Now accepting bitcoins.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Horrible Diagram of the Month

Above is a horrible diagram. The purpose of the diagram is to say that we should be able to spend more money researching Lyme, as compared to Zika.

I'm sure you have that one friend who is attuned to a specific disease, which may have stricken a friend or family member. About half of what they post on Facebook is somehow related to that disease. It is fine to draw attention to a cause that you care about, but please don't post graphics like this.

  • On the left, they are showing that a lot more people have Lyme than Zika. The graph loses all credibility here, since the 388 bar appears to be about 10% the size of the 329,000 bar. Of course, neither axis is labeled so your guess is as good as mine.
  • On the right, they are saying that $24 million is spent in research funding on Lyme and $1.9 billion on Zika. No sources are cited. Again the scale is way off. Is that figure per year? Past? Future? What country? Why are dollars being shown on the same axis as people? I find it hard to believe that there is 100 times the funding for Zika as for Lyme. I believe this chart came out right after the government announced that they would be spending $1.9 billion on Zika research. There is likely a lot of money that is spent by the CDC on Lyme and related diseases, that is not specifically earmarked for Lyme.
  • Most importantly - shouldn't the experts decide how to allocate our spending on disease? It does not seem that number of cases is the best way to allocate research. There are a lot more cases of twisted ankles than there are of Cervical Cancer, for example. Although there are not that many Zika cases reported to date, unlike Lyme it can be spread by human contact. So I can see where we might want to do some research up front to prevent an outbreak that could dwarf the number of Lyme cases within just a few years. There is also legitimate debate as to whether Chronic Lyme Disease is even a real medical condition. It is not clear whether the graphic above includes the imaginary Chronic Lyme Disease, or just Lyme Disease (an actual condition).

Monday, May 23, 2016

NECSS 2016

Last week, we attended the eighth annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) held in New York City sponsored by the  New York City Skeptics and the New England Skeptical Society.  We met interesting people and engaged in many conversations about science and critical thinking.

The meeting kicked-off with a day of talks about science-based medicine, including critical examination of functional medicine and chronic Lyme disease. Clay Jones showed a video of a baby getting a chiropractic adjustment that made us cringe.

Highlights of the conference included a live podcast of Skeptics Guide to the Universe, featuring guest rogue Bill Nye (the Science Guy), and an entertaining keynote speech by Richard Wiseman.  Wiseman ended the second day of talks at the meeting with an experimental "speaker-less" presentation that involved the audience self-performing magic tricks and other tomfoolery.  

The conference ended with a provocative speech by John Horgan, who declared himself an outsider skeptic, with a lowercase 's',  and proceeded to bash the audience and all-things Skeptical, with a capital 'S'.  While Horgan had a potentially useful point to make, that skeptics should put more effort in tackling more challenging topics, it was mostly lost in a sea of straw man arguments and contrarianism.  Other folks (Novella, Coyne, Gorski) have done a good job of deconstructing the talk, so we won't duplicate the effort here.

Monday, May 09, 2016

What's Wrong with Science Reporting, According to John Oliver

Many false scientific beliefs start with misrepresented scientific studies over-hyped to make them more interesting to the layperson.  John Oliver does a fantastic job of explaining this phenomenon in this YouTube video:

If you watch the entire 20 minutes, you'll get to hear this gem from Al Roker, "I think the way to live your life is you find the study that sounds best to you and you go with that."

Recent studies show that this really pisses us off!