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Vioxx, the Scientific Method, and the Atheists

Lots of people, if you levied a $4.9 billion fine on them, might look for a bridge from which to jump. But when Merck, the pharmaceutical company, struck a deal with lawyers to settle 27,000 lawsuits for that amount, legal and financial types were ecstatic. It could have cost so much more. I've heard 25 billion. I've even heard 50 billion. This is how you do it! one market analyst gushed. This is how you come back from a defective product. You fight each case no holds barred for a few years to discourage plaintiffs. Then you offer to settle for a lowball amount. Merck's stock rose 2.3% the day they announced the move, even while the overall market was sharply down.

Medical and ethical folks were less enthused. Like Dr. Eric Topol, for example, the cardiologist who in 2001 co-authored a JAMA paper warning of heart attack risks associated with the drug company's Vioxx. “I think they’ve gotten off quite easily, frankly, for the problems that they’ve engendered,” he said. A large clinical trial that ended in 2000 showed that Vioxx was much riskier than Aleve, an older painkiller. Four more years were to pass before Merck took the drug off the market, pulling the plug on their Young Rascals jingle "It's a Beautiful Morning" when it seemed the morning might not be so beautiful after all.

But if Dr. Topol groused, you should have heard Dr. Katherine Di Angelis. "What people should learn from this is you don't believe anything, not one thing, put out by a pharmaceutical company. Just don't believe it," she said on National Public Radio. "You start from there." She estimated probably 5-10 % of the people who were taking it really should have been taking it. The other 90% raised their risk of a heart attack or stroke with no significant benefits. "When you want to make money by selling products to people who don't need it....then you're going to get into this kind of trouble"

Dr Di Angelis is Editor in Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Now, this sticks in my craw even more than it might normally because I've just been squabblingwith a flock of atheists who worship science. Of course, they would never use that term - I can hear them sputtering now - yet what they do so closely resembles worship that I can't tell the difference.

"You don't believe anything, not one thing, put out by a pharmaceutical company," she advises the public. Okay. Good advice. Did she have counsel more harsh for medical doctors? After all, you could not get this drug over the counter. A doctor had to prescribe it. The general public can be excused for being duped by drug hype. But what of medical doctors, those high priests of the scientific method? The atheists I mentioned positively gush over the scientific method, the ultimate test of truth. Yet here we see that it's foremost representatives in the medical field, doctors, are every bit as susceptible to error as the average Joe. They uncritically swallow any bilge handed down to them.

My skirmish with the atheists was with regard to alternative health treatments: chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy. All hoax, they insist. They know that because they and their scientific allies have subjected such techniques to the Scientific Method - double blind repeatable controlled studies - with very unspectacular results. The fact that more and more people are choosing these therapies over conventional medicine means nothing to them. Those folks have only testimonials to offer, say the atheists, or even worse, anecdotal evidence. Absolutely worthless, they insist rather dogmatically; it only goes to show how gullible people are.

Tell it to the 27,000 plaintiffs who allege injury or even death of their loved ones from Vioxx. If alternative therapies fail, they simply fail. It's very rare for them to do harm.

One alternative that has gone from cult to mainstream within my lifetime is chiropractic. It's every step forward was fought tooth and nail by the American Medical Association, (AMA) which attempted to use its science stature to label the competition quackery. It took a lawsuitwhich ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court to end the iron fist.

As burdensome as the "quackery" namecalling was the financial hit one incurred in seeking chiropractic care. Insurance rarely covered chiropractic. Patients paid out of pocket. Imagine: medical care could be had for free (or with small co-pay); chiropractic care you paid for yourself. People chose chiropractic care. (To this day, a cynical friend swears by the rule: if it works, insurance won't cover it.) It wasn't superstitious dolts choosing the alternative therapy, which I suspect the science camp would love to maintain. No, it was the more educated and well-heeled, the only persons who could ignore the financial implications of seeking chiropractic care.

To this day, devotees of medical science grouse that chiropractic fails their tests of proof. Some grudgingly allow that it can serve a limited purpose in the case of back pain, but nothing more. Meanwhile, one constantly runs across persons crippled for life by disc removal surgery, (I know some of them) the mainstream medical practice that dominated for years. (still does, I think) How did chiropractic become so well accepted? Largely through the avenues my atheists despise: testimonial and anecdotal evidence. Thirty million people in the United States seek chiropractic care. Are they all fools?

Many areas of alternative medicine are more art than science. Didn't we once refer to all medicine as "healing arts"? They draw on the subtle uniqueness of each individual, not on the broad similarities which we all share. But therein lies a problem for scientific verification. If every single patient is different and your health care is attuned to those differences, that's a problem for the scientific method, which is most useful when there are common attributes readily grouped and measured. Alternative medicine is more like your child who does something irresistibly cute, so that you want to show him off. Will he do the same thing for relatives or friends or camera? Not a chance. How do you apply the scientific method to individual attributes, when it is those very attributes that form the basis of this or that treatment? Insisting alternative medicine conform to the scientific method is a bit like playing an away game, on someone else's turf with all their fans booing you. Better to play on your own field.

Then again, it could be that conventional science simply ignores what is too contrary to prevailing wisdom. This apparently happened withthat studyconcluding the placebo effect is overhyped. It made front page news one day in 2001, then it vanished without a trace, like a mafia don with concrete boots. Nobody ever mentioned it again. Might this be the case with alternative treatments, whose supporting evidence is ignored by the AMA people?

Inconceivable, says my science-adoring atheist: "The vast majority of scientists revel in what they don't know because it provides them with an opportunity to find out what's happening and explain it. Prove one wrong and he or she will be ecstatic," he tells me.

No, I don't think so. Science does not purge humans of human nature. Max Planck the physicist offers a more realistic assessment: "People think new truths are accepted when the proponents are able to convince the opponents. Instead, the opponents of the truth gradually die, and a new generation comes along who is familiar with the idea."

I'm not opposed to conventional health care. I'll see a doctor when sick (unlike Pop). But it's not the monopoly on truth that it would like us to believe. Alternatives work too well. I've seen, heard, and experienced it. When testimonials become overwhelming, you don't reject them simply because it's not the type of evidence you would prefer.

Vincent McCabe's book Let Like Cure Like (1997) discusses principles underlying most alternative therapies (homeopathy in his particular case): These philosophies, both thousands of years old, have yet to be proved scientifically because of the limitations of science, not because they are not true. p 17

Awake!, on the other hand, the JW publication, stays above the fray. Often it discusses matters of health. Invariably it states it does not endorse any specific treatment, but discusses what it does for informational purposes only. In other words, let's not have anyone take my views and think it represents all of Jehovah's Witnesses.

********************************  The bookstore


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Winged Migration and the Evolutionists

The bird newscaster was on the scene, microphone in Somberly, he related the details of the grisly crash. And it was grisly. Behind him you could see the downed airplane, broken and aflame. “Details are still sketchy,” he reported, “but it appears that the name of the bird sucked into the engines in Harold Kruntz.”

Such is the imagination of Gary Larsen, creator of the Far Side, who imagines the bird’s point of view.

That’s what the 2003 film Winged Migration does as well. It relates migration from the bird’s point of view. There you are, soaring shoulder to shoulder with big birds, small birds, ugly birds, pretty birds as they wing past and over fields, cities, factories, and ocean. There go the twin towers zipping past. (yep, it was filmed before 911) Does the camera stop to linger? Not for a moment; this is the bird’s point of view. Here is a frigate plying the waters, the birds land on deck. They strut to and fro, on short break from their journey. One or two catch a quick nap on the heat grates. Off yonder we hear some garbled voices on the shortwave. Do we track the source? Nope, this is the bird’s story. Off they fly and you go with them. We never see a person; do birds not care about us as much as we ourselves do?

Same story flying over the Grand Canyon and a few dozen other breathless terrains. No time to sightsee. It’s ‘keep on flying.’ Even a duck hunt is shown from the duck‘s point of view. There you are, flying with your duck buddies when there is a loud pop and one of them goes down!

“How in the world did they get that shot?” you say to yourself over and over again, as you and your birds wing around the world.

They did itwith the help of balloons, gliders, helicopters, and planes. They did it by exposing eggs of some of the birds to the sounds of people and film cameras so that the birds would be unafraid of them later. They did it with patience; French director Jacques Perrin with teams of filmmakers took three years to travel 40 countries and all seven continents, tracking birds of all types - birds on the go.

Narration is sparse, consisting mostly of terse remarks like “it is a matter of life and death.” We follow the arctic tern, a bird that migrates from the summer North Pole to the summer South Pole, and back again. At each endpoint, there are rich food sources. The narrator tells us of the never-ending search for food. You almost wish he’d say more.

Like how did that tern ever discover that such food bonanzas existed 11,000 miles apart? Does anyone have the answer? Do evolutionists? Did one tern just happen to “wander” that distance, and hit pay dirt to such an extent that all terns started doing it? What of the lazy terns that flew lesser distances? Did they all die out?

When fall arrives, Blackpoll Warblers gather on the New England coast. They've flown in from Alaska. By the sea they await the right weather conditions, a strong cold front, to begin their 2400 mile flight to South America. It finally comes and they take off, flying non-stop past Bermuda, heading straight…..for Africa! Approaching Antigua, they climb higher and higher, absurdly high, up to 21,000 feet. It's cold up there and there‘s not much oxygen. What are the stupid birds doing up there, for crying out loud?

They catch a prevailing wind that blows them to South America! Energy expended is less than if the warblers headed directly for that continent! Who’s stupid now? Can the evolutionists explain how that came about?

Come summer’s end, Manx shearwaters begin their migration from Wales. leaving behind their chicks. Once the latter can fly, they follow the adults and reunite in Brazil. One Manx shearwater was taken from Wales to Boston, (by scientists?…..did they blindfold it?) 3200 miles away. It returned to Wales in 13 days. Scientists did it to Adelie penguins, too, stranding them 1200 miles from their rookeries. Apparently unexasperated, (as I would be) they headed straight to the open sea to chow down for the trip ahead, and then returned to the rookeries.

Tom Pearlsenswine can get lost heading to the corner store.

In Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin wrote “Many instincts are so wonderful that their development will probably appear to the reader a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.” To my knowledge, just how such instincts developed has still not been solved. Instead, it is taken off the table. Evolutionists rely on the scientific method, and the scientific method is too narrow to deal with such questions. Where are the repeatable experiments with which you can test this or that hypothesis? So they simply dismiss the whole matter as irrelevant. Thus,  when you come along to discuss the subject, you find you’re playing a board game, the rules of which are that you can’t move your pieces!

Some of Gary Larsen’s birds have reached the ultimate in evolutionary prowess, providing rich fodder for scientific research. Thus, one of his cartoons has a duck approaching in the hallway. The wife says to her husband: “Here he comes. Remember, be kind, but firm. We are not driving him south again this winter!” Evolution being what it is, the duck will no doubt talk them into it.



******  The bookstore


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

At the Bob Dylan Concert

The machine spit out two tickets.  The Dylan concert was just one week away. “Wow, these are awesome seats, “ exclaimed the attendant. “I don’t know how that happened.”

I did, of course. It was on account of clean wholesome living. But why rub her nose in it….just one individual person? I kept my mouth shut. Better to post it all on the internet later.

I don’t go to many concerts. My wife, Mrs. Sheepandgoats, made me go to an outrageously priced Josh Grobin concert a year or two ago, but other than that, I can’t remember the last time I went to one. A couple of times with the kids, maybe, when they reached the age where they wanted to see this group or that group and I wasn’t real happy about it so I thought I would go along myself to hear what they were listening to, much to their embarrassment. That's how I found myself listening to Weezer at the Water Street Music Hall. Wasn't I the only grown-up there? Oh, and there was that Ani DiFranco concert a few years back that I attended with my daughter and son-in-law. Is Ani the next Bob Dylan? She's every bit the poet and innovator he was at that age. Her lyrics are a bit cruder, but's a cruder age, isn't it?

Also, free concerts don’t count, such as the ones the city sponsors each year for the Lilac Festival. This year it was Maria Muldaur.

Bob Dylan is not a kid anymore. He tours a lot; his calendar lists 98 gigs in 217 days in Europe and North America. Doesn't he also host an XM radio show? I’ve never heard him live, not even last year when he made the rounds of minor league baseball stadiums, a cool idea if ever there was one. (Frontier Field in Rochester) His body of work is pretty broad by now, so I figured the time was right. I went with my son. Gordon Field House on the RIT campus. The attendant was right; ours were good seats, center stage, 5 rows back. I could have hit Dylan with a shoe and knocked off his hat had I wanted to.

For some reason they also let in the Democrat and Chronicle music critic, whom I haven’t trusted ever since he trashed Alanis Morrisetteonly because Alanis wouldn’t give him an interview. Had she paid her dues yet, so that she could snub The Critic? There was venom in his consequent review, so it seemed to me.

Sure enough, he trashed Bob Dylan as well, trying to make me mad. Dylan growled through his songs, he asserted. They were “incomprehensible.” People tolerated his old songs well enough, he groused, but got impatient with the new material. Actually, I  (5 rows back) hadn't noticed that. Frankly, the old & the new sound pretty much alike. Dylan doesn't have much range in his voice anymore, and he's rewritten his old material so he doesn't need range. That he can do so & get away with it (he did, handily) is testimony to his versatility. Seemed to me that everyone was pretty enthused and got more so as the night wore on. But if you came with your old Dylan records under your arm, looking forward to sound-alikes, you might have been bummed.

Furious, I came to Bob’s defense, and told off that Critic on his own blog. But to my chagrin, some sorehead bloggers also chimed in to agree with him. Ah, well…

I was slow to warm up to Dylan’s music. Highway 61 Revisited, with its Kafka-like lyrics, logically loose yet emotionally tight, did nothing for me until I revisited it years later. Then, the more I learned of Dylan, the more interesting he seemed. Any number of times he changed genres, without regard for what role he was “supposed to” play or who might be put off. He started as a folk singer, and the folk singing crowd soon imagined they owned him, so he was roundly booed when he first appeared with electric instruments. And you should have heard the born-agains when he released Slow Train Coming. He’d been saved! But by next album or two it was clear it had all been a ruse, or a short lived fad at best. He just wanted to play with that kind of music! Some of those born-agains tossed him right back into hell.

He broke the three minute song rule with impunity; he’d write songs however long he wanted to write them, sometimes five minutes, sometimes ten, sometimes more. He'd put ten syllables where there was only room for three, and get away with it. The media people would pound him with prying questions. He’d feed them nonsense, but they wouldn’t find out till later it was nonsense. When they complained he was being uncooperative, not answering their questions, he protested. He was cooperating; it's just that they were asking the wrong questions.  In this way he was able to raise a family in relative peace, and you get to know him through his work, not by what silly entertainment writers say about him. He fares well that way, for his lyrics paint him as a modest guy who values what is right. Has he ever penned anything mean-spirited?

Even now there’s some report about his treating his grandson's kindergarten class to a live show, just for fun. The boy brings him there for show-and-tell, I guess. I think I would ask him to do the same were I the teacher. "Hey, why don't you bring your grandpa in for show and tell?" But the classmates don’t quite know what to make of him. A source told the New York Post newspaper: "The kids have been coming home and telling their parents about the weird man who keeps coming to class to sing scary songs on his guitar”

Usually artists on stage will banter with the audience. Dylan didn't say a word to anyone. That's not to say he wasn't obliging. When they brought him back for an encore, he let loose with, not one, but two numbers, on top of an already generous concert. And then he appeared once again with the whole band to acknowledge applause, swaying back and forth himself. A few months after his concert, he again made newsin Rochester, in a roundabout sort of way.

Streaming out of the gymnasium onto the parking lot, we all had to make way for the Bob Dylan bus; actually two buses, the first towing a trailer. Headed to the next gig in Pittsburgh, getting an early jump.

Update here:



What Good Am I,  by Bob Dylan

What good am I if I'm like all the rest,
If I just turned away, when I see how you're dressed,
If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry,
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don't do,
If I see and don't say, if I look right through you,
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin' sky,
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep,
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don't try,
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I've had every chance and yet still fail to see
Bridge: If my hands tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die,
What good am I?

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Second Life, Avatars, and the Real Life

There was a lull in our work. We were awaiting some new religious commission or discovery - perhaps something we could enter in the next Judge First, Ask Questions Later religious conference, that august assemblage to which we last year submitted two worthy entries but this year have come up with zilch. To kill time, we broke out the Acquire game, a personal favorite of mine, even though Monopoly and Life are better known. All the regulars were there: Wheatandweeds, Weedsandwheat, Pearlsenswine, and Fishenchips. Our former science officer Tom Tombaugh was also there, more full of himself than usual, flush with success from his latest scientific breakthrough. I have to hand it to him; it really was brilliant. Since Aristotle's time, scientists have wondered why, when ducks are flying in 'V' formation, one arm will be longer than the other. In a blinding flash of insight, Tombaugh hypothesized that it was because there were more ducks on the longer arm! Of course, fellow scientists laughed their sides off, as they had done with Semmelweis, but careful measurements verified Tombaugh’s hypothesis! I would not be surprised if this advances his reputation considerably among the scientific community, which was unimpressed with his last, rather ‘pedestrian’ research on sock-eating shoes.

So all of us were moving our little pieces around, wheeling and dealing with play money, when in walks Tom Whitepebble - the same Whitepebble who made an everloven fortune in the courtesy newspaper delivery business. We invited him to play, but he declined. Games like this are made for losers, he maintains, who can’t make it in the real world, so they strut around pretending to be millionaires in the board game world! Naturally, we were all indignant, but also a little hurt, for what he said was basically true. None of us have made our financial mark in the world, and, come to think of it, I can’t recall Bill Gates ever playing Monopoly.

I recalled this experience upon when I came across a Wall St Journal article about a fellow who spends all his time playing Second Life. Second Life, as many readers will know better than I, is an online game in which you, represented by your “avatar,”  interact with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players, I’m told, and together they make up an online world, which can become more interesting to them than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by such factors as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition.

The character featured in the article is almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment, as long as fourteen hours a day, the Journal reported, pausing only for bathroom breaks! His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a fond remnant of his actual sixty year old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes. (in real life he works at a help desk) He’s idolized by all his employees, sort of like Michael Scott, I guess, and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a king.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, do everything a married couple might be expected to do…yeah, everything! In real life, he’s never met the woman, and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.

Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy! “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. (It’s the second marriage for both of them) But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good fellow, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world! She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (Mrs. Sheepandgoats would dump my breakfast over my head at that point.)

Imagine. An online world so engrossing that people prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Acquire and Monopoly are mere….well….board games.

Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as if it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “real” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind; everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not His purpose; a paradise earth, much like Eden (which literally means garden, or paradise) is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of His purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end there’s little difference between us. A mere few decades finds us all senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That’s why Paul encouraged Timothy to….“give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.        1 Tim 6:17-19

There is some basis, therefore, in viewing this life as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar! And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if our WSJ character is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not always within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude! Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail - do not pass Go, but the game does end for all. The real life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they are able to in this life. But it’s the real life that they look forward to.


Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’