Evidence Based Healthcare and Baseball

Love the Op Ed piece in the Friday New York Times entitled “How to take American Healthcare from Worst to First.”  First, one reason I love this article is it is discussing how we need to move to more “Evidence Based” medicine.  You may be amazed to know that much of medicine is not evidence based but that is the sad truth.  When I first heard about how not all medicine was evidence based medicine (in a talk by David Cox when I was a grad. student) I was blown away.  Anyway, the article is worth a read from this point of view.  

More amazingly is the author list — Billy Beane (general manager of the Oakland A’s), Newt Gingrich, and John Kerry.  What a combination.  They make the argument that medicine needs a wholesale change in the way it is done just like baseball is shifting to more evidence based decisions.  It is a nice analogy.  Too bad the current administration believes that simply thinking about something is the equivalent to evidence.  And also too bad that McCain-Palin seem to be following in the trend of Bush to not hold “evidence” in high regard.  I wonder what Newt (who is a big science and technology advocate) thinks of the recent anti-science push of the Republicans in power.

McCain Palin going after fruit flies

As if scientists did not have enough reasons to vote against McCain-Palin who seem to have decided that Bush was overly supportive of science. Now Palin is attacking of all things “fruit-fly research.” Lovely. Proof that they are both clueless (not knowing what a fruit fly is probably) and anti-science at the same time. For more on this see:

Sarah Palin’s Still Dangerous Views on Teaching Evolution

Well, Palin has clearly revised her public position on teaching evolution. In part of her interview with Katie Couric it was addressed (I got the transcript here. )

Couric: Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or one of several theories?

Palin: Oh, I think it should be taught as an accepted principle. And, you know, I say that also as the daughter of a school teacher, a science teacher, who has really instilled in me a respect for science. It should be taught in our schools. And I won’t ever deny that I see the hand of God in this beautiful creation that is Earth, especially coming from one of the most beautiful states in the Union and traveling around this country also in this last month. My goodness, just seeing, you know, the beautiful landscape of New Mexico recently. That was just breath taking and seeing the rolling hills in Virginia and all … the beauty that is this Earth, I see the hand of God in that. But that is not part of state policy or a local curriculum in a school district. Science should be taught in science class.

Sounds promising right? I mean, previously, she seemed to be wishy washy on the separation of science and religion and now she seems to be trying to do the right thing. But just when you might have thought the anti-science part of her was winning out, look at her response to the next question:

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.

This basically follows the script of the Intelligent Design supporters who have been pushing for changes in the education curriculum by local school boards. And it is pretty dangerous in my mind. There should be separation of church and state. Period. At the federal level. At the state level. And at the local level. And this is clearly an attempt to circumvent that concept. So – Palin is towing toeing the ID line here pretty closely and who knows who what havoc she would wreak on science in this country if she were elected. McCain-Palin is starting to look more anti-science than Bush-Cheney, hard as that is for scientists to imagine.

See my earlier post on Palin and evolution here.

Science Faux Pas #4: Nature wishes their dog ate this advertisement

I know others have written about this already but I had to add this to my collection of Science Faux Pas because it is pretty good.  Nature had a recent issue that was covering the US election.  And look at the front and back cover … they claim it was an accident but hard to imagine given the posing/color matching.  I note I first heard about this from Bora on FriendFeed. And now the Times Online has a whole story on it.

Obama on Teaching Evolution

I finally found what appears to be a credible reference to Obama’s views on teaching evolution. In an April Blog from the Dallas Morning News they quote the York Daily Record:

He was asked about the teaching of intelligent design and evolution in public schools. His response: 

I’m a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state. But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith. That doesn’t make faith any less important than science. It just means they’re two different things. And I think it’s a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don’t hold up to scientific inquiry.

McCain seems to have gone silent on this issue although I have pointed out that in the past that he was clear about science being taught in science classes. Seems like he is trying to steer clear of this issue. What ever happened to the straight talking McCain?

Charles Darwin Endorses Obama as the "Natural Selection"


Charles Darwin, famous for his work on the evolution of species, has announced that he is endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for President of the United States. Darwin through his family website said

“I have been watching the election in the States closely from my resting place. And though I like both Clinton and McCain in some ways, Obama is the clear choice from an evolutionary perspective.”

Darwin has not endorsed a political candidate since Churchill and has never weighed in on elections in the US. He went on to say

“With all the trouble in the US over evolution, they need a strong candidate that embodies what evolution is all about. In this respect he is the natural selection. He stands for change and for survival. Plus he is the strongest advocate for science among the bunch”

Representatives from the Clinton camp would not discuss the endorsement on the record but one who asked to not be named since they were not authorized to discuss the issue said

“You know, we tried to reason with Charlie about this. We even got Bill to send some messages his way. But in the end, there is no changing the minds of some people, especially the dead.”

Obama was thrilled. He said

“Since I was a little boy, I have been fascinated by dinosaurs. And I have carried that with me to today, where I am a strong supporter of having science education be independent of religion. I cannot think of a better person to get behind my candidacy.”

Other deceased scientists are also considering endorsing candidates but none had made an announcement as of press time.

Kofi Annan urges restrictions onf biotechnology

Reuters is reporting on a speech by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, in which he

warned of “catastrophic” results if recent advances in biotechnology, including gene manipulation and work with viruses, fell into the wrong hands.

He also said

“We lack an international system of safeguards to manage those risks,” he said. “Scientists may do their best to follow rules for responsible conduct of research. But efforts to harmonize these rules on a global level are outpaced by the galloping advance of science itself.”

He even suggests that the time is ripe for international governing bodies much like was done for nuclear energy in the 1950s. Is this a ploy to use the current animosity towards biotechnology in Europe to give the UN something new to do? Clearly, the US would not sign on to such things with the current administration (or probably any administration). But I certainly find it interesting that he is pushing this. I wonder if he is specifically worried about synthetic biology too or if this is just more concern for genetic engineering in general.

Science Lobbying – The role of science in politics and vice versa – Scientists and Engineers for America

I listened to a very interesting Science Friday Podcast today (I listen to them on my bike rides to/from work here in Davis, CA, the most bike friendly town in which I have ever lived). This particular podcast had as one of the guests Susan F. Wood. Some people may remember that she resigned from a top job at the FDA over what she felt was politics getting in the way of good science.

Well, rather than disappear as some higher ups in the executive branch do after quitting, she has jumped into a whole new realm. She has helped start a group called Scientists and Engineers for America. Their aim is to help elect to office people

who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy

from the NY Times article about this.

They have even created a “bill of rights” for scientists. Among the rights they include:

  1. Federal policy shall be made using the best available science and analysis both from within the government and from the rest of society.
  2. The federal government shall never intentionally publish false or misleading scientific information nor post such material on federal websites.
  3. Scientists conducting research or analysis with federal funding shall be free to discuss and publish the results of unclassified research after a reasonable period of review without fear of intimidation or adverse personnel action.
  4. Federal employees reporting what they believe to be manipulation of federal research and analysis for political or ideological reasons should be free to bring this information to the attention of the public and shall be protected from intimidation, retribution or adverse personnel action by effective enforcement of Whistle Blower laws.
  5. No scientists should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of their research.
  6. Appointments to federal scientific advisory committees shall be based on the candidate’s scientific qualifications, not political affiliation or ideology.
  7. The federal government shall not support any science education program that includes instruction in concepts that are derived from ideology and not science.
  8. While scientists may elect to withhold methods or studies that might be misused there shall be no federal prohibition on publication of basic research results. Decisions made about blocking the release of information about specific applied research and technologies for reasons of national security shall be the result of a transparent process. Classification decisions shall be made by trained professionals using a clear set of published criteria and there shall be a clear process for challenging decisions and a process for remedying mistakes and abuses of the classification system.

I confess to being a little worried that they may become too partisan and to be effective I think they should try to be as non partisan as possible (although there is no doubt that the current administration has violated more of the items in their bill of rights than probably any previous administration). Neverthless, this sounds like a great idea and hopefully they can help increase the use of science in decision making.

To sign up go to http://www.sefora.org/

John McCain on Evolution

Just got very interested in reports of a Q&A session John McCain had a the Aspen Music Festival, as reported in the Aspen Times here. He was apparently, his normal self. Most interesting to me is his quote in response to a question about evolution

“I think Americans should be exposed to every point of view,” he said. “I happen to believe in evolution. … I respect those who think the world was created in seven days. Should it be taught as a science class? Probably not.”

It’s too bad more of the Republican party is not like him on this issue. I would bet he really cannot stand Bush but he has been trying to be a little more policial recently and thus has not said anything too critical. But it is good to know that at least one (and maybe only one) of the possible Republican candidates for president is not as anti-science as the core of the party seems to be these days.