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Jun 07 2012

Academic freedom isn’t always honored in the breach

This is a rather chilling story of academic freedom getting trampled. A whole pile of documentation is available at that link, I’ll try to simplify it down a lot.

UC Davis was sponsoring a public seminar on prostate cancer; specifically, they were actively promoting the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. One professor, Michael Wilkes, objected — the PSA test is now discouraged as worse than useless. Wilkes is a specialist in prostate cancer; he knew this. Heck, I knew this, and my local MD knows this. He explained to the department that was sponsoring the seminar that it was wrong, and he also published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that does a very good job of explaining why tests with lots of false positives and false negatives are no good.

UC Davis just announced a seminar for the public on “men’s health.” That title notwithstanding, the program appears to be entirely about prostate cancer and in particular about the prostate specific antigen screening test. Prostate cancer can be devastating, and the PSA is intended to find cancer early – in time to do something about it.

If only it were that simple. Research has shown that there are steps people can take to improve the quality and length of their lives, even before they’re having any symptoms. (That’s what “screening” for disease is.)

Unfortunately, though, the devil’s in the details, and many possible screening programs turn out not to do any good – and in fact some tests like PSA cause harm. That’s why virtually all expert public health panels do not recommend the PSA test.

A blood test that isn’t accurate can fail to find disease that’s present, leading to false reassurance. It can also report disease when it’s not really there, leading to unnecessary use of other tests (like biopsy) that are not so benign. Perhaps most concerning, the PSA test frequently identifies something that qualifies as cancer under a microscope but acts nothing like cancer in real life. That is to say, the large majority of PSA-discovered “cancers” would never cause any problem whatsoever if they went undetected.

But because doctors can’t tell whether one of these “cancers” is benign (as it usually is), or might occasionally be one of the bad actors, finding something through screening invariably leads to treating it.

Most of the men so treated would have been just fine if they never knew about the cancer. But when they’re treated (whether with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy), the majority suffer really life- affecting effects, such as impotence and/or incontinence. That’s why both of the two very large trials of PSA screening published in 2009 found no (or at most a tiny) benefit, but a great deal of harm.

Wilkes was doing exactly what a responsible scientist ought to do, correcting public misinformation about his field of expertise.

Unfortunately, a dean, an associate dean, and the Health System counsel at UC Davis were very upset that a professor was criticizing a public health program that they were putting on. Never mind that they were dispensing unsound health information; he was dissing their turf. Among other things, they responded by threatening Wilkes academic appointment and and taking away his lab space.

The good news in the end, though, is that the UC Davis Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility has come through; reviewing the case, they’ve determined that Wilkins’ academic freedom was violated and slapped down the various administrators who’d punished him for being a responsible public scholar.

I’m wondering, though, how often these kinds of cases come up and the scholarly responsibilities are squelched. For a lot of people, these are tough decisions: their livelihood can be threatened and their ability to do the work they love compromised. I’m incredibly fortunate in my case to have tenure at a university that so far has demonstrated a commendable commitment to academic freedom — I can publicly declare that my university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing is a colossal boondoggle and complete betrayal of reason and responsibility, and my job is still safe.

But then, I know of other cases. I have a colleague at another university who learned that they were offering seminars that were far worse than what UC Davis was doing — we’re talking New Age bullshit by a con artist who is promising to teach magic powers — and so wrote a polite letter to the individuals in charge of the program. The response was a complete blow-off, an endorsement of the charlatan, and a gentle suggestion that my colleague’s nose ought to stay out of this affair, or risk being an unemployed appendage. I am itching to scream bloody outrage at this nonsense, but I can’t…it’s not my job that would be on the line.

So tell me…who else is experiencing quackery and bullshit peddled through their place of employment, and can’t speak out because your administration is staffed by pandering ignoramuses? Dish, please. Anonymity will be respected.

86 comments

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  1. 1
    NitricAcid

    My college library has Emoto’s “Messages From Water” books filed on the shelf with the chemistry books, and the librarians refuse to move them or remove them (they were quite offended at my desire to “censor” them by putting them where they belong). They were apparently donated by someone who also donates money to the college, so they don’t want to offend this person. They can offend the science faculty all they want, however.

  2. 2
    NitricAcid

    There was also a presentation of student research posters at one of our recent functions- one poster was extolling the virtues of bogus “therapeutic touch”- the kind that was debunked by a nine-year-old girl a few years ago. My note to this effect was promptly removed from the poster, and I’m sure the student was given a high mark for that trash.

  3. 3
    Anthony K

    So tell me…who else is experiencing quackery and bullshit peddled through their place of employment, and can’t speak out because your administration is staffed by pandering ignoramuses? Dish, please. Anonymity will be respected.

    One of my coworkers was an anti-vaxxer, and started spreading bullshit around the time of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. In case people don’t know, I work in public health, though not infectious diseases per se.

    Unfortunately, I lost my head for a moment, and went full Brownian on him. Over work email.

    He’s since moved on, but from that point on we were pretty cool to each other. Every once in awhile I express regret to my remaining colleagues over the situation, suggesting that I could have handled things better. The response? “Whatever. He was being an idiot. He should have kept his idiot mouth shut.”

    So yeah, I work in a pretty science-supportive environment. Also, I continue to be able to act however I want without repercussions.

    Seriously, people, stop encouraging me.

  4. 4
    emptybook

    I work in a medical lab (in the UK), and we do a lot of PSA tests. Wow, I wonder if our clinical scientists have read any of this. I’m only a peon, so I don’t personally get any say in what we test for.

  5. 5
    nooneinparticular

    When I was in gradual school, one of my advisers (who was also a personal friend) was an assistant professor, thus did not (yet) have tenure. He and other assistant profs in the department were asked to review a manuscript that was being prepared by a couple of full professors. This was back in the days of Barry Hall and his acquired mutations (he was a prof in the department) and the paper was an attempt at a refutation of what was then Hall’s (and others) controversial claims about acquired mutations. My adviser made the mistake of sending his critique to the entire group of reviewers. He had slammed the manuscript and was not shy about saying what was wrong about it. He was subjected to some vile personal and public comments from the authors of the manuscript who, in the end, did not get the paper published.

    Despite having an active lab, several grad students, a grant, a teaching load and papers in publication, his contract was not renewed the next year. Other assistant profs who had no lab, grad students or grants were retained in the track. Was he let go because he’d critiqued some elder profs? Who knows? Certainly it smelled that way to us students. He did not publicly say so, but as I was also his friend, he confided to me that he felt that that is exactly what happened.

  6. 6
    microraptor

    Do all the Christian campus organizations that teach a conservative, literalist view of the bible (and are considered official school clubs) at the college I attend count? How about the Tai Chi class that liberally pads its course description with a bunch of New Age fluff about all its magical benefits?

  7. 7
    microraptor

    On a possibly more on topic note, I did almost get in trouble with a teacher yesterday when she started talking about how great it was that Scott Walker survived his recall, which had nothing to do with the class, and I started to point out the reasons he deserved to be recalled.

  8. 8
    jeroenmetselaar

    Medical practice is by its very nature susceptible to woo. There is a reason why the term evidence based medicine exists.

    Medical practitioners are pragmatic, often to a fault. This is often a good thing, they are after all problem solvers. They are confronted with people that suffer and anything that alleviates that suffering goes. If a patient is helped with X then X goes, simple as that.

    This is where woo comes in, often with the very best intentions doctors grasp for anything that might help and forget about scientific rigor. Most doctors are not scientists and I am not sure they should be.

    They should be taken to task when they peddle unproven tosh.

    There is a weird duality here. When a doctor wants to use proper scientific but not yet proven medicine he has to inform the patient and get consent first. There are strict procedures for this with lots of paperwork involved. Even when in most of those cases the science supporting the treatment is rock solid you just can’t use unproven therapy on a patient.

    You can’t use unproven therapy on a patient, unless it is woo. When there is not even an attempt to do proper science you can go ahead with your ear candling, homeopathy and whatever shite you can come up with. You don’t even need to get written informed consent first.

    How weird is that?

  9. 9
    TychaBrahe

    It may be helpful to note here that in the UC system, there are more administrators than educators.

  10. 10
    maddog1129

    Wow, I didn’t know that the PSA test had been studied, and is no longer recommended.

  11. 11
    Ichthyic

    It may be helpful to note here that in the UC system, there are more administrators than educators.

    well, excluding the grad students, anyway, who carry about 40% of the educational load in many of the UCs.

    but as to administrative overhead in the UCs, yeah, it was out of hand over 20 years ago, and it’s just gotten worse since.

    example:

    way back in 1995, I spoke with Julie Packard (of the Packard Foundation science grating NGO), who told me that whenever they give a grant to a professor at UC Berkeley, up to 80% of that grant ends up going to the UC as administrative overhead.

    80%

    so, say, if a researcher applied for a 200K grant to study adaptive radiation in rift lakes in Africa, say. If awarded, as it stood, the researcher would only see about 40K of that. That would not even cover a single lab for 6 months to do field studies in Africa. Instead, what the grant agency has to do, is if the researcher applies for 200K, they have to actually increase the grant significantly (like double) to cover the administrative overhead, and often, if there is a NGO competitor for the same kind of research, they simply won’t do it any more.

    I can’t say whether or not this huge administrative burden has its advantages for the UC system otherwise, but in this instance, it is costing them competitively. Many NGOs that do research have MUCH lower administrative overhead; usually less than 30% (ours when I was doing shark research was around 20%).

    I also know that administrative overhead in the Cal State system is lower than the UCs.

  12. 12
    R Johnston

    I used to do work in the area of property tax law, and the entire area of practice is nothing but woo. The way numbers are used in property tax challenges and defenses leaves Bistromathics in the dust. Challenging the constitutionality of how properties are assessed would be exceedingly expensive but would also be an easy win for property owners once the expense was paid. On some level, both sides know this, and have developed a practice of creating completely fake appraisal methods in order to justify a level of refunds that cost the state less than a successful challenge would but that are sufficient to make the cost of financing a challenge not worthwhile to any particular property owner. But it’s only on some level that people realize this. Most people involved in property tax challenge legal work are completely innumerate and actually believe in the methods used to justify fake numbers and generate settlements; all thy have to do is plug in numbers on a spreadsheet and they’ve been told that the spreadsheet calculations make sense and have no capability to challenge what they’ve been told.

    Everything I did at work in that job was quackery and bullshit, and there was no possible good that could have happened for complaining about it.

  13. 13
    Ichthyic

    ^^was that supposed to go in the thread on North Carolina legislating sea level?

  14. 14
    Louis

    I work in the pharmaceutical industry and whilst I’ll be the firs to rush to its defence and not we do a lot of good, I’ll be faster than the first (HOW?????) to note we balance that with a fucktonne of bad.

    Also, I always like to ask the wooists who like “herbal remedies”, nutribollocks and homeopathy, just who do you think makes those magic pills?

    Wouldn’t be subsidiaries of large multinational corporations with conveniently located and easily accessed pill making facilities would it?

    Now…someone help me out here…what sort of industry is like that?

    If the pharma companies could sell you sugar/vitamin pills and call it medicine, and with enough corporate and legal jiggery pokery they can, they would. And they do.

    Irony. It’s what’s for breakfast.

    Louis

  15. 15
    illithid

    Ah, yes, prostate cancer. The cancer that receives less than half the funding of breast cancer, even though both cancers result in approximately the same number of deaths. Yummy — it’s privilege pie!

  16. 16
    stefangilthorpe

    “The USPSTF concludes that for men younger than age 75 years, the benefits of screening for prostate cancer are uncertain and the balance of benefits and harms cannot be determined.”

    http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf08/prostate/prostaters.htm#rationale

  17. 17
    Louis

    HOW!!!!? How did I know illithid or some other turd sandwich would pop up with yet another misunderstanding of privilege?

    Louis

  18. 18
    djfav

    I worked for a non-profit organization here in Texas for a while as a cubicle slave and they had us do what they called a team building exercise. This involved hiring someone to administer a personality test that told us which of four colors our personality was. It was a fucking joke. I later decided to leave that organization because my workplace became hostile. So much for team building.

    Does anyone know what this kind of test is called?

    It was like something out of the film Visioneers.

    Yes, I’m a TUNT.

  19. 19
    Ichthyic

    Ah, yes, prostate cancer. The cancer that receives less than half the funding of breast cancer, even though both cancers result in approximately the same number of deaths.

    of course this has nothing at all to do with privilege, and EVERYTHING to do with corporate advertising.

    hell, there was even a thread on the very issue on this site a few months back.

  20. 20
    Ichthyic

    ah yes, here tis:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/02/01/big-charity/

    go get lost over there, person who has had their brains sucked out by an alien squid-being.

  21. 21
    Ichthyic

    …illithid isn’t its nym, it’s a description of what happened to it.

  22. 22
    danishdynamite

    The PSA test is now worthless? Would anyone have a link to a paper on this? I ask because my father has prostate cancer and is currently in an experimental drug trial where he has (apparently) been lucky enough to be one of the non-placebo recipients as his PSA numbers have fallen dramatically. Something he is understandly quite happy about. But if the test is now deemed worthless…

  23. 23
    illithid

    …illithid isn’t its nym, it’s a description of what happened to it.

    “Illithid” isn’t a verb, Chomsky.

  24. 24
    wytchy

    Well, this is only side-ways related, but I’m doing work over the summer at a place that provides services to help people dealing with domestic violence, and part of their ideology is to encourage a community that provides support for DV victims. That’s a great goal, but they always include a part about trying to bring churches into it. I can’t tell you how many times pastors have told people, and women in particular, that the violence in their marriage was normal, or that “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” I think it’s really counterproductive to be trying to include an institution that time and again promotes the gender roles that keep DV such a prevalent problem.

    But I can’t really say anything about it. I’m just a summer intern and these people have been doing DV work for 25+ years, so what do I know? :/

  25. 25
    Louis

    Douchetart:

    “Illithid” isn’t a verb, Chomsky.

    Perhaps not. But it does appear to be some sort of adverse medical condition resulting in painful stupidity on the part of the sufferer. Perhaps you should get that looked at, chum.

    Louis

  26. 26
    Ichthyic

    “Illithid” isn’t a verb, Chomsky.

    brain is most assuredly removed.

  27. 27
    Trebuchet

    The PSA test is now worthless? Would anyone have a link to a paper on this? I ask because my father has prostate cancer and is currently in an experimental drug trial where he has (apparently) been lucky enough to be one of the non-placebo recipients as his PSA numbers have fallen dramatically. Something he is understandly quite happy about. But if the test is now deemed worthless…

    It’s certainly of very questionable value as an initial diagnostic tool, but if your father has had the diagnosis confirmed by other means it’s probably quite useful as a gauge of the efficacy of treatment.

    My own doctor discouraged it for the physical before last but last time he left it up to me and I had it done. Got ambiguous results and a do-over. I won’t bother the next time.

  28. 28
    truthspeaker

    djfav
    7 June 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I worked for a non-profit organization here in Texas for a while as a cubicle slave and they had us do what they called a team building exercise. This involved hiring someone to administer a personality test that told us which of four colors our personality was.

    Where I work it’s called “True Colors” and we’re supposed to be going through it in the near future. There’s been a delay because one of the people who was supposed to facilitate it was laid off.

  29. 29
    Ichthyic

    I know just how it happened too.

    someone was trying to keep one as a pet

    Mind flayers make excellent pets, as they make quick work of shopkeepers, and their telepathic outreach is then soothing to you rather than harmful. However be careful if your tame mind flayer becomes confused – he will easily do the same with you

    it’s just like pentacostal snakehandler guy and his pet rattlesnake.

  30. 30
    Yoritomo

    “Illithid” isn’t a verb, Chomsky.

    It is now. You have been illithided.

    Verbing weirds language.

  31. 31
    Longjocks

    I’m not an academic for the university by whom I’m employed, but I’m in a position that allows me a very clear view of the standard of the education provided (and it is particularly disheartening when I look at our theology partners). If I were to name the uni or any partners, or otherwise get specific, and it was discovered, there’s a high degree of certainty that I wouldn’t have a job any longer. I’ve seen people reprimanded for less.

    But I’m just general staff. I believe our academic staff have just about all the freedom they want to raise their voice. At worst they piss off the wrong person high up and life may get difficult, although it seems that most vocal academics are just ignored and no one cares. However, for full disclosure, my evidence on this last point is mainly anecdotal.

  32. 32
    truthspeaker

    News stories about the PSA screening recommendations:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57438768/health-experts-routine-psa-tests-for-prostate-cancer-not-good-for-health/

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/23/news/la-heb-psa-test-prostate-cancer-treatment-20120523

    This recommendation comes from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, part of the Department of Health and Human Services

  33. 33
    Ichthyic

    I’m afraid the poor boy will have to find himself a unicorn horn.

    maybe this one will work?

  34. 34
    pseudoniemousie

    I’m going to be that person who completely ignores this (appalling, but at least ending-happily) story to pedantically nitpick about the title.

    I would say that academic freedom is, not “not always”, but in fact never honored in the breach; that is, I can’t think of a single situation where the stifling of academic freedom is more honorable than the reverse.

    Unless, of course, the common usage of the phrase was intended rather than the original (and now obscure) Shakespearean sense; in which case this story describes an incident where academic freedom IS being honored in the breech.

    Either way, the title’s not very apropos.

    Cheers!

  35. 35
    illithid

    Douchetart

    I resent your gendered diction, patriarch fiend.

    Perhaps not. But it does appear to be some sort of adverse medical condition resulting in painful stupidity on the part of the sufferer

    Could there be in this an implication of diagnosing me with painful stupidity? It is hard to be sure. The subtle malignancy of the Patriarchy is exactly what makes it so dangerous.

  36. 36
    djfav

    @truthspeaker

    Thanks for the reply. IIRC it’s your basic self-assessment test like Myers-Briggs. I don’t consider those very useful. Once you get the results you may feel as though you’re reading a horoscope. Did a Google search for “True Colors” and it all looks familiar.

  37. 37
    Louis

    Douchetart,

    1) Both sexes can douche…you has a fail. Try harder. This time with some understanding.

    2) Perhaps I should modify my original statement, I am unqualified to diagnose you professionally as being painfully stupid and thus apologise for any and all implication of such. However, I am perfectly qualified to note that you are incapable of grasping simple concepts like “privilege” and thus must be putting in effort to be an irredeemable fuckwit.

    Do I need to point out that, despite my wicked lapse, this is actually worse for you?

    Stupidity is actually correctable to a large degree. Being a dishonest, ideologically hidebound, deliberate moron is less amenable to treatment.

    Louis

  38. 38
    rrainsmd

    “I ask because my father has prostate cancer and is currently in an experimental drug trial where he has (apparently) been lucky enough to be one of the non-placebo recipients as his PSA numbers have fallen dramatically.”

    The PSA isn’t worthless, it’s… over sensitive. That makes it bad as a screening test, but for monitoring therapy, it’s great. A falling PSA is still a GOOD thing. And when he has finished his treatment they’ll probably use it to monitor for possible recurrence.

    -RR-

  39. 39
    augustpamplona

    This was not my place of employment (I was not even a grad student on an assistantship at that time) but the Campus Recreation facilities (mostly fitness facilities) at my school have a massage studio and at one time they offered reiki. I actually got the fellow who did the reiki in contact with the producers of Bullshit* after I found out on a mailing list that Bullshit was looking for energy therapy, hands off type practitioners to feature on their show.

    I don’t believe it ever went much beyond the initial contact stages with the show’s producers. This might have had something to do with a writer’s strike at the time or with the fact that (unbeknownst to me) it would have made it the second time that the Bullshit crew would have visited this campus (they had been there previously for some episode on political correctness) or simply because they probably had so many other practitioners to choose from.

    * For which I felt a little bit bad for the guy but I was never deceitful to him and he did charge for his services which, as far as I’m concerned, makes him fair game for purposes of him having to justify the “service” provided.
    ——————————–

    At an earlier date I found out that some people from a chiropractor’s office were going to give a presentation on “electrodermal screening” (see http://goo.gl/ZXrj1 –obnoxious, unrelated video will play but the announcement is lower in the page). I found this rather objectionable. I did not think that the school should be in the business of promoting medical quackery for the benefit quacks at a local chiropractor’s office (though it looks like now they have set up their own separate practice at http://energyhealthwellness.com/ –and I see that 5 years later they are still lying about EDS being FDA approved).

    In any case, by mentioning this on a mailing list it seems like I unwittingly set in motion something behind the scenes (involving different people e-mailing administrators & faculty) which ended up canceling the event. I really don’t know who did what. I was also told by one of the people involved not to draw attention to this because occasionally such things can lead to lawsuits.

    Nevertheless, since I just found that some information about this is already out there at http://www.randi.org/jr/2007-05/050307.html#i4 , I can say that one of the people who got involved was Dr. Terry Polevoy (but others were also involved). The account at JREF.org also seems to indicate that other people at school were independently involved in trying to do something about this (so presumably the result would have been the same if I had not gotten involved).

    I did get a very snarky e-mail from someone on the committee which had been involved in attempting to bring in these speakers basically saying thanks for ruining it for them. I lost this e-mail, unfortunately (as it would have made a nice trophy).

  40. 40
    michaelbusch

    @illithid @15:

    The number of deaths from prostate cancer in the USA is ~29000/year.
    The number of deaths from breast cancer in the USA is ~41000/year (including several hundred men).

    A 40% difference does not count as “a comparable number” of deaths; particularly since the mean age at diagnosis for breast cancer is perhaps a decade younger than the mean age at diagnosis for prostate cancer. Treatments for breast cancer could be considered as more cost-effective, if you were focused on maximizing the average number of years a patient lives after diagnosis. Research into treating breast cancer at the expense of other cancers may have been slightly overemphasized, but Your Argument Is Invalid. It also has derailed the thread.

    With regards to PZ’s original question:

    When I was at Caltech, a student group somehow convinced the school to let them host a talk by a global-warming denialist. A few of the graduate students went and chewed him up – with the encouragement of their advisors. I would have denied him a venue in the first place.

    I do know of a couple of people who profess to be young-Earth creationists while simultaneously being astronomers. That confuses me.

  41. 41
    illithid

    1) Both sexes can douche…you has a fail. Try harder. This time with some understanding.

    I suggest you look up the meaning of “douche”. “Vagina” is a prerequisite, so you might have to do some background research.

    The number of deaths from prostate cancer in the USA is ~29000/year.
    The number of deaths from breast cancer in the USA is ~41000/year (including several hundred men).

    In the UK the statistics are 12,000 for breast cancer, 10,000 for prostate cancer, and about a fifth the funding for prostate cancer.

    I think I can account for the difference. The NHS is under the thumb of the Patriarchy, so a higher percentage of men die per year just to show how tough they are and further the oppression of all the poor wimminz!

    =( =( =(

    So very sad.

    =( = ( =(

  42. 42
    Ing

    Jesus fuck, Ithiliid is back?

    I think I can account for the difference. The NHS is under the thumb of the Patriarchy, so a higher percentage of men die per year just to show how tough they are and further the oppression of all the poor wimminz!

    FUCK YOU.

  43. 43
    carlie

    I suggest you look up the meaning of “douche”. “Vagina” is a prerequisite, so you might have to do some background research.

    No.

    As it turns out, enemas are also known as douches in certain regions of the English-speaking world. I myself did not know this until recently.

    Douching’s primary cultural definition relates to women, doing something that is harmful to their vaginas, so its use as a negative word does stand (at least for now). But that’s not the only definition of it, and the alternate (as a synonym for enema) can refer to any gender.

    Original question: my public state school has a campus chaplain. He gives prayers at pretty much every event.

  44. 44
    Zeno

    I do know of a couple of people who profess to be young-Earth creationists while simultaneously being astronomers. That confuses me.

    It confuses me, too. One notorious example is a man with a for-real doctorate in astrophysics who works full-time as a shill and apologist at Answers in Genesis. How can Dr. Jason Lisle be a young-earth creationist with that kind of scientific background? It ain’t easy.

  45. 45
    carolineborduin

    @microraptor My current catchphrase is “There’s more than one way to do democracy” for all those idiots that think recalls and impeachments are undemocratic and unfair.

  46. 46
    PZ Myers

    Illithid: see #40. Prostate cancer is not a neglected disease, but is typically a slower growing cancer in older men; it’s common, but it’s also common that the risks of surgery in the elderly are greater than the risks of more cautious management. Years of life lost to breast cancer are greater than years lost to prostate cancer. You’re parroting one metric without comprehension in order to prop up a false sense of victimhood.

    Now stop derailing.

  47. 47
    Tethys

    Louis

    Perhaps not. But it does appear to be some sort of adverse medical condition resulting in painful stupidity on the part of the sufferer.

    illithid

    Could there be in this an implication of diagnosing me with painful stupidity

    While you’re looking up the correct definition of the word douche, keep on going and look up the word implication.

    Louis was very clear about your painful stupidity, it was in no way implied.

    I think we may have an excellent candidate for TZT.

  48. 48
    PZ Myers

    Actually, is Jason Lisle still at AiG? He used to get mentioned there all the time, and then he sort of vanished: he’s no longer in their speaker list, for example. One day, he was just disappeared from their official history.

  49. 49
    illithid

    @PZ:

    I did see #40. That just gives the American statistic. In other words, the statistic from a country where people have to buy their own treatment. The statistics from the UK, where treatment is determined by “nefarious patriarchal powers”, are 12,000 deaths for breast cancer, 10,000 for prostate cancer, a fifth the funding for prostate cancer.

    Perhaps on careful analysis there might be a reasonable explanation — just as there might be on careful analysis a reasonably explanation for why men are paid more on average. I’m using your own tactics, and you don’t like them.

    I don’t intend to derail the thread, so this will be my last post on the subject.

  50. 50
    Amphiox

    Prostate cancer has a higher incidence rate than breast cancer, a higher 5 year survival rate, strikes at an older average age. It metastasizes far less frequently and less commonly to the most critical sites like the brain. Its most common metastatic site is bone, where it is osteoblastic, which means it makes the surrounding bone harder and stronger, while breast ca bone mets are osteoclastic, which means they dissolve surrounding bone, raising the risk of crippling pathological fractures.

    Prostate ca is a far, far, far less lethal or serious a disease as breast ca. To try and equate the two is an exercise in utter intellectual dishonesty beyond the pale.

    Also breast ca CAN affect MEN, even if less commonly (and is in fact MORE LETHAL in individual men than in women) so money spent on breast ca research will also benefit men.

    Women, however, CANNOT get prostate cancer (men have breasts, women don’t have prostates) so none of the money spent on prostate ca will ever benefit women (directly).

    If there is privilege here at all, it is, once again, with men.

  51. 51
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    One of my college professors lost his first secondary teaching position because of what he did in his off time. He participated in a march on the state capital after the Kent State shootings. The smallish New York college at which he was a professor saw a photo of him in a photo essay some two years later. They canned him that afternoon. So my school got a very good history professor.

    Not exactly the question asked in the OP, but, since academic freedom and freedom of speech are at least loosely connected, maybe not that out there.

  52. 52
    illithid

    Louis was very clear about your painful stupidity, it was in no way implied.

    Yeah, I don’t know what “implication” means. You got me there, Clever Clogs!

  53. 53
    Amphiox

    You’ve already derailed the thread, Illzit. And PZ’s point still applies in its entirety to the UK numbers you blather about.

    And now that you have shown that you think it appropriate to hijack a thread about academic freedom(which, incidentally, illustrates someone trying to improve MEN’S healthcare) with your pathetic brand of blind privileged misogyny, you have crossed my personal rubicon of odiously unethical behavior beyond which I will no longer afford you the courtesy of accurately using your ‘nym, as you no longer deserve such consideration.

    Let us see how long it takes you to sink past the next moral threshold and join the fapwit club.

  54. 54
    PZ Myers

    Didn’t I tell you to stop derailing, illithid? Allow me to make it official: leave this thread now or leave the blog permanently.

  55. 55
    Erp

    My university (I’m staff); the “Health Improvement Program” that it provides for staff/faculty (and also provides money to the staff to pay for the classes) usually has a few obvious woo-filled classes and several others that I’m dubious on the science.

    Classes this spring included
    Reiki Energy Healing levels 1 & 2
    Partner Shiatsu for Neck and Shoulder Release
    and a lot of classes by an instructor, Jean Couch, writer of “The Runner’s Yoga Book” (lots of claims, lots of testimonials, seems a bit short on published peer reviewed evidence [I don't think Yoga Journal quite counts]).

  56. 56
    Amphiox

    The prostate/breast deaths in 2012 for Canada are 4000/5155. The ratio is closer to the UK than the US. The difference is universal healthcare. The US death rates for breast ca are higher than they should be because, even as useless screening tests are promoted are dissenters slapped down, useful screening tests like breast ca screening are not available to the uninsured, and access is even restricted further for other political reasons, such as with Planned Parenthood getting defunded.

    Sometimes it seriously looks like the US Healthcare system was deliberately designed to make people sicker.

  57. 57
    mbrysonb

    Our university regularly hosts ‘health’ events, which typically include display booths for various kinds of ‘alternative health’ woo-pitchers. Occasionally this does get some attention from skeptical professors and students, and some progress may be underway, but it’s very hard to persuade people to take a skeptical look at these things (after all, people say they feel better…).

  58. 58
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Still not one citation for illishit to back up its fuckwitted claims. Here’s the link to Google Scholar. Start making use of it, as your OPINION ain’t worth shit without evidence….

  59. 59
    iknklast

    I work at a Community College in the Midwest, and I’ve been threatened three times. The first time was when I tried to help some students set up a fund to help needy students. Sound like a bad thing? Well, it is if your group is the freethinkers group, and you’re the faculty advisor. Another time I (and the rest of the science faculty) were trying to put on an all day critical thinking seminar after learning our college was offering a class in ghosthunting. The most recent was when a student’s parent complained because as an environmental science teacher I don’t genuflect before Big Ag and I dare to point out the environmental downsides of Ag…like the professor above, I was threatened for doing my job.

  60. 60
    AnatomyProf

    My dean, department chair, and another senior faculty member attempted to torpedo my tenure process because I spoke out against a creationist part time instructor in our department. This stuff happens.

  61. 61
    michaelbusch

    @myself @#40:

    Re-reading my bit above, I’m now wondering: would refusing the global-warming denialist a venue have counted as infringing on academic freedom? And at what point does academic freedom get overridden by the need to not condone nonsense?

    The denialist is perhaps an extreme case, so consider something less clearly in conflict with reality.

  62. 62
    truthspeaker

    Refusing to host a speaker isn’t quite the same thing as firing a tenured professor.

  63. 63
    Steve Caldwell

    PZ Myers asked:

    So tell me…who else is experiencing quackery and bullshit peddled through their place of employment, and can’t speak out because your administration is staffed by pandering ignoramuses? Dish, please. Anonymity will be respected.

    It wasn’t my place of employment but my partner’s place of employment. She works for the local Unitarian Universalist church as their education director and my role was as an unpaid volunteer.

    Several months ago, they sent out a publicity email about a person who was going to lead a psychic workshop. Since I do the website editing and maintenance, I asked if this was an appropriate workshop for us to sponsor or even host.

    After all, we wouldn’t host a Holocaust denial workshop, “ex-gay” conversion therapy workshop, or creationism workshop because they wouldn’t satisfy the “free and responsible search for truth” principle that we say we affirm. There are 1 million reasons why the person wanting to lead this workshop isn’t a psychic — the reasons are sitting in James Randi’s bank account.

    Since I was involved in marketing and publicity efforts, I asked our board members if this was appropriate for us to host and/or sponsor. The decision have the workshop wasn’t overturned.

    In the end, it didn’t matter. She didn’t get enough enrollment to hold her workshop.

    I’m thinking she didn’t see that coming.

  64. 64
    Steve Caldwell

    Erp wrote:

    … seems a bit short on published peer reviewed evidence [I don't think Yoga Journal quite counts])

    Yeah … Yoga Journal would be a bit of a stretch.

    :^)

  65. 65
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Wytchy:

    I can’t tell you how many times pastors have told people, and women in particular, that the violence in their marriage was normal, or that “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.”

    I think you’re thinking of something else. That wasn’t a pastor, and the line was:

    Now, now, God never burdens us with more depleted uranium than we can carry.

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to see Bandwidth Theater up and running again.

    =====================
    As for academic freedom, I haven’t run up against it per se, but then I’ve just TA’d (which meant teaching for lower pay while the prof got the credit) and taught on contract. But I certainly can tell you that there are people at the U where I taught that were very threatened by certain of my criticisms of the discipline and felt implicated in my critiques. (Yeah, they probably were, but if you’re part of a discipline with a problem am I not allowed to critique the discipline because individual people are involved in the discipline and might take it as an attack?). Those people made life difficult for me in a number of ways, but it wasn’t a standard issue of academic freedom because I didn’t have the status of a regularized faculty member.

  66. 66
    bcskeptic

    I work in a national science organization and I found out recently that our local librarian (in one little corner of that organization) is a vaccine-denying, Chopra worshipping, homeopathic new-ager type. This person stocks and catalogues science books/papers/articles but clearly doesn’t understand or read any of it, or even understand science and the scientific method. Quite shocking when I found out. Bizarro!

  67. 67
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ illithid

    If you have a point to make, please feel free to make it in (Pharyngula’s) TZT. It is an open thread and so cannot be derailed. It is also very tolerant – even welcoming – of the most aberrant points of view.

    Link to TZT.

  68. 68
    TGAP Dad

    One thing I hate more than nearly all others: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This colossally stupid piece of tripe has widely infested the business world through that time-honored vector: HR departments. With not one shred of scientific evidence that this test is anything but woo, they nonetheless pay top dollar for it and treat it with the reverence of a great oracle. In my 25-year IT career, I have worked for 6 different employers. Of them, 4 used the MBTI, plus one outplacement firm. Thankfully, none of my employers or would-be employers used it for applicant screening.

    Nearly as bad (though not actually quackery) is that incredibly condescending cartoon “Who Moved My Cheese.” the main message seems to be “as your employer we will do what we want, so brace yourselves and deal with it.”

    Motivational posters: Is there any human being, outside of an HR department, who actually thinks these things are anything but a joke?

    Muzak: you’ve got to be shitting me if you actually believe that your business will increase because someone sells you elevator music.

  69. 69
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    I wonder how many of the nyms here are a result of concerns about academic freedom. I know that I chose gvlgeologist instead of my real name because I was concerned (as an untenured visiting assistant prof) that my employment could be at risk if students, parents, or administrators knew I was commenting on such godless sites as Pharyngula or Panda’s Thumb. Now that Florida’s leadership also wants to eliminate tenure from colleges and universities, I feel that it’s still wise to not reveal my actual name, even though I’ve got tenure.

  70. 70
    AnatomyProf

    “I wonder how many of the nyms here are a result of concerns about academic freedom.”

    Mine is, though only a half-hearted attempt. I was more open and honest prior to being attacked, but I’ve learned that not all in academia are motivated by the idea of providing knowledge to those who seek it and teaching students how to learn. Some are all about protecting their power, ego, and pay check. Still, I believe that the cockroaches that attacked me, and who attack others in similar situations, scurry when exposed to the light. We must always seek to expose them, though when they hold a strong power differential over us we must do so with caution.

  71. 71
    abb3w

    @48, PZ Myers:

    Actually, is Jason Lisle still at AiG?

    Google-fu suggests yes.

  72. 72
    marksheffield

    I work in diagnostic development. Part of my job is consulting with our clients to implement testing and diagnostic regimens.

    One of the clients I was assigned was one of those small “personal health”/”optimal genetic diet” kind of places, with a personal endorsement by Dr. Oz. They sell vitamins/meals/services to the gullible, and after a short consultation, I realized that their claims to scientific testing were pure hokum. They mad claims about “supporting a healthy alternative to drug treatment of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and IBD”, but they didn’t know blood plasma from eye boogers.

    Emailing my betters that I had “some ethical concerns”, I was informed that I was an employee and they were a client. No threats were offered, but I read that in.

    Fortunately, their “pseudo-research” project was cut short when the IRS ordered an audit of all expenses… (say it with me)… and I never heard from them again.

    I don’t get academic freedom. I think I sold it for a larger salary.

  73. 73
    Ing

    Emailing my betters that I had “some ethical concerns”, I was informed that I was an employee and they were a client. No threats were offered, but I read that in.

    Don’t worry, the free market will optimize.

  74. 74
    robertkelley

    The academic freedom aspects of this case are troubling, but I must confess that I am skeptical about the rationale for ruling PSA as an undesirable screening test for prostate cancer.

    False negatives are a legitimate concern. False positives, not so much (to me, at least.) I suspect that the pressure for reducing the use of PSA as a routine screening tool comes about more from the desire to save money than from questions about its utility.

    I watched a close friend die hideously from late-diagnosed prostate cancer. I will continue to insist on PSA tests every year and will pay for them myself if I must. I would rather risk biopsy, unnecessary surgery, impotence or incontinence than go through what he went through.

  75. 75
    Ing

    False negatives are a legitimate concern. False positives, not so much (to me, at least.) I

    Sorry false positives are a HUGE concern. In addition to resources and time wasted in confirming tests they also induce unneeded stress on patients which negatively affects their over all health. False positives can cause huge damage.

  76. 76
    robertkelley

    “In addition to resources and time wasted in confirming tests they also induce unneeded stress on patients which negatively affects their over all health. False positives can cause huge damage.”

    Denying this sort of information to health care consumers sounds to me like the Japanese practice of not telling patients that they have cancer because for some reason, cancer is considered a shameful disease.

    Resources and time = saving money. It seems to me patronizing to tell health care consumers that they shouldn’t worry their little heads about possible prostate cancer because the chances are that it’s only a false positive or at worst a low-grade malignancy. This sort of risk assessment is something the patient should have a say in.

  77. 77
    Christopher

    way back in 1995, I spoke with Julie Packard (of the Packard Foundation science grating NGO), who told me that whenever they give a grant to a professor at UC Berkeley, up to 80% of that grant ends up going to the UC as administrative overhead.

    For UC Davis today, for my department (Land, Air, Water Resources), overhead sent to the university from grants is 55%. This is still crazy high, but far from 80%. It is supposed to cover facilities and admin staff, but who knows where it really goes. Trying to pry a detailed budget out the the hands of the Regents is next to impossible.

  78. 78
    Amphiox

    In addition to resources and time wasted in confirming tests they also induce unneeded stress on patients which negatively affects their over all health. False positives can cause huge damage.

    More than just wasted time and resources and psychological harm, there is also the potential for much physical harm as well.

    Screening tests are usually designed to be quick, safe and cheap.

    Confirming tests are usually not (this is why we do the screening test first, so that all those who test negative won’t have to go through the confirming test). Many confirming tests are actually invasive medical procedures that have small but real risks of significant morbidity, or even death.

    And if you are unlucky enough to get a false positive on the confirming test (no test in existence is 100% accurate) then you may go on to have invasive and harmful treatment. You may end up getting surgery when you didn’t need it, or have toxic chemotherapy, or radiation.

    False positive tests kill people.

  79. 79
    Matt Penfold

    More than just wasted time and resources and psychological harm, there is also the potential for much physical harm as well.

    Especially given cancer is overwhelmingly a disease of old age. Older people are likely to have other health issues which will increase the risk of medical procedures. Sedation in a healthy 30 year old is one thing, in a 60 year old with heart disease it becomes a lot more complicated.

  80. 80
    marksheffield

    Perhaps I should just leave this alone, but I think the “PSA test” is being maligned. It’s my industry, after all, and we’ve learned to make a differentiation between a “test” and a “testing system”. In light of that, I would propose that a PSA score, by itself, is not really the problem. Really, it’s about the way the score is used, and that’s not about the science of the test, it’s about how the policy is set by the clinical administrators, often in light of defensive medicine, which is largely based on the litigious aspect of medical malpractice law.

    If I were a clinician (and I absolutely am NOT), I would see the PSA as a way of monitoring baseline changes in high risk patients… Your patient comes in, gets a height, weight, medical history, blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol and PSA test. If you see a history of 8 years of ratios in the 20′s, then suddenly you get a ratio of 12 … you might want to suggest a 3 month retest, in the same way that a patient that suddenly dropped 10% of their body weight would be a red flag for further consideration.

    I think the problem comes when the physician is so worried about being accused of ignoring an informative test; of ultimately being sued for malpractice, that they order invasive or harmful procedures to confirm a diagnosis.

    From the literature, the PSA test is a perfectly good measure of prostate specific antigen… the problem isn’t about the test. It’s that prostate cancer risk can’t be predicted from that single “test”, but PSA still seems like a valuable part of a whole “PrCa test system”. I would even argue that what is needed are MORE tests; more markers, to increase the sensitivity and specificity of the total test system.

    Let’s not stigmatize PSA just because it’s not sufficient alone to accurately diagnose prostate cancer.

  81. 81
    Amphiox

    In light of that, I would propose that a PSA score, by itself, is not really the problem. Really, it’s about the way the score is used

    When we are talking about a screening test, that automatically means both the technical part of the test and the way the result is interpreted and used.

    The PSA test is used in monitoring patients with prostate cancer, and tracking their levels gives important information about response to treatment, relapse, and so forth.

    No one to my knowledge has criticized the use of the PSA test for that indication.

    The issue at hand is the use of the PSA test as a screening test for detecting prostate cancer, particularly in otherwise healthy men who do not have clinical symptoms.

    The PSA test is your hammer, but unfortunately diagnosing prostate cancer is not a nail.

  82. 82
    marksheffield

    @Amphiox
    “When we are talking about a screening test, that automatically means both the technical part of the test and the way the result is interpreted and used.”

    I get your meaning, but I was responding to this in PZ’s original article:
    “the PSA test is now discouraged as worse than useless”
    I think someone could take that the wrong way.

    It isn’t USELESS, it just has a poor PPV and NPV for screening in the general population. In high risk or confirmed cancer, it has a lot of utility. I even think that its use in general screening could be enhanced by better testing system design, but that’s probably my hammer/nail problem… I deal with poor screening tests all the time.

    I don’t mean to be pedantic about this. PZ’s point is valid: The way the test was used in the past was probably not very science-based. My point on that was that I don’t think abandoning PSA altogether is an optimal solution… rather I think we need to reframe how PSA is used in a clinical workflow. Some of that needs to come from policy-makers and administrators, but it could ultimately still be a life-saving test, and I hate to see people demonize it unfairly, especially if we could find a better way to implement it.

  83. 83
    John Phillips, FCD

    @marksheffield, but the use of the test that PZ was writing about is the very thing that it has now been shown to be not good for. I.E. he wasn’t commenting about its very useful utility as a monitoring tool for those undergoing treatment, but as a generall catch all test when there are no other indications of a problem.

    A few years ago, my area health authority as part of a national campaign, through my health centre decided to PSA screen every male over, IIRC, 40 on the centre’s books. I asked my GP what were the positives and negatives. He gave me a run down of symptoms to look out for along with his asked for opinion of widely running the tests. He mentioned the fairly high rate of false positives with such tests and the more intrusive tests that false positives led to, especially as a string of false positives from the same individual was not uncommon. As it happened, due to, ironically, my condition hitting a really low point that kept me laid up, I ‘missed’ out. However, my doctor did offer it to me when I was somewhat better a couple of months later, but, by then research started appearing questioning its validity for the type of campaign mentioned above so I passed. I have yet to see anything to change my mind.

  84. 84
    Democritus NOW!

    @ djfav:

    My NSF-funded employer recently staged a “management retreat” (oh, how I loathe the idea of “retreats”!) in which the Meyers-Briggs/Color thing was administered. The pretense was that we are presently undergoing TeaParty-mandated “reduction in government spending” and that we would soon become “leaner” and any number of bullshit corporate management cliches. The emphasis was on “suppose we had to lay off 40% of our staff (which we do), how would you do it?” and the various “colors” had to try whatever their characteristic approach would be.

    In short, they used this faux-corporate-psychology bullshit ON A BUNCH OF SCIENTISTS, in the context of a game about layoffs, and I’m sure the facilitator was paid handsomely from our rapidly deteriorating budget. That is all.

  85. 85
    xray

    The Brady Urological Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is taking strong issue with the USPSTF recommendations on PSA. Before anyone accepts blog comments that the PSA test is “worse than useless,” it might be useful to examine the JHU statement, linked right up front on the institute’s homepage.

  86. 86
    WithinThisMind

    This one, from a faculty member at University of Phoenix –

    “Jun 7, 2012 10:30 AM
    Take a look at Genesis 1:2. God created light and saw it was good. He separated the light
    from the dark. He called the light day and dark night. “And there was evening, and there
    was morning-THE FIRST DAY!”
    If He did this the first day and created our daylight and our night time, would this not be our
    standard 24 hours? Unless you live in Alaska or the North Pole, most days and nights occur
    within the same 24 hour period.
    I teach a World Religions (134) class for Univ. of Phoenix. I always ask my students how
    old the Earth appears to be. Many stated the standard millions of years. Then I ask how
    old Adam and Eve appeared to be when created. I usually get early twenties. I then ask,
    “If God created man and woman to appear to be in their twenties, yet they were only a few
    seconds old, then could He not create Earth to appear to be millions of years old, yet only be
    a few thousand instead?
    I then get into evolution and discuss trial and error according to survival of the fittest. If it
    takes many generations of evolution for something that is not quite perfected in animals,
    then explain the occurance of blood clotting (coagulation). Since it had not been perfected
    in early animal life (according to evolution) there should be no life left, since once an animal
    cuts itself or gives birth, the evolutionary process of clotting would not have come about yet
    and the animal would have bled to death.”

    I was banned from the community forums at UoP for reporting this post and a couple calling homosexuals ‘abominations’ and the like.

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