Health Care

I heard a man on the radio a while ago now who was from the GAO. He summed up the answer to the health care problem succinctly. The government should cover preventative health care and catastrophic health care. People should be left to take care of themselves in between. This could include having no insurance or being covered by traditional health insurance.

The economics of this are obvious. Preventative health care pays for itself by reducing the cost of future care. Catastrophic situations are where you want to spread the risk out among the largest base possible.

Now of course doing this is not free even if it results in a huge savings. The amount of money spent on health care and health insurance now is enormous. Companies and families are paying tons of money into the system. There is plenty of money in the system. The problem is the Medicas and the Blue Crosses fuck it completely up in the middle. They add no value, in most cases they take value away, and they live fat off the proceeds. Everyone is hassled by the insurance companies, doctors and patients and they both get nothing in return.

We could have a government-sponsored health insurance program that let patients go to any doctor for preventative or catastrophic care. The bill is paid with taxpayer money. Well-off individuals could choose whatever additional health insurance they wanted. No one would be forced into the system.

The other great thing with this is that it takes health insurance back out of the workplace. Companies spend a lot of time and money fucking around with it. There is no reason that employers should be in the loop. Again, if companies want to add extra insurance, fine, whatever, but every employee you hire will already be covered with preventative and catastrophic insurance. That is a huge benefit to businesses.

So, yes, we gotta tax someone for it. Businesses are paying money now. Individuals are paying money now. Paying it into a national health insurance system makes more sense than paying it to Blue Cross. I think we can deliver better coverage cheaper and cover everybody.

To be crystal clear to the Righties out there, we shouldn’t socialize medicine. We should socialize health insurance. It is the fiscally conservative thing to do.

Health Care

Einstein was pretty much an atheist

In response to the comment on PZ sums it up for us:

Two thoughts.

1. Einstein was pretty much an atheist by modern standards although technically probably a deist. I agree with his notion of the mystery of it all and I don’t object to calling the mystery “god”, I just think it is a horrible name for it. Atheists are not like he describes us. We are mistaken for that because of…

2. Part of what you are feeling is that, once you accept atheism for what it truly is — a rejection of claims without proof — the coddling that religion enjoys seems utterly daft. I think religion is ridiculous. I am amazed at the number of highly intelligent people who do not reject its flawed, overblown and largely intolerant and unhelpful claims. Yes, religious people are capable of all sorts of great things. They are great people. Its just not their religion that makes them so. Often it is in spite of their religion that religious people are great people. The religion isn’t helping and according to some its hurting.

This is a painful observation to people who are spiritual. They don’t feel ridiculous and they are not happy with this characterization. I understand that. It doesn’t change the fact that I am not a radical by saying it. They are “radicals” because they believe a bunch of nonsense for reasons that, under scrutiny, are much more tenuous than they would like to believe.

Now add on top of this that religious people feel they have the moral high ground, that atheists are evil, immoral and will deservedly suffer for eternity in Hell and the fact that a large population in this country believes in creationism, a 6000 year old Earth and the Second Coming…it is we, the godless, who are force-fed the radicalism. And now that there are a few more percent of us speaking out, we take on criticism like this — that we are mean and hostile. It’s utterly fucking daft. We’re mean and hostile because we are surrounded by people who speak, as if fact, about how Jesus Christ entered their lives and speak of evolution, cosmology and physics as if they are bad lies made up by a conspiracy of evil scientists.

You’ll note that Einstein was solidly on the side of science. He was barely, if at all, on the side of the theists. He was uncomfortable with that last quantum leap, just like you.

Einstein was pretty much an atheist

PZ sums it up for us

Don’t even bother to watch the video, just read PZ Myer’s rebuttal of Ben Stein’s arguments for intelligent design.

There is a big difference, Ben, between free speech in public discourse and the curricula we agree to teach in our public schools. For some reason people forget that you can teach your children whatever superstitious crap you want if you homeschool or use religious schools. REMEMBER: What Ben tries to portray as the embattled defenders of free speech are really people who want to bring specific religious teachings into our public curricula in addition to it already occupying the church, the home and religious schools. They want it in public schools too.

Now Ben does do a good job of trying to not seem radical but he is a radical. He doesn’t understand how science works and he is equating wild speculation with valid science. He can “talk and think” all he wants about ID. You all can. Let’s all “talk and think” about ID. That’s great. No one is objecting to that. We’re objecting to teaching anything other than science as science in science class. That’s it.

So the “squashing debate” argument is completely fallacious.

But I agree with Ben Stein when he says:

Societies progress by asking questions, having freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry. We’re not trying to shut anyone up. Bill Maher can say anything he wants. All these Darwinist people, all these atheists can say anything they want. We would just like to have freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech. And is this problem important? Is freedom of inquiry important?

Yes, it is important. The gaps in evolutionary biology are under intense attack by evolutionary biologists. There are thousands of people around the world competing to prove, deny or improve the existing models. Research is abounding in these fields. What Ben wants is already happening. He is confusing the ravings of a few vocal creationists with science. Science IS challenging “Darwinism” every day. It’s just a fact that natural selection is still the theory to beat. ID does not come close by any objective measure to competing with natural selection in terms of a successful and well-tested theory.

PZ sums it up for us

Extract of Elderberry

Cairnarvon has been on me in my Alternative Medicine post. I’m not taking the side of alternative medicine but I am asking what I think is a valid question. This is best illustrated by example.

My alternative medicine friend said that extract of elderberry is an example of an effective alternative medicine. I found the study he referred to on the subject:

Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.

Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J.
Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.

Elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and herpes simplex. We investigated the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry syrup for treating influenza A and B infections. Sixty patients (aged 18-54 years) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 h or less were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study during the influenza season of 1999-2000 in Norway. Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza. These findings need to be confirmed in a larger study.

First of all, let’s assume this study is correct and that elderberry extract is effective medicine. That’s science, right? We did the study, the extract is effective, it’s real science and real medicine, right?

But what about the fact that Orac and others will have been calling it “woo” until now, dismissing it as junk peddled by quacks. Oh wait, but it works!

My point is somewhat subtle here so let me be explicit: alternative medicine should not get, and currently does get, a free pass from having to prove that it works. Medicine should be evidence based. There is nothing wrong with and everything good about using scientific studies to determine the efficacy of medicine.

But some go too far and assume that all alternative medicine must be bullshit. This is an assumption. If extract of elderberry can work it’s possible that other “alternative” remedies also work.

I do think “woo” is a big danger. Too many people believe really dumb things. It does undermine real medicine when people’s ignorance and superstition gets unwarranted acceptance. So I don’t disagree with Cairnarvon or Orac and I wouldn’t even be writing about this except that I have a friend who believes that he does work based on evidence that helps people using alternative medicine and that got me thinking.

Extract of Elderberry



I love this show. It is smart, funny and “adult”, meaning they talk like I do and address mature themes.

But it is totally fucking lame that Season 3 is not available on iTunes. Somehow these TV execs just can’t seem to pull their heads out of their asses. I’m not going to subscribe to Showtime. I am going to download Weeds from iTunes, like I have for Season 1 and Season 2.

I also like Heroes. I purchased the last season on iTunes as well. Now, due to heads-up-asses TV execs, Heroes is no longer on iTunes. So I am Tivo-ing it for free. Hey, guys, great thinking! Less revenue! Was that your plan?



Alternative Medicine

A friend of mine is practitioner of alternative medicine. Meanwhile, I am a scientist (of sorts) and a skeptic and I agree entirely with the notion of evidence-based medicine. Modern medicine is successful because it is science. We repeatedly test things and we use what works and reject what doesn’t.

The problem with alternative medicine is that it is not subject to this methodology. You’ll notice that if you buy a echinacea, for example, it makes claims on the bottle and then has a little warning that says these claims have not been proven or verified in the same way as pharmaceuticals.

Furthermore, things like acupuncture and chiropractic have often been proven to be ineffective.

So what’s at work here?

First of all, the placebo effect is well documented as being effective. If I give you a pill and tell you it will make you feel better, if you believe me, you will feel better. Placebos are good medicine in that they create favorable outcomes for many, many people.

Alternative medicine, taken in the worst light, probably acts as a placebo. And in that way, there is really nothing wrong with it.

But my friend makes more substantial arguments. His concern is holistic, meaning his goal is for people to actually be healthy. If, for example, you don’t exercise and your diet is shit, Lipitor will treat your high cholesterol. It won’t make you healthy. In fact, it enables you to be less healthy. He maintains that western medicine, in this case, has an effective drug but it does not have the right answer for getting and keeping people healthy.

He also feels that the statistical basis of “evidence based medicine” too often makes claims that are later invalidated. This is, in fact, true. Researchers continually confuse correlation with causation. They find barely significant results and get big headlines. Later, there are new headlines with contradictory results.

I don’t know what the answer is. Clearly modern medicine is indispensable, effective and necessary. Less clearly, but perhaps importantly, alternative medicine yields positive outcomes (a fact) and looks at health holistically, something sorely lacking in modern medicine. Your doctor should perhaps insist you get on the treadmill, get off the fast food and actually live a healthy lifestyle instead of relying on a pill to make it all better. A pill, I’ll add, that can have tangible side effects.

I’m as ready as most scientists to reject alternative medicine as complete bullshit. But my friend treats people who get better. He understands health in the big picture. He also knows when modern medicine is the correct approach. It makes me wonder whether there isn’t something we could learn from alternative medicine if we were a little more open minded.

Alternative Medicine

Your profile photo

This is obvious but I can’t help commenting.

1. If you don’t consider yourself attractive, you don’t post your photo on your profile. Instead you use some clever avatar.

2. If you think you are unattractive except in specific photos, you choose a photo that makes you look as attractive as possible. There are tons of people who are not hot who have profile photos that look hot.

3. If you consider yourself attractive, you always post your photo everywhere. Flickr, for example, is full of self-portraits by pretty people.

It’s #2 that I find most interesting. People want other people to think they are hot, even if they are not hot. I consider myself in this category too!

For many, many people seeming to be hot is the next best thing to actually being hot.

Let me add that I’m not a shallow, superficial person and I don’t really care if people are hot or not. It’s hardly a noble attribute. In fact, it confuses me how important it is to some people.

So here is my question to you: would you rather be ridiculously hot and of average intelligence or ridiculously intelligent and of average hotness?

An unrelated question: would you rather be rich and unhappy or poor and happy?

Your profile photo