Now that I'm old enough to receive the AARP magazine, I read each issue cover to cover. They're packed with nice articles geared to the aging, and......there's no nice way to say this.....that's what I'm doing. But a recent piece about Alzheimers research in September's Bulletin (Alzheimer's: a new Theory, by Elizabeth Agnvall) left me un-warm and un-fuzzy. I've known people to succumb to Alzheimers. Moreover, I don't have it now, but how do I know it's not lurking around the corner? Some would say it's made certain inroads, already. So...yes...I want medical science to get its act together on this malady. Sure, they have their act together now, the author maintains. But they insisted, with the same fervor, that they had it together just a few years ago. The author points out, however, that today's approach is a 180 degree reversal from yesterday's.
Turns out that for the last 20 years, medical science has proceeded on the theory that “sticky plaques” are the culprit causing Alzheimer's. Drugs have been developed to search and destroy those plaques. Haven't they been peddled on American TV: Ask your doctor if such-and-such is right for you? Those ads drive Pop into a rage. But now sticky plaques are thought to be not the culprit! Rather, they are the body's defense for attacking the real menace: clumps of amyloid beta protein, called oligomers. Oligomers do the damage, not sticky plaques, so the new thinking goes. Sticky plaques are the body's means to take them out! We've been targeting the wrong enemy! Medically sanctioned “friendly fire”…...the practice for the last twenty years!
Now, being a blogger who believes in God, I have to be so careful writing anything that might be perceived as critical of science, lest some science-worshipping atheist come along and lecture me that science is based on EVIDENCE, whereas religion is based on mere BELIEF, and what do I think is smarter when I'm sick: pray myself better, or go to a science-based doctor, and do I still believe that the earth is flat?! I tell you, it's a risky course to take. So, let me say it upfront: I'm not against science. I know it's a discovery process. I know mistakes are made along the way. Alright, so the cops arrive upon the scene and shoot all the good guys instead of the bad guys! Is that any reason to be down on law enforcement? Of course not! A slight adjustment is all that's needed. So let bygones be bygones and we'll all be happy.
No. I'm not critical on that account. Mistakes happen. God knows there's plenty of people who scour past publications of JWs to find understandings which have changed, and then get all hysterical over it, supposing, I guess, that any modification is like smashing the Ten Commandments tablets. Jehovah's Witnesses tack. We hone in. We get ever closer and sometimes alter course. Why should science not do the same?
What grabs me is this quote: “[Andrew] Dillin, of the Salk Institute, started pursuing the oligomer theory several years ago. Then, the idea was so controversial, Dillin says, that some scientists would walk out of the room when he made his presentation at conferences. Now, he says, many of the top researchers in the field are convinced.”
They walked out of the room? How dogmatic does that sound? How in keeping is that with Plonka's manifesto “prove a scientist wrong and he will thank you for it.” It's rather hard to prove them wrong when they walk out of the room as soon as they hear something they don't like. Now, that's intransigence of the sort they would, in a heartbeat, ascribe to religion. And yet, just a few years later, these same scientists alter and say “Oh.....you know, that fellow was right all along!”
They're not immune to stubbornness, that's all I'm saying. What steams me is those who claim they are.....that second buttressing layer of scientist-philosopher-cheerleader-atheist types who worship science themselves and ram it down all of our throats as the be-all and end-all. For, if this new theory is right, then you were better off declining when your doctor prescribed those Alzheimer's medications. “No, I don't trust it,” and “these guys don't know what they're talking about” are now seen to be perfectly reasonable views to have held. But God help you if you held them while the fat-headed 180 degree ass-backward Alzheimer's approach was in vogue. “Alright, don't take the meds, if you're going to be so pig-headed!” can't you hear some of them say. “Maybe you want to go to a faith healer, or a witch doctor, instead!” But now we see that's exactly what you should have done. They may not have helped, but they wouldn't have hurt, as did the now-outdated science-based approach.
The article soft-pedals this bit of unpleasantness: “And if the [new] theory is correct, then drugs that target plaques – as many of the most promising medications have done in the past few years – may not help people who have the disease. They could even make them worse.” A very deferential statement, is it not? If the theory is correct, they certainly make them worse.....one would think, in exact correlation with how they were supposed to have made them better. Even though they were the “most promising” medications. Unless the old meds never did anything in the first place. Perhaps, in that case, you can now claim they do no harm. But when marketers urge us to pester our doctors for the stuff, surely the response they hope to elicit from that learned one is not “don't bother, they don't do anything, you'll just be wasting your money!”
It took me awhile to realize....dikki clued me in, actually....that pharmaceutical companies advertizing on TV is not a worldwide phenomenon. It happens in only two countries, I am told, of which the United States is one. So it will be hard for non-American readers to fathom just how obnoxious these ads are. Decisive, immaculate and impossibly handsome doctors stride purposefully through futuristic laboratories. They glance alternately at teams of researchers peering into microscopes, at banks of computers, at their clipboard, and, of course, at YOU, as they authoritatively report the very latest astounding medical breakthrough. “Such-and-such is not right for everyone,” they acknowledge, “but...damn it, man,” they seem to be saying, “you know it's right for you!” Even as I write, I'm recalling one such “doctor” striding through a lab reminiscent of Batman's lair, touting some new med that unlocks the very “power of the sea,” (fish oil...the stuff you've been able to buy forever at any health foods store) and.....would you believe it?....the donkey actually ends his pitch peering contemplatively into the lab's full-wall aquarium, as if marveling how his outfit has managed to make a buck out of something God provided free.
This formula is not set in concrete. It can vary slightly. Alzheimer's, for example, afflicts our grandparents, and our grandparents are kindly, aren't they? So a brusque futuristic setting will not do. No. The setting here must be warmer, a kindly doctors office, for example, and the doctor himself ought to have gray hair. Antidepressants, too, ought to be touted by a kindly and caring doctor, not some self-centered jerk who's Porsche vanity plates read “PSYCH DR.” For woman's health, we even change the doctor's gender, for isn't any guy specializing in female issues a little suspect? No longer is the doctor an impossibly handsome man. Now it's an impossibly attractive woman, who's also athletic, has piercing eyes and an oddly spelled first name....you know, a Bond girl.
This type of 180 reversal in medical science happens all the time*, so that one ought to be given more credit than they commonly are (namely, none) if they choose to pass on the latest medical, or even scientific, thinking. It's somewhat as they say about the weather here in Rochester (or most anywhere else, I imagine): don't like the weather? Just stick around. It will change. Those who resist the latest advances of science for whatever reasons....perhaps reasons they can't even articulate.....intuitive reasons, if you will, sometimes come out ahead. They certainly do so often enough that there's no reason to criticize them. To acknowledge such is not to deride science, but only to put it into perspective. It's a generally progressive means of discovery, but not so sterling that it trumps every other sort of thinking. If one accepts that the present scientific consensus is tentative, then one does okay, and one can take it in stride when understandings change, being happy about the advance. Even then, however, it's only a (most likely) forward step taken, and not the finished mystery. Alas, there are ever so many who take the latest scientific notion as dogma. God help you if you fail to embrace their conclusions as truth.
It doesn't mean you ought to disparage science, of course, but surely it means you need not respond “how high?” when science says “jump!”
********* The bookstore