Biased Science?

October 18, 2012

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BPA is bad for you, we’ve been told.  It was banned from baby bottles in the US and Canada.  Then came an even bigger scare – a study that showed that a mother eating food packaged in BPA could cause lower thyroid levels in boys!

The something funny happened.  Concerned parent Sarah points out that the government of Canada released a study that says that consuming products packaged in BPA does not cause a health risk.

Sarah asks whom we would trust – the researcher who is dependent on grant money or the government of Canada.

I’ll take this even a step further and point out the existence of what is known as “publication bias”.  The studies that appear in journals – and thus are far more likely to end up in the mainstream media or be noticed by legislators – are more likely to be the results that are shocking or unexpected.

For example, let’s say that we’re studying whether or not drinking a quart of orange juice every day can prevent the growth of tumors.  Ninety nine studies do not show any link, but one study appears to show that drinking the orange juice does indeed prevent the tumors from growing.  Guess which one is going to end up in a scientific journal?  Certainly not one of the boring ones – the one with the surprising result is going to be published.

A basic concept with science is that an experiment must be repeatable by other scientists before the results can be considered valid.  This is to prevent unrelated factors (such as human error) from creating the result. 

The same concept applies to scientific studies.  When one study appears to shop a certain result, it’s very difficult to know of this is causation or merely correlation.  It’s possible that the result could be attributed to other factors, or even to selection bias.  In our hypothetical orange juice – cancer study, perhaps the control group and experimental group were located in different geographical areas.  The OJ drinkers received treatment at one hospital whereas the non-drinkers received treatment at another.  It’s possible that the OJ doctors were simply more effective in treating cancer, and that the orange juice really had no effect.

In a nutshell, exercise caution when you read about scientific studies.  Check to see if there have been other studies on the topic, and check to see what the results of those studies were.  Look at the entire body of work on the topic, in other words, and not just one study.  We’re in an age where we research topics with just a click of the mouse.  Put that power to work for you and become more educated on the topics you care about!

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Baby Joseph, Government Healthcare, and Death Panels

March 3, 2011

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Welcome to Canada! We have free healthcare for our citizens. We spare no expense to give them whatever surgery or care we deem necessary. That being said, if we don’t think the treatment is necessary we are not going to pay for it. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? It sounds a lot like what we have been promised in the United States doesn’t?

Think back to 2010 and the US healthcare bill that was passed….the one that we had to pass to find out what was in it. There was talk of death panels; some secret panel that would be created which would decide whether or not the government would allow a procedure. There were a lot of people making fun of conservatives for thinking this was possible.

Well, over the last week, we’ve probably all heard about Baby Joseph. Baby Joseph is a 13 month old child to Moe Maraachli and Sara Nader of Windsor, Canada. Unfortunately, Baby Joseph is suffering from a serious neurological disorder. The Canadian hospital wants to take the baby off the ventilator which would lead to his death in minutes. The child’s parents want him to receive a tracheotomy which will extend his life by possibly as much as six months. They would then like to take him home where he can live out the remainder of his short life. A tracheotomy is a procedure in which a small incision is made on the front of the neck allowing a small air tube to be inserted.

Parents…none of us should have to bury our children. Unfortunately, we know it sometimes happens. This family is now faced with a struggle of unimaginable proportions. The baby has the ability to live longer if something simple like a tracheotomy is given to him. That would buy the family additional weeks if not months to spend time with their child yet the hospital is refusing the procedure.

My mom suffered a brain aneurysm 10 months ago. I was told in the emergency room that my mom was going to die. We had her life flighted to a specialty hospital in Denver and they saved her life. Today she is recovered and is doing wonderfully. The surgeon told me in the days following her surgery that these miralces won’t happen after the new healthcare system is implemented. He said that there WILL be red tape, reviews, more control over who receives what services. I really hope he’s wrong though because God, the medical staff and that hospital are the reasons that I can still hug my mom today. I hope that the future families are as blessed as we are.

Some readers may know who Brock Lesnar is. If you don’t he’s the former heavyweight Ultimate Fighting Champion and a fan favorite. In 2009 he became very ill and had extreme abdominal pain. He sought emergency help at a Canadian medical facility and when he felt as though he wasn’t getting any help he asked his wife to quickly drive him back to the United States for health care. He went to the Mayo Clinic and was found to have a severe case of diverticulitis. His intestine had perforated allowing feces to leak into his body. Today, Lesnar criticizes the Canadian healthcare system and has urged President Obama and the lawmakers to repeal the changes. He cites his experience as a key reason. He refers to the Canadian facility as providing 3rd world medical care and praises his wife for saving his life by taking him back to the US for treatment.

I know everyone reading this will have other examples that they’ve heard. Brock Lesnar, while a great athlete and a fit individual, is not without controversy. However, don’t let that take away from his message.

Baby Joseph though? How could any of us put ourselves in the shoes of his parents and criticize them for wanting to spend a little more time with their child? The Canadian hospital has gone so far as to take this matter to the Canadian court where Joseph’s parents were ordered by the Canadian government to allow removal of the life support so that their child would die. Is that what we’ve signed up for with government run healthcare?

I recently found an article posted on another blog (medibid). The article was written by a Canadian physician. I urge you to take five minutes to read it. He talks a little about the rationing of healthcare and the consequences that he saw personally.

For now, we have government healthcare ramping up for its effective date. We need to make sweeping changes or we will see situations like the ones that Baby Joseph and Brock Lesnar experienced; but these will be happening right here in the US. This is not what the people of the US wanted but I’m certain it’s what we’re all going to get.

BTW, did Charlie Sheen really test clean? No drugs or booze? Maybe he is just high on Charlie. Nahhhhhhh.

A Solo Adventure

January 31, 2010

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In 2001, I set off on a long, solo vacation.  This was the longest vacation of my life at that point, in terms of both distance and elapsed time.

I was really excited about the trip and got very little sleep the night before I was scheduled to leave.  Eventually, I just packed the car, ate a quick breakfast at Denny’s, and hit the road.  I wasn’t much of a morning person by then, but I was on the road by about 5 AM.  470 miles later, I pulled up to my hotel in Canton, Ohio.  I had made really good time on the trip.  In spite of it being an hour later in Ohio (different time zone), I managed to arrive at the hotel before my room was ready.  I was pretty tired from the road and didn’t do too much that night.

The next day, I went to the football Hall of Fame in Canton.  Honestly, I was not overly impressed.  If you’re a hard core NFL fan, it might be worth the effort to go.  If you’re a casual fan, I’m not sure.  I did pick up some nice Vikings socks in the gift shop.

That I drove to Akron to catch an Aeros (class AA) baseball game.  I had purchased tickets months in advance, which was good. It was bobblehead night (Sean Casey), and the place was absolutely packed. I had a seat right behind home plate (4-5 rows back, I think). The ticket cost maybe $15?  Nice stadium.

Early the next morning, I hit the road again.  That afternoon, I arrived in the hamlet of Cooperstown, New York – home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  Earlier in the year, I had become a supporter of the Hall of Fame.  Once nice benefit was that the membership card gave me unlimited free entry to the Hall of Fame.  I made a cursory review that Sunday afternoon.  I spent two more days digesting the museum in greater detail.  I saw the contract that sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, a priceless T-206 Honus Wagner card, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski’s masters thesis (not a great writer, in my opinion –  at least not at that stage of his life), and countless artifacts of the game.  Unlike many halls of fame, the baseball hall of fame encompasses all aspects of the sport – not just Major League Baseball.

One of the things I really liked was the exhibit of awards.  There were quite a few MVP and Cy Young awards on display.  I could feel a connection to the award winning athlete, imagining how they felt when they won the award.  Two of  Tom Seaver’s Cy Youngs were on display.  Something that struck me as odd was that one was perfectly shiny while the silver on the other had become tarnished over time.  Was this the result of a different quality of metal being used in those two years?

On Wednesday, I checked out of the Hickory Grove Motor Inn (leaving behind an audio book for the friendly women behind the front desk).  Be forewarned – it is advisable to make hotel reservations far in advance of your trip.  Cooperstown is quite small (around 2000 people) and there aren’t too many large cities in the area.  Why this location?  Because of the since-descredited story that civil war general Abner Doubleday invented the game in a nearby cow pasture.

On the way back west, I saw a sign for Niagara Falls.  It was only about 15 miles out of the way, so I decided to go there.  I wasn’t really expecting very much.  After all, it’s just a bunch of water going over a hill, right?  Wow, I was very impressed.  If you go to Niagara Falls, make sure to go to the Canadian side.  You get a much better view from the Canadian side – you’re looking at the Falls from in front of them instead of a more awkward angle on the US side.  I could have spent more time there (and a few years later, did spend more time there with my wife), but I had a long drive to complete.

At the end of the day, I found myself back in Ohio – this time in Sandusky.  Sandusky is home to Cedar Point amusement park.  This was my first exposure to Cedar Point, and I was completely blown away (full review here).  Regardless of what type of roller coaster you like, they probably have it.  I was there on a Thursday and Friday, when crowds were pretty reasonable.

All good things eventually come to an end, and I hit the road on Friday afternoon and arrived back home in Illinois very late that night – just in time to attend my niece’s college graduation the next day.

I got to see a decent chunk of the country, and had a great time at every spot along the way.   I also gained a lot of appreciation for audio books during the trip.  Nelson DeMille’s The Lion’s Game (review here) was with me on this trip.  The unabridged edition is a hefty 25 hours!  The book has a great plot (I’ve listened to it about a half dozen time since) and made the time pass very quickly.

What about you?  Which solo trip did you enjoy the most?

Why Winnipeg?

August 9, 2009

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In what should be the first of a series of “promoting” some Canadian tourist destinations, I figured I’d start with one that is a challenge: my current city of residence, Winnipeg. Winnipeg is often the butt of jokes from Canadians (an air miles commercial comes to mind where the guy took the wrong flight and instead of Hawaii he ended up going to Winnipeg and was very unhappy) mainly for its weather. In winter, it can reach as low as -50 celsius and in summer as high as +35 celsius. The city is about a 20 minute drive west of the centre point of Canada. I view this as a bonus, as it makes it easier to access the different cities in the country. Anyways, here are some of the specifics which I think make Winnipeg stand out:

MTS Centre: One of the 10 busiest venues in North America each year since it opened, it has helped attract some big names in terms or performances and concerts. I have enjoyed Cirque do Soleil, Oasis, numerous hockey games, Disney on Ice, etc. The building will turn five years old this fall, but remains a bright spot in the city’s downtown area. With plenty of parking surrounding it, the arena has helped revitalized the downtown core.

The Forks: An area of the city on the Red River packed with history, is also the future home of the Canadian Human Rights Museum which is slated to open in spring of 2012. There are plenty of old stores, restaurants, the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball stadium, and a long walkway along the river for anyone’s enjoyment. I sort of fashion it to the Navy Pier in Chicago.

Cultural Events: Every summer there is an exciting and diverse list of festivals that every Winnipegger can look forward to. There is the two week long Fringe Festival, packed full of small plays and shows in many small venues that cost only $5-10 to attend. This festival brings acts from all over North America. Currently going on is the two week Folklorama, which showcases over 40 pavilions with countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, El Salvador, Cuba, Mexico and many others. Each pavilion provides entertainment, history, food and more which give the visitor a real taste of that country. Folk Fest runs for five days in July at Bird’s Hill Park and gives people a chance to tent out and enjoy their favourite musicians. Elvis Costello and Ani DiFranco were notable performers this year. Countryfest, which is a yearly set of concerts in Dauphin (a short drive west of Winnipeg) also brings some big names up north for country music fans. This event always sells out and sells out early, and featured names this year such as Tim McGraw, The Roadhammers, Charlie Major, and many more.

Proximity to Stuff: Want to visit our neighbours to the south to feel what life in the States is like? Grand Forks is a mere two hour drive south. Want to see Mall of America and all of the major sports leagues? Minneapolis is just a 6 hour drive southeast. Want to spend time at the lake, go to a beach? Well then you are talking about 30-120 minutes worth of driving, in basically every direction. Heck even Chicago, Edmonton and Calgary can be done in a 12 hour drive. If you like road trips, there are lots of great things to see and do in only a day’s drive.

I guess what motivated me to write this is a story in the news this week about how tourism in the city is down a fair bit this year. Now obviously the weather has something to do with this (8 months in a row of below average temperatures) but also the new law put into place in June where you must have a passport to cross the US/Canada border by car. With many Americans not having bothered to obtain a passport, this has hit hard up here. I encourage Americans (and Canadians for that matter) to go and get this, and experience the many great places that are not really that far from home.