“Birth control? Just keep your legs closed, you sluts!”

Yeah… I am pretty much FULL of rage right now:

Appearing of MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell today, Foster Friess, the main donor to the Super PAC backing Rick Santorum’s presidential bid, dismissed the controversy surrounding President Obama’s new birth control rule by suggesting that women should just keep their legs shut. Asked if he worried that Santorum’s Puritanical views on sex and social issues could hurt the candidate in the general election, Friess offered a more home-spun family planning scheme:

FRIESS: On this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s so inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.

I need people to say soothing things to me today. Video below the fold.

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Temporarily suspending Empowered Health coverage

So I have been, happily, let down by the Vancouver Sun. I was relatively sure that their “Empowered Health” series was going to be chock full of ample fodder for my skeptical scalpel, but so far it is simply “diet and exercise” repeated ad infinitum, mixed with a few exercises in lazy journalism. As a result, I am going to suspend my weekly examination of the stories, since it makes for boring blogging (and I’m sure boring reading too).

Vaccines and the State

Here’s a report from Australia:

“The Australian government has decided to deprive parents of their tax benefits if they do not immunise their children against diseases.

Some families could lose over $2,000 per a child. And while the benefits of vaccination, for individual children, and for the population, far outweigh any risks, some parents question the policy, and do not like money coming into the equation.”

I think it’s trivial to say that this is a case of a government interfering in the choices of a family. Whether this interference is warranted, however… Does the government of a country have the right to financially penalise a family for making choices that don’t directly affect anyone else?

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Empowered Health: Week 3

The Vancouver Sun hasn’t stopped publishing this series, so I will not stop critiquing it.

10 ways to evade Alzheimer’s

Anyone who has a close relative with Alzheimer’s shares the same worry: Am I next? However, a growing body of research indicates that our lifestyles — particularly what we eat and whether we’re obese — play a greater role than our genes in determining our brain health as we age. “For years, scientists thought that Alzheimer’s was primarily genetic,” said Gary Wenk, professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University. “We now believe that, while there’s a genetic component, Alzheimer’s is primarily a lifestyle disease.”

This little blurb really does give you all the information you need about this article. Gerontologists (those who study human aging) know that maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle is a key component of avoiding all kinds of chronic illnesses. Many of these diseases were thought to be the natural consequence of getting old, but as we learn more about aging and the importance of diet and exercise on human health we recognize that it plays a role in all kinds of degenerative conditions. Alzheimer’s is no exception, although the disease’s genetic cause is still a major factor in learning to treat it. This piece isn’t about curing Alzheimer’s though, it’s about steps people can take to avoid it, or reduce its impact.

Overall rating: 5/5 – nothing particularly innovative or informative here, but it doesn’t make any missteps and I’m constantly surprised by how little people know about this stuff. [Read more…]

Empowered Health: Week 2

So the Vancouver Sun is still forging ahead with it’s largely useless feature called Empowered Health. The general bent of the pieces seems to be that a healthy diet and an active lifestyle are good ideas (whoops, spoilers!), but as is the pattern with woo-friendly journalism, they sneak in a bunch of counterfactual nonsense in there as well under the guise of “alternative” practices. They are an alternative – an alternative to stuff that might actually work.

Let’s forge ahead, shall we? [Read more…]

Both sides of the coin

Most people who support a woman’s right to choose when to have children call themselves just that – pro choice. While most rankle at the lazy characterization of “pro-abortion”, I’m personally okay with it. I am for abortion access. I think every time someone makes the choice to have a child it should be celebrated, and every time someone decides that now is not the right time, that’s a smart move too. I feel no sense of moral panic at the consequences of my stance. Anyone who would use abortion as birth control (the religious right’s nighmare scenario) isn’t someone I want raising a child, not even as some kind of twisted form of ‘just deserts’ punishment.

As I’ve explained before, it is wildly inaccurate to call the opposite side – the anti-choice side – anything else. They’re not “anti-abortion”, since restrictions on abortion do not reduce the overall number of abortions. And they’re not “pro-life”, because when women seek out abortion services outside of a licensed medical practitioner, the results can be fatal: [Read more…]

Empower Health: Week 1

So last week I noticed, with more than a little consternation, that the Vancouver Sun has begun publishing a feature it calls Empower Health:

Better health is not a destination. Your health is a journey of small steps, things you can do to improve your mental and physical well-being.

Empowered Health is a new locally produced television program that shows you the path to better health with weekly tips on eating better, improving your fitness and navigating the minefield of the health care system and the dozens of complementary and alternative therapies and practices.

Those of you who don’t know much about Vancouver aside from the excellent work that the Vancouver Skeptics do here may be unaware that it is a city full of woo-woo nonsense. One can’t walk a city block without stumbling over a reflexologist or a chiropractor or some other snake-oil peddler trying to separate fools from their money. Because Vancouver has a large population of young, well-educated and upwardly mobile people, it has succumbed to the stereotypical west-coast syndrome of buying wholesale into “alternative” practices. Add to that a large immigrant population bringing practices from their countries of origin and a well-developed sense of fascination with anything “exotic”, and you have a perfect recipe for this kind of hucksterism.

Now, ordinarily the only thing I read the Sun for is local news and Canucks coverage, but I figured I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a local skeptic if I didn’t take a swing at the glass jaw they’re dangling out there. So I will try, every week, to digest the claims made in these articles. [Read more…]

Health care by the numbers

Once again I feel the need to reiterate that my comments about health care are personal opinions only, and do not reflect anyone’s positions but my own.

Part of the reason I am so opposed to the private delivery of health care is that the market tends to work on a principle of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. The problem with this generally-sound skeptical principle when it is applied to health care is that people are not “buyers” of health care, nor can they said to be “consumers” in the same way as someone walking into a hardware store or restaurant. A hefty proportion of our interactions with the health care system are in times of crisis, meaning that it is unreasonable to expect us to do the kind of cold, rational calculus that one might expect of someone choosing a realtor or a bottle of fine scotch.

Congruent with this issue of need-based service consumption is the incredibly high bar of education required to understand how the health care system works. Most people are capable of understanding a basic supply chain, and can usually navigate the hoops needed to ensure they don’t get screwed on a car loan or a warranty on their stereo (although not always, which is why we have consumer advocacy and protection groups). The kind of education needed to understand health care is, to put it mildly, extensive. Regardless of which country you live in, health care systems are often fragmented and convoluted. Even those who work within the system have difficulties navigating it – how could a lay person possibly expect to do better? This question becomes more acutely important when you consider the fact that those laypeople are in crisis while trying to do it.

It is for this reason that we are best served when treatment decisions are made based on the evidence, as interpreted by people who are educated enough to understand it. While it seems unfair that your medical care might be guided by someone you’ve never met, it is far preferable than being pressured into decisions you don’t understand – particularly at a time when you are particularly vulnerable to either manipulation by outside agendas that may not have your best interest in mind, or when you are psychologically less able to make rational, informed choices. While patients must have the right to make the ultimate choice about their care, we are best served as individuals and as a system when the choices available to us are based on the best evidence rather than our own ‘best guesses’.

Well, maybe not if you ask this guy: [Read more…]

Health care dollars, health care sense

This will be one of my (rapidly becoming less) rare posts in which I discuss something I’m actually qualified to talk about – health care and economic allocation. The reason I do this so rarely is that I emphatically do not wish to have my blogging here confused with my day job. Nothing that I have written here should be seen as reflective of policies or attitudes endorsed by my employer, any university I have been or may become affiliated with, nor any person other than myself as a private individual. While I recognize that this kind of disclaimer carries no legal weight with it, I just want it to be as clear as possible that my comments on health care are as affiliated to my professional life as my comments on racism or religion are – not at all in any way.

With that out of the way, it’s not an accident that I landed in the line of work I am in. I am curious about science and always have been; however, I am also passionate about the idea of publicly-administrated health care and the need to fight for its sustainability. I strongly believe that not-for-profit health care delivery funded by the public sector is the best method of delivery, and that if we approach the challenges inherent in the idea (i.e., waiting lists, resource scarcity) through evidence-based decision making, then we will have far better outcomes than a privately-funded scheme.

To this end I have pursued (and achieved, to a certain extent) some measure of fancy book learnin’ on the subject of useful models for health care delivery and the issues surrounding the way we allocate health care resources. The problem with the way we (I am referring explicitly to Canada here – the American system is a whole other bag of stupid that I have attempted to tackle elsewhere) deliver care here is that it is based on a model that establishes hospitals as the best method of providing service. At the time the relevant legislation was passed, hospitals were where one would expect to go for the most common types of ailments. However, in the past few decades the burden of disease has shifted away from infectious and acute causes toward chronic and end-of-life ones. The system, which should have shifted along with it, did not.

Why is this a big deal? Because it means we are burning money: [Read more…]

Canada doesn’t have a race problem – Attawapiskat edition

Canadians have a reputation as being polite and rather passive. I am not sure what in our history has given us this docile stereotype, or if it is even actually true that Canadians are more well-mannered than our American cousins. What I do know is that there is no faster way to completely invalidate the myth of Canadian civility or progressiveness more quickly than bringing up the fraught relationship between the government of Canada and our First Nations people.

Immediately upon bringing up reserves, or federal cash transfers, or treaty rights, or ceded lands, even the most self-effacing and convivial Canuck is likely to start frothing at the mouth and denouncing the “culture of poverty” or the “laziness” and “corruption” that apparently runs rampant through every single First Nations community in the country. It’s amazing how quick my fellow countrymen are to lay all blame for the problems affecting our indigenous peoples at the feet of the victims.

A commenter last week remarked how much better the relationship seemed between Canadians and our First Nations, compared to Americans and their aboriginal populations. I decided not to step on the point too hard, because I knew that this week I’d be talking about this story: [Read more…]