Save money, stop wasting funds on alternative malarkey

If alternative medicine had any evidence about it, we’d all just call it medicine. Unfortunately, most of the people within the alt-scam are good at lying. They’re good at making people think they have something to actually offer, when in reality they’re a bunch of anti-science quacks. That’s why it’s unlikely the alt-med scene is where we can start saving funds for real scientific research. But it’s also why we should be saving funds there.

This past week, President Obama called on all federal agencies to voluntarily propose budget cuts of 5%. Well, Mr. President, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a way for you to cut the National Institutes of Health budget without hurting biomedical research. In fact, it will help.

Here’s my proposal: save over $240 million per year in the NIH budget by cutting all funding for the two centers that fund alternative medicine research–the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Both of them exist primarily to promote pseudoscience. For the current year, NCCAM’s budget is $128.8 million, an amount that has rapidly grown from $2 million in 1992, despite the fact that not a single “alternative” therapy supported by NCCAM has proven beneficial to health. OCCAM’s budget was $121 million in 2008 (the latest I could find) and presumably higher in 2010. That’s over $240M, not counting money these programs got from the stimulus package (and yes, they did get some stimulus funding).

Whereas anti-science, Republican/teabagging mooks like Sarah Palin can’t see the value in fruit fly research, pseudoscientific organizations like the OCCAM and NCCAM are managing to bleed funds from worthwhile scientific research (like that done on fruit flies). And they’re doing it on some of the silliest programs imaginable.

These two organizations use our tax dollars – and take money away from real biomedical research – to support some of the most laughable pseudoscience that you can find. To take just one example, NCCAM has spent $3.1 million supporting studies of Reiki, an “energy healing” method. Energy healing is based on the unsupported claim that the human body is surrounded by an energy field, and that Reiki practitioners can manipulate this field to improve someone’s health. Not surprisingly, the $3.1 million has so far failed to produce any evidence that Reiki works. But because there was never any evidence in the first place, we should never have spent precious research dollars looking into it.

It’s all a big, ugly scam.

Your genes, sleep, fruit flies, mice, and Palin

Despite the fact that she is a whiny, genuinely stupid quitter, Sarah Palin has been popping up all over the place lately. Most recently she has been spouting off some garbage that Obama wants to set up a “death panel” in the health care bill. In truth, the bill calls for discussing one’s living will (and related concerns) with a doctor, should one choose to do that. This serves to better protect the interests of the patient. Such a measure could have avoided that whole Terri Schiavo fiasco. But, again, Palin is genuinely stupid. She never knows what’s going on. She makes this clear – literally – every single time she publicly speaks. She was especially clear when she said some remarkably stupid things about fruit fly research during the campaign season. I mention all this because of some recent research which relied on fruit flies*, and which can have a direct impact on the health of people.

Scientists have discovered the first gene involved in regulating the optimal length of human sleep, offering a window into a key aspect of slumber, an enigmatic phenomenon that is critical to human physical and mental health.

The article is well worth the read, and will probably give a fuller picture than I’m going to give. It’s all about a gene which has some seemingly minor variations, yet these variations (alleles) can drastically affect the health of the carrier.

The researchers found that mutated versions of the gene can affect the time some people go to bed, wake up, and how well they physically, emotionally, and mentally perform throughout the day. For instance, most people need roughly 8 hours of sleep a night, but one gene variant allows some to get back on 6 hours while not experiencing adverse consequences to their health.

And of course, this research was possible due to the contributions of various mice and fruit flies. When researchers would find a particular variant of this gene, they would ‘tinker’ with the same gene in these test subjects and measure the effects. One finding was that genetically engineered mice would compensate far less for sleep deprivation than would the control mice.

It isn’t clear yet exactly what it is about this gene (DEC2) which triggers the change in sleep need, but it may be that it makes protein transcription weaker, but other explanations are possible until more research is done.

*What genetic research doesn’t rely on fruit flies these days?

Health care

The Republicans seem to only be able to lie about Obama’s health care bill. Palin, Limbaugh, Carr, Hannity, and all the other conservative morons are out there lying, claiming that the government is going to set up a death panel. What’s more, they are under the false impression the United States has the best health care in the world. It does not. In fact, the World Health Organization ranked it 37th in 2000.

1 France
2 Italy
3 San Marino
4 Andorra
5 Malta
6 Singapore
7 Spain
8 Oman
9 Austria
10 Japan
11 Norway
12 Portugal
13 Monaco
14 Greece
15 Iceland
16 Luxembourg
17 Netherlands
18 United Kingdom
19 Ireland
20 Switzerland
21 Belgium
22 Colombia
23 Sweden
24 Cyprus
25 Germany
26 Saudi Arabia
27 United Arab Emirates
28 Israel
29 Morocco
30 Canada
31 Finland
32 Australia
33 Chile
34 Denmark
35 Dominica
36 Costa Rica
37 United States of America
38 Slovenia

I’m not sure which is more embarrassing, this or United States’ evolution ranking.

Sigh. McCain.

So John McCain is at it again. Not satisfied with the sending of his inept running mate out into the big evil world of science and reality a few months back, McCain has decided to wade in to the pool himself – and he’s just as over his head as Palin was.

On Wednesday, McCain himself grabbed for the fruit-fly swatter at a press conference to unveil his new anti-earmark legislation.

After a long takedown of research into lobsters by the University of Maine that involves a “Lobster Cam,” McCain, a Senator from Arizona, turned on the fruit flies, saying, “also, there’s one in Paris that — yes — $212,000 for Olive Fruit Fly research in Paris, France.”

It’s pretty well established how important fruit fly research is in science. Given his lack of familiarity with the field, his election would have been as devastating to science as the past 8 years. But now he has decided to pick on lobster research, in my home state, no less. Personally, I’m not a fan of these sea cockroaches. However, I do enjoy the boost they give to the Maine economy. McCain apparently does not. He apparently believes citing a lobster cam shows how much of a MAVERICK!!! he is about pork-barrel spending. The truth is much more interesting.

This research by the University of Maine is done through its Lobster Institute, an organization devoted to the health of the Maine lobster industry. It is through this organization, not the $188,000 grant, that the lobster cam is funded. The grant money, on the other hand, goes toward “research of microbial diseases that devastate lobster stocks”.

I don’t know about any other readers, but I personally prefer politicians from Arizona to stay out of vital sectors of my state’s economy. More importantly, I prefer them to stay out of science if it is only utter ignorance they are able to profess.

Lobster Institute

Happy Thanksgiving

Palin is an idiot

Scientists Endorse Obama

An Open Letter to the American People

The year’s presidential election is among the most significant in our nation’s history. The country urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness.

We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader, and we urge you to join us in supporting him.

During the administration of George W. Bush, vital parts of our country’s scientific enterprise have been damaged by stagnant or declining federal support. The government’s scientific advisory process has been distorted by political considerations. As a result, our once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk. We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy.

We have watched Senator Obama’s approach to these issues with admiration. We especially applaud his emphasis during the campaign on the power of science and technology to enhance our nation’s competitiveness. In particular, we support the measures he plans to take – through new initiatives in education and training, expanded research funding, an unbiased process for obtaining scientific advice, and an appropriate balance of basic and applied research – to meet the nation’s and world’s most urgent needs.

Senator Obama understands that Presidential leadership and federal investments in science and technology are crucial elements in successful governance of the world’s leading country. We hope you will join us as we work together to ensure his election in November.

Clicking on the link will show the signatures 76 Nobelists, 3 of which are winners from this year.

It doesn’t help that McCain and Palin deride scientific research into bear DNA in Montana, fruit fly research critical to olive grove crops in California, and the use of an “overhead projector” which would bring Chicago’s planetarium up to date with those in L.A. and NYC, not to mention that fact that one of these two scientifically illiterate mooks doesn’t think understanding climate change is important toward stopping it.

Palin and Science

Sarah Palin is spouting off again on science. She still has no idea what she’s talking about.

You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.

Here are some links from the first search page on Search term “fruit flies”.

In Lean Times, Flies Can’t Survive Without Their Sense Of Smell
For Best Pest Detection, Suit The Attractant To The Fruit Fly
Bar Flies: Fruit Flies Searching For Shut Eye: Possible ‘Sleep Gene’ Identified
The Good And The Bad Of A Potential Alzheimer’s Target
Fruit Flies Learn and Remember Better When Lacking One Receptor
Human Aging Gene Found In Flies
Like Sweets? You’re More Like A Fruit Fly Than You Think
One Missing Gene Leads To Fruitless Mating Rituals

Fruit fly - Science Daily

There are another 45 pages of results.

Update: I just found a little more info on this earmark. Numbers range from $211,000 to $826,000 (the reason for the discrepancy is unclear). This link gives the upper range. The point of the research seems to specifically rely upon saving California’s olive groves – not that Sarah Palin had any idea, nor that it would have mattered if this was even some of the research into fruit flies that goes to understanding autism.

What is a Theory and What is Not a Theory

Ever since the media (apparently not McCain) decided it would be a good idea to finally vet Sarah Palin, much has come to light. I’ll leave discussion of tax plans and foreign policy to the political boards, but there is one thing which really needs to be noted. Palin has said in the past that she thinks both evolution and creationism should be taught, referring to them as theories. She later backed off that statement. In the past couple of months, she further clarified her position:

Couric: Should creationism be allowed to be taught anywhere in public schools?

Palin: Don’t have a problem at all with kids debating all sides of theories, all sides of ideas that they ever – kids do it today whether … it’s on paper, in a curriculum or not. Curriculums also are best left to the local school districts. Instead of Big Brother, federal government telling a district what they can and can’t teach, I would like to see more control taken over by our school boards, by our local schools, and then state government at the most. But federal government, you know, kind of get out of some of this curriculum and let the locals decide what is best for their students.

To any person remotely familiar with science, there should be a glaring initial error in that statement. It doesn’t have to do with the merits of debating evolution, but with this notion that there are alternative theories to evolution. Given the context of what Palin has said in the past in addition to her beliefs, it’s overwhelmingly clear she has it in her head that creationism is somehow a theory. Insofar as my theory that ice cream is great can be considered a theory, yes, creationism is a theory. But it is not in any way a scientific theory. The requirements to reach this high level are rigorous. For starters, what predictions does creationism make? What experiments can be carried out to falsify the hypothesis? Can others repeat these experiments? Are there other plausible explanations? Are there better explanations?

In the case of evolution, we see predictions a-plenty being made. We could easily falsify the hypothesis by finding a rabbit in the pre-Cambrian. And we can culture any number of species and see how they adapt to their environments. In truth, the evidence is far more overwhelming, far more testable, far more falsifiable, and far more concrete than I’ve just touched on here. But that’s a question for later. The question here is, why doesn’t the daughter of a science teacher know the difference between a layman theory and a scientific theory? Hell, why doesn’t an educated adult know this?

The truth is evolution is the backbone to every field of biology. It is what creates a coherent picture. From nucleic acids to substrates fitting active sites to differential survival of members of a population, evolution provides the only sensical view of life from its beginnings – and it has yet to be falsified to any point that isn’t merely a shaping and strengthening of the theory. Sarah Palin should know better.