Monday, June 20, 2005

Deny

Just another conspiracy theory book, so why do I link to it? Well, because the author isn't some wacky American with a college degree bought for $5 over the internet, but a friend of mine, a guy I lived with for a year in college (and he despises the term "another conspiracy theory"!). Here's a link to his own website. The book hasn't been released yet but he tells me it's due soon. He's pretty much attempting to write a Fast Food Nation of American medicine. Now I'm not going to bash the bloke behind his back (I don't tell anyone I know that I keep a blog) but I will point out that, while I was dossing my way to a science degree, Niall was earning a BComm, which isn't exactly the education you require if you decide to write an exposé of modern science or modern medicine or modern food production.

I remember, about 5-years ago, seeing Niall for the first time in about a year and he looked fantastic - he'd lost weight, had a great colour and just radiated good health. He had been converted from a pizza chewing layabout by one of Ireland's biggest quacks, Tony Quinn. Now Niall could never be accused of doing things in half measures and he had subscribed to the Tony Quinn philosophy in full, spending huge amounts on food supplements, reading the books, listening to tapes, doing certain exercises and eschewing many foods. However I was pretty convinced, and I told him this, that his new diet (pretty much a combination of Atkins and GI - lots of lean meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, no flour, no dairy and no coffee or tea) and the extra exercise were probably doing the work more so than the books and supplemements but, as I say, he had been converted.

My own brush with Tony Quinn came when I was a teenager and was quite depressed with my acne. My mother had been told that liver supplements from Tony Quinn's store would help and bought them. I think I was supposed to swallow a dozen pills a day, or something, after food. Anyway all they did was make me throw up. A year later, and after six months taking Roaccutane, a clinically proven pharmaceutical compound, my acne had cleared up. There have been scares about Roaccutane, it has been blamed for teenage depression and suicide based on coincidental evidence alone, so I find the statement on that website both succinct and apt - "There is a great deal of inaccurate and misleading information about medications on the internet written by people without medical/healthcare training."

Shortly after I saw Niall that time he was made redundant by the IT firm he worked for in Dublin and moved to California. Next thing I knew he was writing the book. What set him off was the belief that big Pharma is suppressing natural cancer treatments to maintain their own profits and from there he moved on to his other targets as can be seen on the website. I do believe that he's researched the topics he says he has, and I have yet to read the book, but the truth is (and I haven't told him this) is that his lack of a scientific rooting has clearly led him to cherry-pick the studies that suit his opinions without applying the necessary rigour of the good experimentalist or analyst. Niall himself has said that studies can prove anything you want them to, which is true, but only if you lack the analytical skills to tease such studies apart, which is most of us, hence the new-age nonsense that is becoming more and more mainstream.

I want Niall to succeed as a friend and I don't want him humiliated when more informed people inevitably attack his findings, but I despair that yet more people will believe these scare stories. It's one thing suggesting that, for example, mobile phone use is harmful because not using a mobile phone hardly matters but when the logic is extended to, for example, vaccines and children start getting nasty, dangerous and wholly preventable diseases like measles because their parents are taken in by people who don't know what they're talking about then that is dangerous and needs to be stopped.

When will the scientific community strike back?...
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