10-3-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Good News, Bad Thinking, Ugly Commentary

Having lost my father many years ago to complications from multiple sclerosis, I keep an ear out for any progress against that horrible disease. And so it is that I was heartened by a recent success in the field of stem cell research:

A group of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients have had their immune systems destroyed and then rebuilt using their own blood stem cells. Three years later, 86 percent of them have had no relapses, and 91 percent are showing no signs of MS development.
I am glad to hear about this, even though further reading shows that this is not the form of the disease that took Daddy.

That said, I am appalled that a writer from National Review has decided to twist this story into what he regards as an argument against both embryonic stem cell research and assisted suicide -- and with Sarah Hoyt of Instapundit for egging him on. In the former case, Wesley Smith misrepresents supporters of embryonic stem cell research as claiming that only embryonic stem cells offer therapeutic potential or can aid basic research. (He also appears not to understand that differences between adult and embryonic cells quite likely mean they can have non-overlapping applications.) Regarding the latter, he shows an astounding disregard for those who have endured or face years of suffering and deteriorating abilities. Thanks in part to having to witness this, both of my brothers (who unlike myself, are religious) and I are -- as Smith might put it -- part of the "'death with dignity' crowd." For his information, there would have been no "cheering" had our father the option and chosen to avail himself of it. But we would have understood and accepted such a decision.

Finally, to top it all off, Smith has the gall to sign off with an anodyne tautology to imply both stupidity and depravity on the part of his opponents. In the process, he shows a juvenile attitude towards both ethics and science. But that's par for the course with the National Review.

Weekend Reading

"Although there is no simple 'magic bullet' that will let readers separate good science reporting from bad, there some helpful principles one should remember when interpreting sometimes-contradictory health articles..." -- Paul Hsieh, in "How to Protect Yourself Against Bad Science Reporting" at Forbes

"Just as the oxygen is good for your body, deep thinking is good for your spirit." -- Michael Hurd, in "Confronting Reality Is Actually the Easy Way" at The Delaware Wave

"Donald Trump is not an egoist." -- Peter Schwartz, in "Trump and the Meaning of Egoism" at The Huffington Post

"This is not a good business climate, and we sure don't see where earnings growth could come from." -- Keith Weiner, in "Prediction: Gold-Silver Ratio Rising, Stocks Down" at SNB & CHF

"Phony affirmations on cute calendars, printed cards or sunset posters can foster a surprisingly prevalent myth: That it's possible to 'make' yourself (or another) feel better." -- Michael Hurd, in "Affirmations: Are They Helpful?" at The Delaware Coast Press

"The definitive history of the financial crisis ... shouldn't be written by those who have a quasi-religious conviction that the freedom to pursue profits is the cause of all the world's problems, and that government regulation is the unfailing elixir." -- Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, in "Why the Glass-Steagall Myth Persists" at Forbes

This Blows My Mind

Did you know that nine in ten Internet users don't know to use CTRL-F to search for words in a document?:
"90 percent of the US Internet population does not know that. This is on a sample size of thousands," [Google search anthropologist Dan] Russell said. "I do these field studies and I can't tell you how many hours I've sat in somebody's house as they've read through a long document trying to find the result they're looking for. At the end I'll say to them, 'Let me show one little trick here,' and very often people will say, 'I can't believe I've been wasting my life!'"
That's a lot of wasted time.

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

Gus, results of the cited MS study do seem very encouraging, even after digging to understand how in a study of 24 volunteers, 86 percent (20.64 volunteers?)have avoided relapses, and almost 91 percent (<21.84 volunteers?) have so far shown no signs of their MS progressing.

As it happened, not all of the 25 volunteers received all of therapies:

"Grafts were collected from 25 patients, and 24 of these individuals received HDIT/HCT. The median follow-up period was 186 weeks (interquartile range, 176-250) weeks). Overall event-free survival was 78.4% (90% CI, 60.1%-89.0%) at 3 years. Progression-free survival and clinical relapse-free survival were 90.9% (90% CI, 73.7%-97.1%) and 86.3% (90% CI, 68.1%-94.5%), respectively, at 3 years. Adverse events were consistent with expected toxic effects associated with HDIT/HCT, and no acute treatment-related neurologic adverse events were observed. Improvements were noted in neurologic disability, quality-of-life, and functional scores."

Though a somewhat less ebullient description, JAMA Network's "3-Year Interim Report [Results]" (above) does merit more credibility.

By the way, thanks for your CTRL-F reminder. A related YouTube I just watched finally explains why it has not always worked, such as for PDF documents without OCR processing enabled.

Gus Van Horn said...


(1) I had heard of the MS study some years ago and was intrigued by the idea of "rebooting" the immune system. (One hypothesis is that some event, such as a viral infection, "confuses" the immune system, causing it to attack some of the body's own cells, possibly years afterwards.)

(2) You're welcome. I lay part of the blame (if you can call it that) for the widespread ignorance of this browser functionality on the success of graphical user interfaces. These make it easy for people to function with computers without having to kill themselves learning computer science. But the disadvantage is that lots of things that are near-obvious to more experienced users never occur to most users.