Month: November 2010

Assessing the likely efficacy of medical treatments

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A couple of weeks ago I talked about some rules of thumb for assessing fact vs fiction, and want to pass on something similar in the realm of medicine, based largely on points made by Steve Novella during the Science Based Medicine forum at TamOz.

For assessing claims regarding some treatment or other, consider: Read the rest of this entry »


TAM Oz Report

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For the uninitiated, TAM Oz is shorthand for The Amazing Meeting Australia, and it’s a regular event in various parts of the world at which skeptics and critical thinkers gather to revel in the fact that they have reality on their side. And have fun too.   Read the rest of this entry »

Musings of a Skeptic

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Skeptic – One who is yet undecided as to what is true; one who is looking or inquiring for what is true; an inquirer after facts or reason – Websters Online

I am a skeptic, by which I mean that I like to focus on an evidence-based approach to life and the world. Actually it’s more than ‘I like to’. I can’t do otherwise.

This doesn’t mean that I am compelled to investigate everything first hand – that way leads to madness. Rather, I place trust in those who also profess an evidence-based way of life. Actually if you want to categorise this as some kind of ‘faith’, then go ahead. Read the rest of this entry »

Pope: Condoms ok – well, sort of.

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Oh dear, more sleight of hand from the church. 

In this article, ( the Age reports that the pope is ok with condoms – well, a bit. I say ‘a bit’ because approval seems to be limited to cases in which use of condoms is the lesser of two evils. The ‘worse’ evil is the transmission of HIV and Hep C and so forth. Suddenly, the church has woken up to the fact that they need to stop blaming the recipients of the various diseases and actually help the modern world as it seeks to manage illnesses. (Now to do something about those pesky priests).

Read the rest of this entry »

Sorting fact from fiction – for the layman

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The whole point of this blog is to discuss rational thinking, and the consequences of not doing it. One of the benefits of rational thinking is to help us evaluate propositions and form an opinion on some subject. But evaluating some areas is often very difficult for a non-expert – for example, climate change. So how should the layman go about it?

I recently heard an excellent talk on this very subject by Eran Segev, (president of the Australian Skeptics, on the ABC’s Ockham’s Razor program, and it’s worth paraphrasing his thoughts.

Eran offered some rules of thumb for people to use when evaluating a proposition: Read the rest of this entry »

Glucosamine – should I take it or not?

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As a 50-something now, with 40-odd years of running-based sports behind me, I have been wrestling for some years now with the ‘will I’ or ‘won’t I’ of Glucosamine.

It certainly seems to be a product of my generation, and I myself have taken the stuff for years. Many of my friends and acquaintances have as well.

As a result of those mis-spent years running on roads, I have also had two arthroscopies on each knee, and am probably due another pair soon. My GP, with a background in sports medicine (and several years being doctor for an AFL club), strongly recommended Glucosamine. The surgeons doing the arthroscopy also recommended it, along with a little ingredient called Chrondroitin.

After years of taking the stuff however, I couldn’t honestly say I could feel any difference. Of course, this is just anecdotal, and no one person can ever know whether or not it’s making any difference, can they? For all you know, you could be no worse off without it.

This is why we rely on doctors, who in turn rely on clinical testing.

After asking the question of my GP, the answers were less than enthusiastic. He takes them as a prophylactic – the stuff does no harm, and he can afford it, was his position. He also suggested consulting the Cochrane Review ( This is a terrific, non-profit organisation which aims to summarise in plain language the state of play across a whole range of medicine and alternative medicine.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, here’s their summary of the studies: Read the rest of this entry »