Archive for science

So Frickin’ Cool! Snake Digesting a Rat

Posted in Animalia, Ramblings with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

This is one of the more interesting things I’ve seen in my travels around the Internet, recently, so I felt the need to share it.  Click the picture to see the rest of the images.

Using a combination of computer tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists Kasper Hansen and Henrik Lauridsen of Aarhus University in Denmark were able to visualize the entire internal organ structures and vascular systems (aka “guts”) of a Burmese Python digesting a rat.

By choosing the right settings for contrast and light intensity during the scanning process, the scientists were able to highlight specific organs and make them appear in different colors. The non-invasive CT and MRI scans could let scientists look at animal anatomy without the need for other invasive methods such as dissections.

Not only does the snake owner/lover in me think that this is entirely awesome, I’m also mind-boggled by the possible applications of this sort of technology.  As a diagnostic tool for difficult digestive disorders (Crohn’s disease comes to mind) this could really be invaluable, since it gives a much more comprehensive picture than a colonoscopy could offer.  Anything that shows more details of soft tissues is  really important, since those things are often hard to see without actually opening up the body surgically.

Biology is so neat, and technology just makes it cooler.


“Nonsense on Stilts”: a Triumph of Logic and Reason

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , on July 3, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

A few days ago, doctors in the U.K. voted to stop offering homeopathic treatments through the national health service.  They’ve also voted that homeopathic treatments sold at pharmacies should be clearly labeled “placebo”, and there’s some talk of banning them outright.  This is a huge step forwards for reasonable medical practice, and not just in the U.K. — hopefully other countries (I’m looking at you, Canada) will sit up and take notice of this stance by a highly respected group of medical practitioners, one of whom outright declared homeopathy to be “nonsense on stilts”.  I rather like that phrase and intend to use it in the future when discussing this topic.

Homeopaths and users of homeopathic medicine have, of course, protested the vote.  But they’re not doing a very good job of it.  Instead of making an attempt to disprove the doctors’ claim that there is no scientific proof for homeopathy’s effectiveness (a hard thing to disprove, since it’s absolutely true), they’re citing homeopathy’s long history (it’s been practiced for hundreds of years) as “proof” of its legitimacy.  Hey guys, you know what else has been practiced for hundreds of years?  Racism.  Sexism.  Systematic abuse of children by the Catholic Church.  War.  Murder.  Snorting powdered rhino horn as an aphrodisiac.  Colonialism.  Cutting down the rainforest.  Need I go on?  Just because it’s been around for centuries doesn’t make it right.

The other argument being bandied about by homeopathy’s dupes and con-men is that homeopathy is such an insignificant part of the NHS’s yearly budget that cutting it won’t help in any way to alleviate the budgetary problems that are going on (discussions of how to cut costs were the reason that these doctors got together and held this vote, by the way).  Uhm, yeah.  Even one dollar spent on a treatment that has no scientific basis for working is one dollar too many.  So even if the NHS in the U.K. wasn’t already trying to cut costs, cutting homeopathy out of the picture would still be a good move.  So whether or not it can help with the budget problems, it should still be cut out.

Homeopathy doesn’t work (it would have to defy the laws of physics, logic, and reality to do so), and it simply shouldn’t be provided as “medicine”.  At best, your time spent speaking to a homeopath may manage to set your mind at ease and relieve stress — leaving you more open to the placebo effect when you take those expensive sugar-pills.  At worst … well, people die from refusing real treatments.  So good on you, doctors who participated in this motion:  I hope to see more decisions like this in the future.

There is No Such Thing as Alternative Medicine!

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , on March 26, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

In the wake of the passing of the new U.S. Health Care bill, the news media and ScienceBlogs have exploded with commentary. While I’m not going to get into the politics of the situation (politics annoy the hell out of me), I do have one beef that needs to be aired.

One thing that keeps coming up over and over again is this (false) idea that there should be provisions for “alternative medicines” in the bill, because people should have a choice of whether to go to a Naturopathic or Homeopathic clinic for treatment.

Um, morons? There’s NO SUCH THING ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE! There’s only medicine, and things that are not medicine. And if it’s not medicine, then it’s not something that should be covered by health insurance, period.

This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in healthy eating. Obviously I’m a big fan of cooking food from scratch, using real ingredients, and carefully balancing your diet. I also believe in meditation as a method of reducing stress (which is a leading cause of chronic disease), regular exercise to keep you in good shape, and keeping a positive mental attitude. All of those things, though, are part of what health care is all about. They’re things that a doctor would recommend, and thus they’re a part of medical care.

On the other hand, drinking water with a single molecule of caffeine in it somewhere, or receiving Christian science prayer treatment, or taking vitamin D and drinking wheatgrass smoothies to get rid of your cancer …. that’s going to require some serious scientific (and not Christian scientific, real science please) studies behind it before I start considering it “medical” in any way.

Medicine is that which has been tested and proven to work. Everything else falls under the umbrella of “quackery until proven useful”. Unlike in the criminal justice system where everybody starts out innocent, in medicine you have to prove yourself BEFORE you are accepted. So there aren’t “alternative medicines”. There are “alternatives TO medicines”, but nobody should be encouraging or subsidizing those — people die because they’ve been deluded by quacks.

Stupid humans. At least I’m lucky enough to live in Canada, so this ridiculous bill and the even more ridiculous discussions surrounding it do not have to be at the forefront of my consciousness right now.