Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Science now, atheism tomorrow...

Well, here we are again, and I think it's time I gave some background to explain what I'll be blogging about and why.

Despite growing up with a pencil, paint-brush, book or guitar in my hands, I did a degree in Biomedical Sciences. I really wanted to understand why the human race was defenceless against HIV, Mad Cow disease (as it was called then), the common cold, flu, foot and mouth. In short, all the stories I read about or saw on TV that gave me no information, just opinions.

During my course, I met a great bunch of people, some of them lecturers, some professors, some were even students! And I learnt quite a bit about science too.

The main thing I was learnt at University was critical thinking. I learnt that most things, even in science, perhaps especially in science, aren't always black and white. Or to quote Ben Goldacre, (or 'Dr Ben' as I call him) "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that". And it usually is.

So, armed with this new-found weapon I returned to the real world and had a look around. A bit shocking actually. I found that it was (2000) and still is, practically impossible to find an unbiased and informative piece of journalism when it comes to the sciences and anything that is related to health or healthcare. Anywhere.

I revisited some of the scare-stories that had haunted me growing up: HIV/AIDS was made out to be on a par with Russian Roulette every time you slept with someone. Now, it seems 'it's a bit more complicated than that'. Mad Cow Disease (GJD/BSE) was the next new plague, killing all meat-eaters, or at least beef eaters. And yet the incidence of CJD is 1 per million in America, and 1 per billion for vCJD (starts in young people).

Since then, there has been a plethora of stories 'reported' by the press, media in general, and certainly TV, designed to scare the public, for no other reason than it sells newspapers and attracts viewers: SARS, Bird-Flu, MMR vaccines, Foot and Mouth, MRSA 'superbugs', E.Coli and many more, here's a selection from 2007 in the US.

Thankfully, we are not at the mercy of the mainstream media anymore. The average person can access information relating to clinical trials, read scientific papers, read blogs by respected scientists, clinicians, medical professionals. In short, anyone can find the information, even in laypersons terms, it's not that difficult anymore. If you want the information, it's available.

At the moment, to give you all a great example of how things can get crazy, here's a snippet from Dr. Ben's book, and here's a little related discussion from Orac. Slightly related.

Tomorrow's post: religion, and more science. and maybe cats. Maybe vikings, who can tell?

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