May 07

Bad Science

By Kenneth Feucht books No Comments »

Bad Science, Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Tate, and is an enjoyable read. It is not about science, per se, but about research and science in health care. It is a book that I wish most people (who choose to be opinionated about health care problems) would read. The slightly less than excellent rating is not because it was a mediocre book, but for reasons to be explained below. The book is good because he hits at many of the issues that is encountered by popular medicine, whether it be conventional or alternative. So many people are deeply opinionated in things they know little about, and health care ranks at the top of the list. The book has 12 chapters, which I’ll briefly review.

Chapter 1, Matter, is an attack on a potpourri of crazy alternative health options, focusing on detoxification methods. Sadly, these treatments suggest that they are based on “science”, though worthwhile studies are virtually non-existent. Chapter 2, Brain Gym, attacks a ritual that I guess is quite popular in the British school system, but was exported from the US. In it, students go through a number of silly rituals to improve their “brain power”. Such a concept needs minimal argument as the method is so ad hoc and untested. Chapter 3 Homeopathy, is explored in a bit more depth. Goldacre’s biggest rant is against the extremely shoddy nature of their studies, as he begins to explore with the reader what it takes to engage in a legitimate clinical study. As a side comment, these were issues that were even of serious concern to the bench scientist. He spends some time introducing the issue of the Cochrane collaboration, and organization of scientist/statisticians which will take a given topic, research as many studies as possible that addressed the given topic, combine the studies through fancy statistical analysis, and then come to a conclusion. Chapter 4 is about the placebo effect, clarifying in many ways the power of a placebo. Chapter 5, titled The nonsense du jour, explores more about issues of bad science, how studies are poorly controlled, etc., but then focuses on nutritional studies and and anti-oxidants. Chapter 7, Nutritionists, develops an all out attack on people making ridiculous food claims, which are most plentiful. Chapter 8, The doctor will sue you now, goes into a personal story of Dr. Goldacre being sued by Dr. Matthias Rath for libel regarding Rath’s claims for the benefit of high dose vitamins, but lacking any substantial research to support that claim. Of course, the claim is so typical, that physicians and Bid Medicine are in collusion against alternative treatments, yet alternative treatment practitioners do not repel those claims by offering a legitimate scientific study. Which leads to chapter 9, Is mainstream medicine evil? Here, Goldacre takes a hard look at big Pharma, and instances where they have twisted or concealed data. The example used was of Vioxx, whose problem would never had been found if sloppy science was being used. But, Goldacre makes a claim that big Pharma has gone wrong in the past, and how pressures on the pharmaceutical industry will continue to manifest serious problems. In this chapter, I think that Goldacre was a little too kind to big Pharma. Yet, he also published an entire book attacking Big Pharma, so, perhaps he is leaving much to another book. Chapter 10, Why clever people believe stupid things, summarizes why very intelligent people, including those who have had scientific training, can be so wrong with healthcare studies. Not understanding randomization and statistics, preformed bias, drawing conclusions after the fact of the study all lead to wrong conclusions. This is probably the best chapter in the book. Chapter 11, Bad Stats, hits even harder on how study design, randomization, abuse of data, lack of critical thinking, etc., has led to so many false conclusions, and even major lawsuits, where the uncritical mind (especially lawyers) can draw conclusions from data that just isn’t there. Chapter 12, The MMR hoax, is a rant about the bad science used to suggest that the MMR vaccine is bad for you, causes autism, etc., etc.. His case is strong. I’m glad he didn’t attack the fight against the flu vaccine, whose science is pathetic. So, the book is good about detailing how bad science, bad statistics, and bad thinking can lead so many people (including very bright people, scientists, doctors) to wrong conclusions regarding issues related to health.

So, what did I not like about the book? I felt that Goldacre was completely lacking in humility, and his assumption that science can avoid issues of investigator bias are wrong. His assumption that with “good” science, all truth will be fore coming is fitting of a positivist mindset, which has been otherwise been thoroughly destroyed as a philosophic construct. Science depends on paradigms which so often are just plain wrong. It’s been shown that predictably, paradigms will change every 20-40 years, whether it be in health care, or in the hard sciences. He remains hyper-critical about everybody but himself. This is the greatest failure of this book, and Ben could use a dose of humility.

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Apr 07

North and South, a film adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell ★★★

Elizabeth Gaskell was the wife of a Unitarian minister living in Manchester, England, writing about the social injustices of the industrial revolution. This, like the Jane Austen novels, is essentially of romantic novel with the twist of making a social statement. The main character, Margaret Hale, thwarts a marriage proposal, returns home to her family in southern England, where her father serves as an Anglican pastor. He is forced out of the church owing to a loss of faith, and moves to Milton (Manchester?) to serve as a teacher. He acquires pupils, including the young owner of a local cotton mill, the nouveaux rich John Thornton. Margaret catches Mr. Thornton being quite harsh on several of his employees. She sympathizes with the employees, even when they threaten to go on strike, much to the chagrin of Mr. Thornton. Eventually, through the maturation of Margaret’s understanding of the complexities of employee/employer relations and the problems of maintaining a successful factory, Margaret helps mend relations with the employees of Mr. Thornton. In the end, Margaret falls in love with Mr. Thornton.

In a way, I felt like I was watching a Jane Austen novel even though there were differences. The now “impoverished” Mr. Hale still is able to afford servants. Margaret is able to conduct her life in a leisurely fashion, never worrying about needing to work or develop skills for gainful employment. The love story had to be incorporated into the novel, and the progression of confusion or hate to love had to occur. Events, such as the death of mother and later father, were unexplained and used only to make the novel progress. Thus, the story was a bit contrived, as are all the JA novels.

The movie itself had great scenes but fairly mediocre acting. Margaret seemed to have a very flat affect. Mr. Thornton did not have a realistic personality. It was more like watching a soap opera than seeing a film. The movie has its entertainment value but does poorly at social protest. Other films, such as the French film “Germinal” made a much better statement about social injustices, while having phenomenal acting (who can beat Gérard Depardieu?).

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Apr 07

Persuasion

By Kenneth Feucht Media, Movies 2 Comments »

Persuasion, a film adaptation starring Amanda Root of a novel by Jane Austen ★

This is the last novel of Jane Austen. The film adaptation was a bit confusing and challenging to follow. I presume that it assumed that one had already read the novel. A brief summary is as follows. Anne Elliott breaks off an engagement to a sea captain Frederick Wentworth. She is one of several daughters of a wealthy landowner now in the leaner years, needing to lease out the family mansion and live in Bath while the mansion is then occupied by the admiral and his son-in-law Frederick (surprise, surprise!!!). While most of the Elliott family move to Bath, Anne is asked to remain at the mansion to help with the transition. As predictable, Frederick appears to be no longer interested in Anne, courts other ladies, while a cousin of Anne is chasing her. Through multiple episodes of misunderstandings and ultimate clarifications, many of the eligible maidens are married off in the novel, while Anne and Captain Wentworth realize they both love each other and are engaged.

The predictability of these novels reveal some commonalities of the film adaptations of the Jane Austen novels. These points also summarize all five reviews.
1. The theme is always the pursuit of the main character, a young female, to an eligible person.  The movie always ends with the successful engagement or wedding of the appropriate person(s).
2. The females always come from, or are living with, wealthy landed gentry.
3. The movies always have at least one dance scene. The inability to dance, or the play the piano for a dance, removes a female or male from marriage eligibility. In several novels, the ability to quote Shakespeare or Byron were also eligibility tests.
4. Young eligible ladies from wealthy families never ever seemed to have anything to do but to go for walks and sit around pretending to read books. Occasionally they would play the piano without practice. Never were they expected to perform work. They usually played the piano, but their playing was always very mechanical.
5. Even when the wealthy became “poor”, they maintained a host of servants to care for them.
6. Military folk also seemed to be essentially idle and free to loaf at will. Perhaps that is why the British Empire eventually fell, but historical facts suggest that there were no military in sedentary life living in England at the time of Jane’s novels.
7. Older ladies were always pictured as obese, meddlesome, and suffering from verbal diarrhea. Older men were usually lazy old farts who did nothing but read the newspaper.
8. In all of JA’s novels, there is a confusion regarding who loves who, which is always perfectly resolved in the end.
9. Jane Austen was never married, and perhaps all of these novels are a psychological projection of a fantasy world that she wished to be in. Poor Jane. Why wouldn’t somebody marry her? Then, we might have been spared some of her novels.
1o. As to Jane Austen novels being comedies, Emma is the clearest example of that. Her novels are also seen as perhaps a jab at the ever-diminishing numbers of landed gentry in England in her time.
11. Religion is present in its Anglican form in all five novels reviewed, but this religion is very superficial and also a form of prestige. People went to church, but church was more a social gloss rather than a serious undertaking. Perhaps this explains why England is the way it is now.

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Apr 07

Mansfield Park, a film adaptation of the novel by Jane Austen ★★★★

This is the one film adaptation of a novel by Jane Austen that I actually enjoyed, and could not predict exactly the ending at the beginning. It is also one of the most controversial novels that JA wrote. Fanny was born into a poor family, but (for reasons not made clear in the movie) was invited to live with a very wealthy rich uncle Sir Thomas abiding at the estate called Mansfield Park, and whose wealth came from the slave trade in the West Indies. The Sir Thomas family includes two girls slightly older than Fanny, Edmund, who becomes close as a friend to Fanny, and a much older son. Fanny acquires a Cinderella role, with the two daughters being heavily favored in all social and family interactions. Edmond decides to become a clergyman. Henry Crawford and his sister come to town, and become heavily socially entwined with the Mansfield Park family. Finally,  Sir Thomas suggests that Henry and Fanny get married, since Henry is fabulously wealthy. Fanny rejects this out of hand, leaving to go back to her poor family rather than be intimidated into a marriage that she doesn’t want. Henry comes to visit Fanny several times in hopes of persuading her, but this finally comes to an end when Henry is caught in a sexual tryst with one of the now married daughters of Sir Thomas. Ultimately, Fanny and Edmond figure out that they were always in love with each other, and get married, ending the novel and the film. I guess cousins got married in 19th century England?

Several aspects of this film are interesting. First, is that it offers mild disapproval of the wealthy landowners for ill-gotten gain in the slave trade. Secondly, it actually brings in characters of other social status than just the multi-generational wealthy families. Third, it is Jane Austen painting her own deepest feelings about who she wished she could have been in the person of Fanny.

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Apr 07

Emma

By Kenneth Feucht Media, Movies No Comments »

Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale★★

This is now the third of five Jane Austen books adapted to film that I will review. I will keep the review short for the sake of my dear readers. After all, it was hard enough bearing through yet another Jane Austen novel. Emma is a rich young snot who loves to meddle in other people’s affairs, and the story starts with her at a wedding that she helped fix. She, like all the JA novels, comes from a wealthy landed family that had daughters, all of whom are eligible for marriage and desperate. Emma disguises her desperation by working on fixing other marriages throughout the movie (novel). She disrupts one marriage proposal to a friend Harriet, which she is trying to match to the local parson. Multiple brief episodes of love and hate occurs, until Harriet is finally united to her original suitor and Emma marries a Mr. Knightley, another rich young man with whom she has lapsed into and out of favor with. The movie has rich scenery, but the acting is quite mediocre. The story could mostly be ascertained in the first 10 minutes of the film. Emma as a film has it’s rich moments, and the Queen’s (King’s???) English is adorable. Multiple adaptations of this film have been done, including the film Clueless with Alicia Silverstone, a movie almost certain to never be seen by me.

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