A blog about science, medicine, media and the ramblings of Irish hack....

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Anti-biotics, Fluoride, tumours, alcohol and rhetoric - a wide-ranging round-up!

Whenever I start to write a blog-post, I find myself feel guilty over the litany of excuses I produce for my tardiness - Apologies for the delay in updating; much has been afoot -I've been somewhat side-tracked with academic work, teaching and even a sneaky holiday home to go hiking / play guitar, and as usual I've neglected to blog - I have, however, not been totally idle and figured I'd give you good folks who come here despite my lethargy an update of recent events, articles and radio / TV work - as a result, this blog-post will probably be all over the place but there should be something for everyone!


 Response to the Open Letter last Month 

 Despite the absolute inanity of the subject, the anti-fluoride movement continues apace - further to my open letter to Dublin City Council a few weeks back, the council decided that facts and evidence are pretty much a nuisance and can be disregarded and replaced with vapid scaremongering and anti-science sentiment; in their infinite wisdom they voted to remove fluoride from the water supply. This isn't particularly shocking - I've written before both here and for the Guardian the mindless populist politics that drive such a decision, but it is a shame our elected representatives fixate on shallow posturing rather than considered health policy. I should make an exception to my harsh words here however  - several members of Labour, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael replied to my e-mail and told me they would most certainly not vote to remove fluoride. However, no one from Sinn Fein, who pushed the motion, even bothered to reply to the email or letter. Quelle surprise.

Of course, in some respects the whole thing is academic, in the loosest sense of the word - Dublin City Council have no more authority to remove fluoride from water than I have to stage a wet t-shirt contest in the House of Commons, which might lead one to question why exactly the assembled genii of Sinn Fein pressed a vote on it, especially as their similar stunt in the Dail last year fell flat on its face. I debated TD Brain Stanley about this at the time and wrote up my understanding of their position here, but still the whole daft thing rumbles on.

It may be an unsuitable venue for wet t-shirt contests, but if anyone wishes to dunk Cameron in ice-cold water you won't hear any objections out of me.... .

Frankly, the whole fluoride thing bores me to tears; instead of presenting nuanced arguments or actual evidence, the anti-fluoridation lobby in Ireland continue with outlandish assertion, half-baked conspiracy theory and badly-made meme images in lieu of an actual argument. Like some bizarre hydra of hysteria, no sooner have you debunked one myth when three more get flung up in its stead. More than that,  as I've mentioned before it's an area which attracts a very dedicated, angry contingent with severe conspiratorial fixations, and the sheer volume of insulting, aggressive or plain unhinged correspondence it generates is exhausting;  In a textbook demonstration of ad-hom approaches,  I've been accused of being everything from a big pharmacy shill to a bloody member of the Illuminati. The only reason I persist in stating the scientific case is that if the anti-fluoride campaigners were to actually succeed in their position, it would not only set back public health, but would send an alarming message that evidence doesn't matter, and baseless assertion is enough - remember, as Geoff Lillis explained recently, the same lobby group are resoundingly anti-vaccination (and obviously, anti-science) and my real fear is that reversing fluoridation would encourage them rather than appease them. Anyway, I digress....

New Articles

Moving on from the seemingly endless fluoride debacle,  I've also written quite a few pieces over the past few months which are mercifully unrelated to fluoride. In no particular order, topics I've covered recently are...

Anti-biotic resistance  - Antibiotic resistance is a huge encroaching danger to our collective health, and risks rendering us helpful in the face of once curable diseases. If we're to avoid this grim conclusion, we need to take steps to moderate and innovate our drug use. (Opinion, Irish Times)     

Debate, rhetoric and logic -  With the advent of the Internet, we're constantly surrounded by discussion, argument and flame wars masquerading as debate. However, often logic is jettisoned when we fall prey to bad arguments and non-sequitar reasoning. These dubious rhetorical traps are ubiquitous in everything from politics to newspaper pieces, and serve as a vehicle for dodgy reasoning. In this piece, I present some common logical and rhetorical fallacies, and discuss how we can avoid being caught out by them - or worse still, engaging in them  (Irish Times, Features)  

Libertarian ideology and science  - In my previous pieces I have constantly lamented the jarring disconnect between science and ideology; science by definition changes its conclusions in the light of evidence, whilst too frequently ideology denies evidence to preserve its dogma. In this piece, I look at the clashes between economic libertarianism and scientific issues like climate change and gun control, re-iterating the research that suggests ideology blinds us. (Guardian, Science / Opinion)  

Obesity Myths and fad diets - There are entire publishing houses dedicated solely to doling out the latest trendy celebrity endorsed diet plan or supplement, yet the best medical evidence indicates these not only won't make us any thinner, they can actively damage us. Despite incredibly strange dietary fads, it appears that humans, like the rest of the cosmos, are still bound to the laws of thermodynamics and people will put on weight when their energy consumption exceeds their energy requirements, regardless of that hawkers try and cell  (Opinion, Irish Times)

Alcohol and date rape drugs -  If media coverage is in any way indicative of risk, then drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) is alarmingly common. However, public perception is often wrong and in this piece I discuss how research indicates that if any drug deserves the moniker of date-rape drug, it is alcohol that steals this dubious crown. (Guardian Science Blog)

Radio / Television contributions 

I've also done some panel work with BBC and was a guest on BBC World Weekend a while back. I've also been on subsequently with a radio essay on climate change and politics - you can listen to it below

Academic work - Oxygen consumption dynamics

It's been busy on the academic front too - Dr. Alex Fletcher, Dr. Mike Partridge any myself recently had a paper published in Royal Society Open Science, the brand new journal from Royal Society. In this paper, we focus on the mathematics and physics of oxygen consumption in some common models tumour models, and investigate the effects of different oxygen consumption terms. The paper is open access and you can view it here if you're so inclined!

We also made the cover image of the journal, with a 3D rendered tumour spheroid, which you can see here. Turns out Mathematica can render pretty well, if you tell it where the light is coming from!

Our RSOS cover...

Because it was a first issue, we were also interviewed by the journal. If you're curious, you can watch us explain it here!

Right - that's enough for one blog post! Some of you have asked me about the PLOS One guitar paper, and I promise I will try and write a stand-alone blog post on that soon!  Until next time amigos -DRG.

PS: I've fixed the bloody contact form on my academic website - apologies if you couldn't get me there before.. 

Also, I've set up a public facebook page, as I had a few problems with slightly dubious people trying to get info from my private one and had to lock it down (long story) - please do feel free to like, and engage there too - I'll post my updates there in future! 

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