you can always count on gravity

“Evidence-based Medicine”: sounds like a good thing, until you realize that sometimes collecting the data required causes more problems than it solves. These guys took this argument to an extreme:

“Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials”:

bq. Conclusions As with many interventions intended to prevent ill health, the effectiveness of parachutes has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation by using randomised controlled trials. Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticised the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.

I’m sure they’ll get _lots_ of volunteers for the study… :-)

posted at 7:25 pm on Wednesday, September 03, 2008 in Health, Humour, Links, Science and Technology | Comments (2)
  1. Bob says:

    That article is brilliant! A bit over the top and stretched the analogy to breaking point but does make a valid point.

  2. chk says:

    Hey! you read my weblog! cool! :-)

The bonding gene

bq. …it’s too early for men to blame their inability to commit on a single gene, although Lucas guesses it’s an excuse that’s “certainly going to be used.”

“A study of Swedish twin brothers found that differences in a gene modulating the hormone vasopressin were strongly tied to how well each man fared in marriage.”:

(via “Diane Duane”:

posted at 7:50 am on Tuesday, September 02, 2008 in Health, Humour, Links | Comments Off on The bonding gene

the whiz

Now all of the women I know can “pee standing up like a man”: …

What _will_ they think of next?

(In all seriousness, I can see a use for this; many public washrooms are truly disgusting places that _I_ wouldn’t want to park my buttocks in…)

posted at 3:13 pm on Tuesday, April 17, 2007 in Health, Humour, Links | Comments Off on the whiz

more on mediocrity

“I linked”: to a “Joel on Software”: “article”: about the difference between average and best in software developers.

I finally tracked down “an article”: I read months ago, on the difference between average and best in healthcare (specifically in Cystic Fibrosis clinics, since they collect enough data to measure the difference).

It’s a fascinating read.

“The Bell Curve”: by “Atul Gawande”: appeared in “The New Yorker”: .

posted at 11:14 am on Thursday, July 28, 2005 in Favourites, Health, Links | Comments Off on more on mediocrity

more on car seats

Since I mentioned it last week, I should also mention documentation *for* child restraint use. The news page references a recent paper proving that child booster seats are 59% safer than seatbelts alone…

Keeping kids safe during car crashes: every child a safe ride | Partners for Child Passenger Safety – Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

I guess as a parent the bottom line is: for $80, why take chances?

posted at 8:42 pm on Monday, July 25, 2005 in Current Events, Health, Links, Science and Technology | Comments Off on more on car seats

car seats vs. seatbelts

So it may not be as cut and dried as everyone thinks; car seats (over age 2) may not actually make any difference. Good luck finding a politician who is _against_ car seat and booster seat legislation, though; that would be political suicide. Proving once again that government often doesn’t work in our best interests? (There have been other examples of dumb gov’t safety laws recently, based on zero _real_ deaths or injuries; I’ll see if I can dig some of them out of my memory).

The Seat-Belt Solution – New York Times

bq. Perhaps the single most compelling statistic about car seats in the NHTSA manual was this one: ”They are 54 percent effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 in passenger cars.”

bq. But 54 percent effective compared with what? The answer, it turns out, is this: Compared with a child’s riding completely unrestrained. There is another mode of restraint, meanwhile, that doesn’t cost $200 or require a four-day course to master: seat belts.

bq. Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result: among children 2 and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts. There are many reasons, of course, that this raw data might be misleading. Perhaps kids in car seats are, on average, in worse wrecks. Or maybe their parents drive smaller cars, which might provide less protection.

bq. But no matter what you control for in the FARS data, the results don’t change. In recent crashes and old ones, in big vehicles and small, in one-car crashes and multiple-vehicle crashes, there is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seat belts in saving the lives of children older than 2. (In certain kinds of crashes — rear-enders, for instance — car seats actually perform worse.) The real answer to why child auto fatalities have been falling seems to be that more and more children are restrained in some way. Many of them happen to be restrained in car seats, since that is what the government mandates, but if the government instead mandated proper seat-belt use for children, they would likely do just as well / without the layers of expense, regulation and anxiety associated with car seats.

Followup material can be found at “Freakonomics”:

posted at 8:41 pm on Tuesday, July 12, 2005 in Current Events, Health, Links, Science and Technology | Comments (4)
  1. Heather says:

    As a certified child restraint technician I am offended by your comments but at the same time I understand what u mean. First off if someone knows what they are doing it only takes a second to teach how to use the child seat properly. And the price of seats are outragious yes, that is why I work on donations so that I can buy them at discount and I sell them for even less then I pay for them. If you need help or know anyone who does they can email me at please try not to down carseats they save lives. The only reason they only reduce is because there is no way to stop car crashes from happening unless you just dont drive.

  2. Harald Koch says:

    First of all, we’re talking about child seats and booster seats, not *infant* seats (as you mention on your weblog). Second, it appears you didn’t read “more on car seats”: , or you would have been less offended, I think.

    It’s true that statistical data is often biased; see “How to Understand Statistics”: for a discussion. It’s also extremely difficult to be unemotional about this particular subject. My emotional response is “for $80, why take chances?”; my seven year old has two booster seats, one in each car.

    But I do trust that Steven Levitt has actually done his homework on this one. We cannot for sure explain *why* the statistics are as they are, but we cannot dispute the numbers themselves…

  3. Mike Hickman says:

    AS a child restraint TECH info like you are printing and saying does not help us who are tring to keep kids safe. There are a lot of programs that sell low cost car seats also the program that i’m has free car seats for parant’s who can’t afford them.

  4. Harald Koch says:

    You’re a little late to the discussion, Mike. More uselessly, you haven’t actually argued for or against any of the data.

    I know “TECH”s aren’t scientists, but you’re still in a better position than your average joe to at least attempt to argue for or against.

Stay away from the pizza…

Apparently, “American Pizza Boxes are Teflon coated”:

posted at 8:32 pm on Saturday, July 02, 2005 in Health, Links, Science and Technology | Comments Off on Stay away from the pizza…

license plate

The car turning left in front of me this morning had the license plate:


Good thing I was stopped…

posted at 9:12 am on Tuesday, May 03, 2005 in Health, Personal | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    Incidentally, today (June 18, 2005) that PLAN AHE plate appears on a Smart Car on page G1 (Wheels) of the Toronto Star.

It’s time…

It began when I started driving to work; I lost 20-40 minutes per day of walking (not to mention an hour per day of reading :-).

It accelerated when my mother died; for a while there, I just didn’t care.

The result: I’ve mangaged to regain 35 of the 50 pounds I lost in 2002/2003. It’s time to get rid of them. I think I’ll get through the holidays first (although I’m going to try for _some_ restraint), and then get serious come January.

posted at 7:52 pm on Thursday, December 23, 2004 in Health, Personal | Comments Off on It’s time…

‘Abstaining’ Teens Still Get STDs

I land firmly on the “sex education good” side of the fence, so I like seeing study results like these :

CBS News | ‘Abstaining’ Teens Still Get STDs

bq. Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage have the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases as those who don’t pledge abstinence, according to a study that examined the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents.

bq. Those who make a public pledge to abstain until marriage delay sex, have fewer sex partners and get married earlier, according to the data, gathered from adolescents ages 12 to 18 who were questioned again six years later. But the two groups’ STD rates were statistically similar.

And the kicker:

bq. The problem, the study found, is that those virginity “pledgers” are much less likely to use condoms.

I’ll have to go dig up the other study I found that showed that self-described “abstainers” were, in fact, having lots of sexual contact (with multiple partners); they sidestepped their “vow” by redefining “sex” as “full penetration”. Well surprise, surprise; you can get STDs other ways :-)

posted at 4:52 pm on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 in Health | Comments (2)
  1. Michelle Levesque says:

    Awesome. Hadn’t seen that. Thanks for the link.

  2. Jeff K says:

    Well actually the thing I like the best about the study, is “88% of [those who pledge to have sex after marriage only] have sex before marriage”. ..and I’ll bet the other 12% are still lying about it!

Soy Bad, Soy Good

bq. From a nutritional standpoint, you should think of soy in two categories: soy that is non-fermented, and soy that is fermented. The troubles I’ve documented on this site are associated with using primarily processed, non-fermented soy foods such as soy milk, flour, nuts, baby formula and the many soy products that have been flooding the market recently.

bq. However, studies have shown traditionally fermented soy–which is the form that is wildly popular in many Asian cultures–aids in preventing and reducing a variety of diseases including certain forms of heart disease and cancers.

(More at Soy Bad, Soy Good: What You Must Know When Considering Soy-Based Foods)

posted at 8:57 pm on Wednesday, July 21, 2004 in Health | Comments (1)
  1. szilvia says:

    I was wondering if all those soy products on the market could use fermented soy? I wrote the companies and they said the tempeh uses fermented soy but none of the other products. I wonder why not is it not possible or they just don’t care? They just think of the money and market those products as healthy?

Caffeine Aphasia?

bq. A cup of coffee each morning may wake you up, but a new study suggests caffeine might hinder your short-term recall of certain words.

bq. Caffeine made it harder for people to find a word that they already knew – the “tip-of-the-tongue” phenomenon.

(More at BBC NEWS | Health | A coffee can make you forgetful)

posted at 8:53 pm on Wednesday, July 21, 2004 in Health | Comments Off on Caffeine Aphasia?

Good News

The low-carb fad is apparently dead, or at least dying; woo hoo!

Yahoo! News – Americans Abandoning Low-Carb Diets -Survey

(via “Teal Sunglasses”: apfn)

posted at 2:37 pm on Friday, July 16, 2004 in Health | Comments Off on Good News

Health News

* “Black Tea May Help Get Blood Circulating”:

bq. The authors suspect that black tea improved the dilation of the men’s blood vessel, allowing better blood flow [to the heart].

* “Atkins-style diet could damage chances of having a baby”:

bq. The research — conducted on mice — found that a diet containing 25 percent protein disrupted the normal genetic imprinting pattern in early embryos. It also had an impact on embryos that were transferred to other uteruses.

bq. Embryos receive copies of most genes from both parents, and imprinting causes a gene from just one parent — and not the other — to be switched on. If both gene sets are switched on, development can go haywire. Imprinting flaws are widely blamed for foetal malformations and the extremely high rate of spontaneous abortions among cloned farm animals.

* “Watching TV may speed up puberty”:

bq. Watching too much television may distort the hormonal balance of adolescents and push many of them into early puberty, say researchers. Italian researchers found children denied access to television for just one week experienced a 30% jump in their melatonin levels. The hormone is thought to prevent the early onset of puberty.

(All via “Teal Sunglasses”:, apparently my best source of filtered health news :-)

posted at 10:09 am on Thursday, July 01, 2004 in Health | Comments Off on Health News

Most Americans are not meeting their dietary needs for calcium

From Most Americans are not meeting their dietary needs for calcium

bq. According to government surveys, 70 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys ages 6-11 do not meet current calcium recommendations. Likewise, about 90 percent of teenage girls and adult women and 70 percent of teenage boys and adult men don’t meet daily dietary recommendations for calcium. And for those of us over age 50, less than 15 percent meet our daily dietary calcium recommendations.

bq. One reason of this poor showing is the relatively large amount of calcium recommended for teens and adults: 1,300 milligrams per day if you’re between the ages of 9 to 18, 1,000 milligrams per day if you’re between 20 and 50 years and 1,200 milligrams per day for those over age 50.

Those stats are higher than I expected, and I have to wonder if the RDIs are a little high? I can’t see how humans could have evolved to consume these levels of calcium, as they weren’t available before the advent of agriculture. On the other hand, we’re growing much larger humans than we used to, which requires higher mineral intakes…

posted at 11:37 pm on Tuesday, June 01, 2004 in Health | Comments Off on Most Americans are not meeting their dietary needs for calcium

Suburban Obesity

“UBC professor making big splash in U.S. journals by linking driving and obesity”:

bq. Frank found that the average white male living in a community lined with shops and other businesses is expected to weigh 10 pounds less than a man living in a residential-only subdivision.

bq. “Every additional 30 minutes spent in a car each day translates into a three per cent greater chance of being obese,” he said from his home in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, which he proclaims the most walkable in the world.

bq. “We also found that people who live in neighbourhoods with a mix of shops and businesses within easy walking distance are seven per cent less likely to be obese, lowering their relative risk of obesity by 35 per cent.”

I’ve gained 10 pounds since I started driving to work last December… ugh.

posted at 9:31 am on Tuesday, June 01, 2004 in Health | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    At the risk of rehashing an old topic… I’ve never found a shop I want to go to that I could, would or should live within walking distance of. I gained 3-4 pounds while sweating and walking in Mexico last week, where they had very tasty food, and I thought the walking would cut me some slack on my diet. Use the Weight Watchers 20 mins exercise = 1 point scheme. It’s true, and walking counts for very little, and I believe it — more so now with experience. [Btw, this sounds like a random lifestyle-correlation statistical anomoly to me]

    Hm, I have so little cultural baggage, there could be no one neighbourhood full of suitable shops for me, I don’t think.

Speaking of Alternative Medicine

Diet of worms protects against bowel cancer

bq. REGULAR doses of worms really do rid people of inflammatory bowel disease.

bq. “A lot of researchers couldn’t believe this treatment was effective, but people are always sceptical when confronted with new ideas,” Weinstock says.

bq. Weinstock’s theory is that our immune systems have evolved to cope with the presence of such parasites, and can become overactive without them.

posted at 10:32 pm on Friday, May 14, 2004 in Health | Comments Off on Speaking of Alternative Medicine

Yes, Fat Kills…

Wired News: How Does Fat Kill Thee? Many Ways

bq. Research into the biology of fat is turning up some surprising new insights about how obesity kills. The weight of the evidence: It’s the toxic mischief of the flesh itself.

bq. Experts have realized for decades that large people die young, and the explanation long seemed obvious. Carrying around all those extra pounds must put a deadly strain on the heart and other organs.

bq. Obvious but wrong, it turns out. While the physical burden contributes to arthritis and sleep apnea, among other things, it is a minor hazard compared with the complex and insidious damage wrought by the oily, yellowish globs of fat that cover human bodies like never before.


posted at 11:21 am on Wednesday, May 12, 2004 in Health | Comments (1)
  1. Ruth says:

    30% body fat equeal 3 months of not eating…..
    Scary to think there’s someone who could feed a small town on body fat alone.

Our Precious Bodily Fluids

“They’re poisoning our precious bodily fluids”:

bq. In March, California researchers reported that San Francisco-area women have three to 10 times as much chemical flame retardant in their breast tissue as European or Japanese women.

bq. Indiana University researchers reported at the same time that levels in Indiana and California women and infants were 20 times higher than those in Sweden and Norway, which recently banned flame retardant.

bq. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news – web sites) earlier this year released data from 2,500 volunteers tested for 116 pollutants and found such chemicals as mercury, uranium and cotinine, a chemical broken down from nicotine.

Naturally the jury’s out on the effects of this crap in our bodies. I can’t see how _anyone_ could claim that this stuff isn’t bad for us, but they’re trying anyway…

bq. “Everyone’s exposed to substances and there’s no evidence that the low levels people are exposed to are harming anybody,” said Steven Milloy, author of “Junk Science Judo: Self Defense Against Health Scares and Scams.” “It’s a waste of time and money that only serves to scare people.”

bq. Milloy noted that despite all the chemicals, the overall U.S. population is living longer and healthier.

I’d like to see those statistics, since the obesity crowd is currently claiming the opposite!

posted at 10:53 am on Monday, December 29, 2003 in Health | Comments Off on Our Precious Bodily Fluids

DEET and sunscreen together?

From a story in the Vancouver Sun:

bq. Dr. Xiaochen Gu, a scientist at the University of Manitoba, has found that using DEET and sunscreen at the same time can exacerbate the side effects of the bug repellent ingredient, ranging from rashes on the skin to dizziness and disorientation to changes in blood pressure and even seizures.

bq. “If people do use them together, try to avoid the use of them at the same time. If you are going to apply both, apply one, then wait half an hour, then apply the other,” he said.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

posted at 7:17 pm on Thursday, July 24, 2003 in Health | Comments Off on DEET and sunscreen together?
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