future our legislatures seem hell-bent on taking us into, here is a site which lists the present intiatives underway in the UK in respect of our children.

May 21 2006 | | | Permalink

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Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano

“ Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own. ”
Wangari Maathai – Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace 2004

May 20 2006

Thoughts from outside the box

Another excellent interview by journalist Amy Goodman for Democracy Now featuring Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

Some excerpts:

On immigration: "t's a sad story. A daily sad story. I wonder if our time will be remembered as a period, a terrible period in human history, in which money was free to go and come and come back and go again. But people, not."

On recent developments in Latin America: "... I think that all these recent events, elections won by progressive forces and a lot of different movings, is like something that's moving on and expressing a need, a will of change, but we are carrying a very heavy burden on our backs, which is what I call “the traditional culture of impotence,” which is something condemning you, dooming you to be eternally crippled, because there is a cultural saying and repeating, "You can't." You can't walk with your own legs. You are not able to think with your own head. You cannot feel with your own heart, and so you're obliged to buy legs, heart, mind, outside as import products. This is our worst enemy, I think."

On the terrorist threat: "... I think it's true when President Bush tells us each day that we are suffering the high risks of being attacked by terrorism. It's true. And terrorism made the Iraq war, and they perhaps may -- today or tomorrow, I don't know -- invade some Latin American country. It's a tradition of the terrorist, imperialist power in the world. Who knows? We are not safe. You are not safe. Nobody is safe from a possible attack from this machine of war, this big structure we have built -- they have built, in a global dimension. This $2,600 million spent each day to kill other people, this machine of killing peoples, devouring the world resources, eating the world resources each day. So this is a terrorist structure indeed, and we are in danger, so President Bush is right, I think. We are suffering a terrorist menace."

May 20 2006 | | | Permalink

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“ If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn't it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long? ”
Gloria Steinem

May 19 2006

On becoming a fruitarian

Momentary lapse into geekdom, but it has to be said ...

After having lived for 23 years with the idea that a computer is just a tool, and a computer is a computer is a computer, I've now discovered that there are computers, and there are computers. For the last two years this household has run both a Mac and a PC. The way this worked out is that the kids got to use the Mac and I got to use the PC, so I didn't get a whole lot of experience with the Mac, except for noting that the kids rarely seemed to need my help to do anything on it in contrast to the old family PC. Now, with Apple producing machines capable of running both OSX and Windows, I decided I could finally replace my mere-2-year-old-but-rapidly-ailing Toshiba laptop (which naturally started to develop problems the minute the warranty expired) with a brand new 17" MacBook Pro.

No, it's not perfect or anything mythical like that. But it is one giant leap in that direction. It all just ... well ... works. Even transferring my browser bookmarks, address book and mail folders was a breeze, and installing all the software and peripherals I use on a daily basis took a fraction of the time it's taken to do the same thing in the past on a new PC with none of the inevitable hiccups, hangs and crashes.

I now understand something of the undying loyalty these machines seem to inspire in long-term users. Seems almost a shame to put Windows on it ...

May 19 2006 | | | Permalink

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“ Visionaries of a new holistic and ecological paradigm are themselves deemed to be neurotic. They have moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you have got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience – that is the hero’s deed. ”
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

“ A child born today in the United Kingdom stands a ten times greater chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to a university ... This can be taken as an indication that we are driving our children mad more effectively than we are genuinely educating them. Perhaps it is our way of educating them that is driving them mad. ”
R D Laing, The Politics of Experience, 1970

May 03 2006

Hopelessness

Have put up a new Article of the Moment today, an essay titled "Beyond Hope" by Derrick Jensen in this month's Orion Magazine. Here's a quote:

"A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope didn't kill you. It didn't even make you less effective. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems – you ceased hoping your problems would somehow get solved through the magical assistance of God, the Great Mother, the Sierra Club, valiant tree-sitters, brave salmon, or even the Earth itself – and you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.

"When you give up on hope, something even better happens than it not killing you, which is that in some sense it does kill you. You die. And there's a wonderful thing about being dead, which is that they – those in power – cannot really touch you anymore. Not through promises, not through threats, not through violence itself. Once you're dead in this way, you can still sing, you can still dance, you can still make love, you can still fight like hell – you can still live because you are still alive, more alive in fact than ever before. You come to realize that when hope died, the you who died with the hope was not you, but was the you who depended on those who exploit you, the you who believed that those who exploit you will somehow stop on their own, the you who believed in the mythologies propagated by those who exploit you in order to facilitate that exploitation. The socially constructed you died. The civilized you died. The manufactured, fabricated, stamped, molded you died. The victim died.

"And who is left when that you dies? You are left. Animal you. Naked you. Vulnerable (and invulnerable) you. Mortal you. Survivor you. The you who thinks not what the culture taught you to think but what you think. The you who feels not what the culture taught you to feel but what you feel. The you who is not who the culture taught you to be but who you are. The you who can say yes, the you who can say no. The you who is a part of the land where you live. The you who will fight (or not) to defend your family. The you who will fight (or not) to defend those you love. The you who will fight (or not) to defend the land upon which your life and the lives of those you love depends. The you whose morality is not based on what you have been taught by the culture that is killing the planet, killing you, but on your own animal feelings of love and connection to your family, your friends, your landbase – not to your family as self-identified civilized beings but as animals who require a landbase, animals who are being killed by chemicals, animals who have been formed and deformed to fit the needs of the culture."

This dovetails very nicely with the principles underlying the last entry here (emphasising a relativistic philosophical perspective being underlined by the current proving). Once again it's about finding each individual's own inate genius, a word with connotations so rarified and exceptional that we've now come to disassociate the majority of humanity from anything to do with it. Yet its origins reveal a different sense.The English word derives from the Latin genius "guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation, wit, talent," or better "procreative divinity, inborn tutelary spirit, innate quality", from root of gignere "beget, produce", from the Proto-Indo-European base gen- "produce". Meaning "person of natural intelligence or talent" first recorded 1649 (Online Etymological Dictionary).

So in its original meaning, "genius" is basically an expression of the natural unconditioned essential self which is how the 19th century German homeopath Baron Clemens von Bönninghausen used the term when referring to the fundamental characteristic nature of a substance; the genius of a remedy.

May 03 2006 | | | Permalink

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smeddum.net – Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard