Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Strawman on the yellow brick road to Oz

This morning I watched a youtube clip of Steve Novella talking about alternative health on the Dr. Oz show. Steve, a famous skeptic and buster of woo, was attempting to to explain why many medical professionals  -like himself - don't approve of many alternative health practices.

Steve put forward the argument very well - that many, many studies have been done and there is little to no efficacy shown in any proper, sceintifically sound trials of things such as acupuncture, (certain) herbal remedies, chiropracty etc. Moreover, many risk vs benefit studies of some alternative health treatments show a much higher risk than possible benefit. His point was made using plain language, it was uncomplicated, it was succinct.

Dr. Oz countered Steve's statement of  "...multi-million, multi-billion dollar turns out they dont work" with his own statement of "I totally disagree that these have not been studied".

WTF? How is that what he said in any way?

Dr. Oz goes on to promote the idea that because lots of people like using alternative health it must mean that it is effective (despite what science may say). He also mentions that science does not know how to test the efficacy of many alternative medicine treatments. And because things like acupuncture have been used for thousands of years, its efficacy has been proven.

Argumentum ad populum
Appeal to authority
maybe a little deductive fallacy?

Tim Minchin said it best in 'Storm'
"By definition alternative medicine has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. Know what they call alternative medicine that has been proved to work? 'Medicine.'"

I'm not going to say anything more (I'm technically at work, and should not be blogging), except to recommend everyone go watch the clip and judge the different arguments for themselves.

I'm off to prepare my talk for SkeptiCamp, where i'm sure someone will bring up this clip.

The Reverend Doktor Bob

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

OMFSM!!! I'm speeching at SkeptiCamp?!?!?

The Sydney SkeptiCamp is only a week and a half away (30th April, 2011).
For those who don’t know, SkeptiCamp is an ”unconference” where  “unorganisers” arrange a meeting area where people of skeptical thought can come together to give quick speeches about any topic vaguely related to scepticism. The idea is for most, if not all, attendees to give a speech of some sort in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. There are no ‘booked’ speakers as such and the entire enterprise is run as a not-for-profit event. The concept grew out of BarCamp, a similar style conference based around technology and government policy.
A Sydney based skeptic, Jason, decided to organise the first Sydney SkeptiCamp. I volunteered to assist in any organisational capacity whether it be helping out with putting up flyers, promoting online or general dogsbody duties. Turns out, all that and more.
I recently blogged about occurrences of woo belief at my workplace. While writing the blog I briefly toyed with the idea of giving it as a speech at the Sydney Skepticamp. But after publishing the post, I discovered a lot of issues I had with it, a lot of things I just didn’t like. After receiving word of a similar talk being prepared by someone else, I decided to abandon the idea entirely.
But now I have received many requests to give the talk from people that I would like to think as actual interested readers, but are more likely those who would like to see me go bright red, stutter and be generally embarrassed and uncomfortable in front of a large crowd (I suck at public speaking). So, despite my reservations about it, I have decided to give a slightly modified version of the blog, now entitled “Observations of Nursing & Woo”. This speech will not attempt to ask questions nor answer any, just make a general statement about what I have observed in the workplace.
How the speeching will go is anyones guess. When it comes time for my talk, they might find me sitting in a puddle of my something, rocking back and forth with scared look in my eyes...
Despite all that, it should be a fun day with lots of interesting talks. And a cupcake competition!

More information about SkeptiCamp here, and the Sydney SkeptiCamp 2011 here.
Don’t forget to follow SkeptiCamp Australia on twitter @skepticampau for upcoming unconferences on scepticism.
The Reverend Doktor Bob

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nursing & Woo

For those who may not know, I am a Registered Nurse. I work in an environment where there is plenty of discussion between the same staff members day in, day out. This means I get to know what fellow staff members do outside work, what they feel about current affairs and what they believe.
Nurses come from different countries, different cultures and from all walks of life. Myself, I used to work in construction and traffic control, I ride motorcycles, I read philosophy, I hang out with sceptics, I am involved in atheism/sceptical activism. There are christians, muslims, buddhists, Australians, Americans, Indians, Chinese, Germans, French, Sudanese, South Africans… This is not unusual in nursing, or in any industry.
However, one thing I have noticed in nursing is the amount of people who believe in woo. I have colleagues who are clinical specialists in incredibly technical fields that still believe in things like naturopathy and an ordered universe.
·    One colleague is a specialist in critical care nursing, with 15 years’ experience in emergency room nursing, intensive care nursing and theatre nursing, has post graduate qualifications in these fields, can rattle off bio-chemistry and clinical pharmacology like I rattle off quotes from Blackadder, yet believes in ‘The Secret’ and the ‘efficacy’ of acupuncture.

·     I work with a nurse of 40 years’ experience, who has worked all over the world (both paid and unpaid), worked in many different fields and has neurologists that ask “how high?” when she says “jump”…wears a power balance bracelet.

·    One nurse, who upon noticing my tattoo of Charles Darwin, launched into a very informative discussion about the silliness of religion, that evolution was the only logical explanation of man’s existence and that the idea of a god was preposterous (I had hope of a comrade in arms here). I later found out she visits a chiropractor every week.
These aren’t isolated examples, these are just some of the most memorable. You may say “So what? I know 30 people in my office who believe in a random assortment of woo. The woman at the desk across from me reads the horoscope and uses ear candles every week!” But one thing about nursing is that during your training you are taught to use critical thinking and evidence based medicine/treatments.
During my university training we were informed that all our assignments had to be backed up by journal articles and texts that were peer reviewed, showed a sound methodology in how the studies were conducted and were clinically relevant (i.e. were published in the last 10 years). We even had to take a class called “Inquiry into Nursing Practice” which was all about how to research journals such as “American Journal of Clinical Pharmacology” or “International Journal of Palliative Care” and databases such as CINAHL and MEDLINE, how to appraise the quality of a study, how to ensure that a treatment regime is based evidence derived from studies that had successfully been replicated and not just because “that’s how we’ve always done it”. In fact, you could say that we are taught to be sceptics.
So how is it that people, trained to think and perform their job in such a manner, still believe in hocus pocus and snake oil? I am no psychologist (bar amateur), so my guess is that most people are capable of having two mind sets – a work mindset and a home mindset, and never the two shall meet. This allows people to be completely clinical and at the same time believe in the crazy woo and magic water and not allow the silliness to disrupt their work practice. Maybe these people work so hard while performing their clinical tasks that they need their bit of woo to counteract an often stressful life.
Whatever the reason for it, I don’t want to say these are bad or dangerous nurses for believing this stuff. Their demonstrated skill and knowledge of their clinical fields is enough to prove they don’t allow the silliness into their work lives.
However the hospital I work at is a specialised, private hospital. The hospital’s goal (besides providing quality care) is to become a major player on the world stage and to be talked about like John Hopkins Hospital or Princeton University Hospital (House’s hospital). Attached to the hospital is a special training school for doctors from all over the world to come and learn new surgical techniques. This hospital is trying to build a reputation as “one of the best”.  So while recruiting the senior staff they took only the best, with proven records of skill and knowledge. So if ‘the best’ staff from the public and private health systems of Sydney still have a high percentage of woo belief, where does that leave the rest? My colleagues may be able to clinically distance themselves from their silly beliefs, but does that mean the average nurse can? I think generally they can, as my experience within the public system shows me, but I have read what one palliative care nurse believes while they were discussing medical treatments on the forum of a certain northern based “awareness” group.
Why am I one of the (seemingly) few truly sceptical nurses? Well, I am ‘old school’ in my nursing style. No, that doesn’t mean I wear white dresses, a starched hat and allow the doctors to grab my arse and call me “darling” (I am a 6 foot, 140kg, tattooed, ugly as sin guy, so that would have to be one messed up doctor – male or female), it means that I live my job. When I’m not at work, I will research things to improve my knowledge/skill. If It is a quiet day at work, I will try to familiarise myself with a treatment or equipment that I haven’t used before. I don’t read fiction; I read books on pharmacology and pathophysiology. True, this work ethic doesn’t lend itself to much of a social life but I am of the belief that nursing is a passion, not just a job to make money so you can support a family or lifestyle. I was also an un-labelled or un-diagnosed sceptic for many years before I became a nurse.
To wrap up, a large number of nurses, even highly trained specialists, are believers in woo. However they seem to be able to distance their clinical work from this crap and provide high quality care to patients. That leaves very few who would actively recommend quack treatments in a hospital setting. But would you want your loved one, who is sick and vulnerable to be under the care of one of these few? I wouldn’t want a family member who is dying of cancer to have homeopathy preached to them in the community, let alone in a hospital setting.
Thanks for reading my rant.
The Reverend Doktor Bob.
P.s. I intend to have future posts about nursing & religion, nursing & vax ideology and psychiatric nursing vs. everyday beliefs.
P.p.s. I am not "one of the best" that was recruited from the outside, I am a bottom rung RN trying to work my way up.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My new computer

Been a while since my last post, as i have been busy with my new job in my new hospital. I have also been out of touch with the sceptic/atheist world due to new job commitments. This should not be a long term problem, but it does mean that right now i don’t have anything terribly interesting to talk about. So I’m going to talk about my new computer.

My last computer was a 3 1/2 year old P.O.S. that was well ast it's use by date and would not turn on most of the time and if it did, it would take forever to perform even the most basic tasks. I'm not a "techie" person so I felt that my next computer should be something nice and basic. I'm not a graphic designer or a PC gamer, so I don’t need anything powerful. I don’t care for the 'prettiness' of certain machines. I don’t care about Blu-ray, or HD graphics. I don’t care about programming. So I've bought the most basic, user friendly, cheap and simple computer i could find. I’m not going to say what it is, because I am sure there are people out there who will laugh at me if I mention any brand of computer, because they are all biased. Funny thing is, it's got better specs than my 3 1/2 year old computer that cost 5 times as much and was considered a pretty awesome machine. Technology huh?

I needed a computer for my new job, a peri-operative nurse, because it involves a lot of online training and research. Another reason I bought a more 'basic' computer is that soon I may buy a tablet computer for use at work and for further studies, as the tablet computers are very handy when viewing pdf. files, a common file type used in nursing research. The tablet computer will probably cost 2-3 times what I paid for my computer, but it will be my 'go anywhere computer'. That will relegate the computer I am typing this on to a ‘stay at home’ computer, its tasks purely as music organiser and file store for my research.

I sometimes feel that I am in the less populated section of the sceptic community - the non-tech group. I use computers for my work, my research, communicating and blogging, but that is it. I feel like the outcast sometimes because I don’t know how to program stuff, update open source software etc etc. In fact, I didn’t even know what open source software was until 3 weeks ago. And yes, I like windows 7. It works well with my ‘point & click’ style of computing. Is that a bad thing?
Anyway, I will try to have something more interesting for my next post.
The Reverend Doktor Bob