The drugs don’t work!

Ben Goldacre has a new book coming out, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, which will be available this week in the UK and January in the US. From this excerpt in the Guardian, it’s going to be phenomenal…and phenomenally depressing. Once again, money poisons good science — the pharmaceutical industry is so awash in profits and greedy for more that they skew the results of clinical trials to get favorable statistics.

In any sensible world, when researchers are conducting trials on a new tablet for a drug company, for example, we’d expect universal contracts, making it clear that all researchers are obliged to publish their results, and that industry sponsors – which have a huge interest in positive results – must have no control over the data. But, despite everything we know about industry-funded research being systematically biased, this does not happen. In fact, the opposite is true: it is entirely normal for researchers and academics conducting industry-funded trials to sign contracts subjecting them to gagging clauses that forbid them to publish, discuss or analyse data from their trials without the permission of the funder.

This is such a secretive and shameful situation that even trying to document it in public can be a fraught business. In 2006, a paper was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), one of the biggest medical journals in the world, describing how common it was for researchers doing industry-funded trials to have these kinds of constraints placed on their right to publish the results. The study was conducted by the Nordic Cochrane Centre and it looked at all the trials given approval to go ahead in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. (If you’re wondering why these two cities were chosen, it was simply a matter of practicality: the researchers applied elsewhere without success, and were specifically refused access to data in the UK.) These trials were overwhelmingly sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry (98%) and the rules governing the management of the results tell a story that walks the now familiar line between frightening and absurd.

Drugs that don’t work, dangerous side-effects concealed by legalistic loopholes, blatant biases in drug testing…and the data are hidden away from the conscientious doctors who try to give informed recommendations. It’s all scary stuff.


Another state with an archaic blasphemy law on the books is Greece, and they recently cracked down and arrested a 27 year old FaceBook user for using a mocking pseudonym, “Gerontas Pastitsios”, for some famous Greek Orthodox monk. He faces up to two years in prison for “malicious blasphemy”.

There is a petition to have him released and most importantly, abolish pointless laws against free speech.

Another familiar story

I’ve heard variations on this theme so many times now. When will we wise up?

In 2010 I went to a prestigious invite only conference in the tech world. I was, at this point, widely welcome in those rooms I’d dreamed of going in. I counted. My heart soared — it really felt like we’d turned a corner. It wasn’t just that there were more women. There were, but also they were talking. It was like pushing on a giant stone for all my life, then one day feeling it finally shift underneath my fingers.

On Saturday night I was sexually assaulted. Specifically, I was groped. I hit my aggressor in the chin and knocked him back. Despite having probably 100lbs on me, he stumbled drunkenly and barely kept his footing. “Touch me again and I’ll break your nose,” I told him. He laughed lightly, still finding his feet, and said “I like this one!” I looked at him, to catch his eye, and replied calmly, matter-of-factly “No. If you touch me again, I will break your nose.” He laughed again, but wandered away from me, looking to grope easier prey.

This is how I’d felt all my life, like my job was to not be easy prey. But this was a professional field, not the fucking Serengeti. I walked a little later with the conference organizer, a woman older then me, and of much stature in tech. I told her I was so happy to finally see women in my field. “But,” I said, “I think these incidents will be more common for a while. These guys don’t know how to behave around women.” To myself, I added bitterly, or other human beings at all.

In part, the tech community had allowed in women, but in part it had also only failed to keep them out.

I think her reaction was spot on. Fewer antelopes, more lionesses.

The ENCODE delusion

I can take it no more. I wanted to dig deeper into the good stuff done by the ENCODE consortium, and have been working my way through some of the papers (not an easy thing, either: I have a very high workload this term), but then I saw this declaration from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

On September 19, the Ninth Circuit is set to hear new arguments in Haskell v. Harris, a case challenging California’s warrantless DNA collection program. Today EFF asked the court to consider ground-breaking new research that confirms for the first time that over 80% of our DNA that was once thought to have no function, actually plays a critical role in controlling how our cells, tissue and organs behave.

[Read more…]

Mocking Mormon underwear, unironically

Oh, yuck. Look, the Mormon underwear thing is ridiculous, but so is wearing a crucifix, and dunking your baby’s head in water, and dotting your forehead with ashes once a year, and praying. The Mormons I’ve known never make a big deal of wearing it, and it’s generally not a huge issue — it’s silly and they know it, and it’s more like a baseball player wearing his lucky socks during every game rather than a dominating part of doctrine that will influence political policy.

I can enjoy a good mocking of the goofiness of it all, except that in this video, their sources are motherfucking Bob Larson and an evangelical Christian street preacher. And the irony of their complaints goes completely unremarked.

Bob Larson, for those who don’t know of him, is a radio preacher best known for doing demonic exorcisms over the air, and for fueling the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s and 90s that baselessly ruined so many people’s lives. I could not go on to poke fun at an idiotic religious ritual after watching goddamned evil Bob Larson shoveling pancakes into his mouth. It would be like going on a hunt for wicked Unitarians by first consulting the Witchfinder General.

Alien bodysnatchers and spiritual zombies…my favorite people

Dwight Longenecker is apparently writing some awful book that includes a discussion of atheists. He has some very strange ideas about us, as this excerpt shows. [Oops, wait! That page has magically disappeared! Good thing I grabbed a copy before he deleted it.]

Is there really such a thing as an utterly authentic atheist? I think so. I have a dreadful feeling that there exists a sort of human sub-species who have lost their spiritual capacity completely. These authentic atheists do not profess belief in God, nor even disbelief. Instead they seem entirely deaf to such ideas. They do not hate the Church or say the Bible is a fairy tale. They do not spit out bigoted remarks that blame the Pope for the holocaust or missionaries for murder. They do not attack the arguments for the existence of God, say the universe is random, or call Rick Warren a simpleton. They do not rage against God, any more than someone born blind has dreams in color. These are the authentic atheists. They plod through life eating, working, shopping, breeding and sleeping, and God never seems to flit across their consciousness. Members of this sub-species may be sparkling sophisticates or ill-bred boors. They may be the decent and moral folks next door, or they could be despicable murderers. In a frightful way, it doesn’t matter. If they exist, perhaps they have bred and spread like the alien bodysnatchers, and exist in our midst like spiritual zombies—indistinguishable in the teeming mass of humanity except to those few who see them and tremble.

Weird. He recognizes that atheists have the same range of variation that theists do, and do everything believers do, and even admits that the differences don’t matter (and isn’t that frightful!), but still, the fact that god-thoughts don’t flit across their brains all day long makes them zombies and something to fear.

I can see his concern. I understand that there are people who plod through life eating, working, shopping, breeding and sleeping, and squid never seem to flit across their consciousness, either. That I manage to avoid categorizing these poor afflicted individuals as members of a different subspecies or as scary zombies is simply testimony of an inherent decency that Longenecker lacks. Of course, there are a few differences between squid and gods: squid exist, and people don’t look at people who love marine organisms and use their beliefs as a reason to forgive them for raping children, or thinking that Rick Warren is not a dangerous simpleton.

By the way, one good thing about deleting the post is that he also wiped the comments. I have a real problem with reading blogs written by Catholic priests: it’s all the sycophantic commenters who insist on calling the author “Father”. There is only one man who I loved and respected who earned the right to be addressed as “Father” by me, and he didn’t do it by being an example of gullibility or by teaching me to worship ghosts. It’s a title that resonates strongly with me, and I hate to see it used for people who don’t deserve it. It’s like seeing Kent Hovind called “doctor”, only worse.

Also, it’s fucking Patheos. Patheos, the web portal that didn’t have enough bullshit on display, so they opened an astrology portal.

Follow @Spa_YediMonster today!

She’s going to be live-tweeting the Creation Evidence Expo in Indianapolis this weekend. It looks awful and hilarious; Carl Baugh will be there with his hair, and John Whitcomb, the guy who poisoned a generation’s minds, and and a host of lesser intellectual vacuums who will do their best to reduce the knowledge in the lecture rooms over the next few days.

Also, if you don’t do Twitter, she’ll be posting a post-catastrophe brain dump on Biodork. I can kind of guess what ‘evidence’ for creationism they’ll be dragging out, but it’ll be good to be updated on what the loons are thinking is important nowadays.