counter statistics

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Spot's Post About Mother

I wish I'd seen this earlier. Spot of the Cucking Stool has some very nice things to say about mother.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Medical Blogger Orac Skeptical of Obama's Surgeon General Nominee

Read his excellent analysis here.

However, what concerns me most about Dr. Gupta is his relationship with science-based medicine. Being a medical correspondent is a tough job to have and still stay true to science- and evidence-based medicine. The temptation to "sex a story up" or to do credulous puff pieces about the latest "alternative" medicine in order to drive ratings is strong, and it takes a strong commitment to be able to resist them. In this, Dr. Gupta has made some high profile stumbles. Chris Mooney points out how poorly he performed in the Clonaid fiasco. In actuality, this is something about Dr. Gupta that I had not heard about. I do remember the Raelians and their claim, presented without any evidence, that they had cloned a human being. But I either did not see or hear about Dr. Gupta's credulous report on the Raelians. It was truly a low point for medical journalism in the last decade, and he was at the center of it. As Mooney points out, he may not have been a willing participant. He may have been inexperienced then. He may not have been confident enough in his position to say no. However, his involvement with that story does not give me confidence in his judgment.

What concerns me even more that that is that, when it comes to one of the most important threats to public health of our time, the antivaccine movement, specifically the movement that claims that vaccines cause autism, Dr. Gupta has shown a maddening tendency to straddle the fence and play both sides in his reporting. His coverage of the Hannah Poling case, in particular, was distressingly credulous, so much so that the crank blog Age of Autism approved of it heartily. Meanwhile, on his own blog, Dr. Gupta was disturbingly sympathetic to the antivaccine viewpoint:

I want to continue the discussion today. Couple of points. First of all, it seems as if parents bring up concerns about vaccines, they are automatically portrayed as anti-vaccine. Why is that? Is it possible to completely believe in the power and benefits of vaccines, but still have legitimate and credible concerns?
That's not what we're talking about. We are not talking about parents who worry about whether vaccines can cause harm, most of whom wouldn't even think of prefacing their comments with "I'm not anti-vaccine," because it wouldn't even occur to them that anyone is anti-vaccine. I once passed on this pearl of wisdom. Whenever someone prefaces her argument with earnest and emphatic claim that she is not "antivaccine," antivaccine pseudoscientific canards almost always follow shortly thereafter. I'm thinking of calling it the Jenny McCarthy Law of Pseudoscience because, heck, Jenny McCarthy and J.B. Handley insist over and over that they are not "antivaccine" before serving up the most outlandish antivaccine canards. It's a ruse, because they know that if they admitted that they were in fact antivaccine no one outside of the antivaccine movement would take them seriously anymore. That's where the whole "Green Our Vaccines" and "too many too soon" catchphrases came from.

Do I think Dr. Gupta is sympathetic to antivaccine views? Not at all. But he clearly does not recognize them when he sees them, and he seems tainted by the journalistic tendency to "tell both sides" even when there is no scientific support at all to one of the sides. Such a tendency may have served him well as a journalist (although arguably not as a science or medical journalist), but it would not serve the nation well in a Surgeon General, who must persuade the nation with clear, science-based arguments, gravitas, and moral authority. Again, the Surgeon General's influence depends on his gravitas and ability to persuade, both of which he can undermine by even being perceived to give credence to cranks and quacks. Moreover, as Jake pointed out, the Surgeon General does not have the luxury of playing both sides of medical pseudodebates in which cranks are pitted against scientific medicine. He has to choose science- and evidence-based medicine, and he has to articulate firmly, using evidence and political persuasion, why he chose that way. He can't afford to be perceived as lending credence to cranks, as former NIH Director Bernadine Healy has been doing so happily lately. Look at how much the antivaccine loons at AoA point to her as "proof" that scientists take their viewpoint seriously. If they do that when a former Director of the NIH says such things, imagine how much more they would do the same if an actual sitting Surgeon General said something that seemed to be sympathetic to their cause.

I'm not ignoring the considerable strengths that Dr. Gupta could bring to the job as Surgeon General. Again, a Surgeon General rises and falls by his ability to persuade, particularly when he is issuing health warnings to the nation, and Dr. Gupta's experience and skill as a medical reporter could be most useful in that capacity. He is an excellent communicator and very telegenic. Also, from a personal perspective, I can't help but think it would be cool to have a fellow graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School, as well as someone who grew up practically right next door to where I did (Novi, Michigan is very close to Livonia, Michigan, where my parents moved when I was 10). If Gupta can learn to dump his journalistic "tell both sides" mentality when it comes to dubious health claims, he might grow into being a formidable Surgeon General.

Unfortunately, that's a big if.

Good points. Read the whole thing.

Amy Klobuchar's Response Didn't Answer My Questions

Here was my letter sent through her website:

Dear Senator Klobuchar:

I notice that you are proposing $500,000 for Minnesota Teen Challenge. Minnesota Teen Challenge has newsletters which state that Harry Potter books and Pokemon are "satanic" and gateways to drug use. Teen challenge also believes that chemical dependency is a moral and not medical issue.

The group is also discriminatory in their hiring (on the basis of religion among other factors), and is not a group worthy of public, taxpayer dollars. Funding this group is an invitation for lawsuits on the basis of the first amendment.

Please reconsider and withdraw your request for Minnesota Teen Challenge. I would appreciate hearing from you as to why you want to fund a group that believes that the Harry Potter books cause drug use.

Amy Klobuchar proposes cool half million for Teen Challenge.

Reader Response to Bush Signing a Gay Rights Law

Holly Cairns said...
Hey Lloydletta,

You might know I support 'Civil Unions' (and the asking for civil unions instead of for marriage)

But you should have a look at Sara's court shopping et. al comment on this:
www dot mnprogressiveproject dot com/diary/2417/creating-chaos-through-bush-v-gore

Maybe this is old thought to you, but I found it really interesting! Here's part of it:
How this applies to Gay Civil Rights and Marriage, I am not all that sure. That vote came pretty close in California, and if the coalition were stronger, a little bigger, with a better electorial strategy, I think it could win in a few years. I suspect courts will, in much of the country, fall into line if perhaps ten states do either Civil Unions or Marriage -- in general the constitution tends to protect contracts entered into in one state being valid in all other states (full faith and credit clause) -- one normally doesn't have to get divorced or re-married every time one crosses state lines. Marriage is reserved to the states, but it is also a contract with all sorts of joint property implications. So my guess is when 8-10 states establish statutes protecting single sex marriage or civil unions, the Federal Courts will take up the issue and make it Universal. Ditto for Adoption -- one doesn't unadopt kids because you move from state to state. In this respect the work ahead for the Gay-Lesbian community is significantly different from what we faced in the Civil Rights movement days, American Apartheid had many many more facets that required litigation initially, and then legislation, and then more litigation and then more legislation. Remember it was a whole economic system, that in effect legitimized a form of bondage. (Sharecropping). Took about 40-50 years if you start counting with the 1936 Anti-Lynching effort, which is where I date the beginning of the modern American Civil Rights Movement.

1:20 PM

Holly Cairns said...
Oh yeah, and the Gay Rights Law is really the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008... which allows employees to designate beneficiaries other than the normal beneficiary "spouse".

While it does sound like a step in the right direction for same sex partnerships, it goes pretty far to call it a 'gay rights law'.

3:20 PM

I think Gay Patriot makes a reasonable point. Under Clinton, we got DADT and DOMA. Bush signed this bill. President Bush has deserved criticism from gays. When he does the right thing, he should be thanked.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Powerline Regurgitates Talking Points

They didn't get the talking points and came up with some independent thought. Now they are back to regurgitating Norm Coleman campaign talking points.

Has anyone ever seen Minnesota Democrats Exposed get off the talking point routine?

Bush Signs Gay Rights Law

Gay Patriot has the story. I encourage readers to go to the Whitehouse site and thank President Bush for signing this bill.

On Rick Warren and Teen Challenge

Loosestrife at Minneapolis Upside Down opines.

Twitter and Facebook

Well, well, well - after not finding these social networking sites very appealing, I'm finally beginning to see the addictive qualities. All I need is more internet time sinks.

I have to say, Twitter isn't very explanatory on how to post if you don't want to use your mobile phone. You'd think they'd have a link from the logged in site to - which is where you post from the web.

I'll have to play around a bit more, but I think I found some bugs - er - features - on the twitter site.

An Interesting Science Blog

Improbable Research.

DFLer Chuck Repke Gives One Norm Coleman Accomplishment

I don't know why Coleman didn't talk about this during the campaign. From the mn-politics list:

OK - I am a "lefty" and a life time DFL activist and I will give you one huge one that I will always be grateful for that a Democrat Senator would not have been able to pull off.
When the Republican's were in control of the Senate and George Bush was in a full scale attack on the cities, one of Bush's plans was to eliminate the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) Program. For all of us that live inthe urban core CDBG monies is the main Federal assistance that goes intobuilding city streets, parks, libraries and infrastructure. The CDBG grants tothe cities are based solely on a communities population and poverty. Bush,(following the Rovian philosophy of no matter how red a state is the cities areblue so starve them), twice in his budget had the virtual elimination of CDBG(gut and move from HUD to Commerce). NORM COLEMAN LED THE GOP REVOLT IN THESENATE TO SAVE CDBG.
Coleman and Warner of Virginia were able to put together eleven "moderate"GOP Senators that refused to destroy the CDBG program. The National League ofCities invited Norm Coleman to speak that year and to thank him forprotecting CDBG.
Yes, it is true that if we Democrats had the majority this problem wouldn'thave occurred in the first place, but you have to respect a first term Senator bucking the President's proposal to cut government spending and being ableto put together eleven Senators to carry the issue. And, it was Norm that got Warner to come forward, and join the revolt. Norm was also smart enough totry to give credit to the much more senior Senator to make it easier forother GOP Senators to join the revolt. But, those of us who tracked it were well aware that Norm was the one who orchestrated the effort.
So, I have a million reasons that I would rather have a DFL Senator, but Iwill always respect the effort Norm took to protect CDBG and to protect thelife line for cities in Minnesota. For that Norm should always be remembered.
Chuck Repke

Signorile vs. Maddow

Good stuff from the Advocate

Ms. Maddow redeemed herself with her reportage on the Rick Warren debacle.

Strib Now Shilling for Vikings Stadium

With this economy too.... Editorial here.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Be afraid...

Be very afraid....

Amy Klobuchar Responds on Teen Challenge Earmark

Dear Ms. Young:

Thank you for contacting my office with your thoughts on federal funding for Minnesota Teen Challenge. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, I joined with several members of Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation, including Representatives Keith Ellison and Jim Ramstad, in submitting Minnesota Teen Challenge’s request for Fiscal Year 2009 federal funding for a drug abuse prevention program. These projects are submitted for consideration upon the request of constituents, and funding is then determined by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

As the prosecutor for Minnesota’s largest county, I regularly witnessed the impact that drug abuse can have on individuals and neighborhoods, and I worked with a wide variety of institutions and organizations in fighting this problem. Moving forward, I will work with local leaders, government officials and families on new approaches and practices that will help us reduce drug abuse.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. One of the most important parts of my job is listening to what the people of Minnesota have to say to me. I am here in our nation’s capital to do the public’s business and to serve the people of our state. With that in mind, please do not hesitate to contact me again about matters of concern to you.


Amy Klobuchar
United States Senator

Who are the rest of the "several members" of the Minnesota Delegation?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Excellent Article in New York Times on Evidence for Faith-Based Treatment

New York Times:

The truth, Mr. Johnson and many other social scientists say, is that there is little reliable research proving the effectiveness of religious programs. They also add that there is scant evidence showing which religious programs show the best results and how they stack up against secular programs.

''From the left to the right, everyone assumes that faith-based programs work,'' Mr. Johnson said. ''Even the critics of DiIulio and his office haven't denied that. We hear that and just sit back and laugh. In terms of empirical evidence that they work, it's pretty much nonexistent.

''We've created an office out of anecdotes.''

In the history of grand presidential initiatives, this would not be the first to take the stage without a script. But this one is different. A body of research is essential to the project's success for the simple reason that it would be unconstitutional for the government to decide which religious programs to finance based on theology or favoritism or familiarity. President Bush and Mr. DiIulio have frequently said that a record of effectiveness is the only viable measure.

No one denies that religious organizations and volunteers do indispensable work caring for people in need. For example, Mr. Johnson's colleague, Ram A. Cnaan, a professor of social work at the University of Pennsylvania, found that more than 90 percent of Philadelphia's congregations provided community services. There is also extensive research showing the benefits of faith: religious people cope better with old age, sickness and hardship; they are healthier; they drink less alcohol; they volunteer more.

Mr. Johnson pulls reports off his shelves with more evidence: religious youths are less likely to use drugs, or be involved in crime. But these studies, he and other researchers say, do not prove if someone can get more help from a religious program than from a secular one.


One program that has opened itself to scrutiny is Teen Challenge, which treats nearly 3,000 drug and alcohol addicts annually in 150 centers around the country. The group says the secret to its success is what it calls the Jesus factor.

In 1995, Teen Challenge helped Aaron Todd Bicknese, a doctoral student at Northwestern University, track down 59 people one to two years after they had completed Teen Challenge's yearlong residential program. Mr. Bicknese compared them with a similar group of addicts who had spent one or two months in a hospital rehabilitation program.

The results were favorable to Teen Challenge, which posted a simplified summary of the dissertation on its Web site concluding that it had an 86 percent success rate. In recent months, politicians and evangelical leaders have used that figure to assert that religious programs are superior to secular ones.

Mr. Bicknese found that Teen Challenge graduates reported returning to drug use less often than the hospital program graduates, but not less than the hospital program graduates who continued attending Alcoholics Anonymous support groups (which some also consider to be religious because of their reference to a ''higher power'').

He also found that Teen Challenge graduates were far more likely to be employed (18 of the 59 worked at Teen Challenge itself, which relies on former clients to run the program).

Social scientists have pointed out that the 86 percent success rate of Teen Challenge is misleading. It does not count the people who dropped out during the program. And like many religious and private charities, Teen Challenge picks its clients.

Before they are accepted, most of the addicts have already been through detoxification programs, said the Rev. John D. Castellani, president of Teen Challenge International U.S.A. In the program's first four-month phase, Mr. Castellani said, 25 to 30 percent drop out, and in the next eight months, 10 percent more leave.

This raises questions for David Reingold, a researcher at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. A study Mr. Reingold has just completed of social services in Indiana found that religious programs are more likely than their secular counterparts to limit the clientele they serve. As a result, Mr. Reingold said, ''It's an extreme exaggeration to say that religious organizations are more effective.''

In other words, Teen Challenge's claims should be taken with a large grain of salt.