Thursday, 23 October 2008

It Came From Beyond The Flyscreen

Courtesy of the Cairns Post, your daily monster!

I find this incredibly cool. It has all the elements of classic horror: Non-mammalian (and therefore scarier) protagonist, cute and fluffy victim, elements of Shelob (still fairly topical, don't you think?) and right in our own back yard! Run for the hills!

For size comparison, although the uncredited journalist at the Post conveniently left this out, that bird would be about 10cm long, and if you look at the other photos linked off that web page, you will see that they have carefully selected the one that makes the spider look biggest, and therefore scariest.

This is called not lying, because that would be dishonest, but Being Tricky.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The difference between 'Traditional medicine' and 'medicine'

This, from the Courier Mail, is a brilliant example of medical science at work.

Aboriginal man uses traditional medicine as an analgesic. Scientist observes, gets intrigued and, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that tree bark has already given us one analgesic (that would be "Aspirin"), researches and finds chemicals with pain-relieving properties.

The downside to this is that it is still possible to patent a naturally-occurring chemical, but I will let my strong beliefs in open-access knowledge slide for the time being.

The difference between 'traditional medicine' and 'medicine' is that the former may have built up through superstition, or it may have built up through experience and observation, while the latter has built up entirely through observation, informed by experience: Rigorous, repeated, exhaustive, tedious and mind-numbing observation. Traditional medicine may work, to degrees. Medicine, with due regard for probabilities and individual differences, works.

And then a really crucial part of the article embedded, with depressing predictability, at the end: herbal products may be available within five years, but drugs could take 15 years because of the standards of testing required for approval under Australian regulations.

Herbal products, in other words, don't have to be tested safe the way that carefully tuned drugs need to be.

Remember that.

Link to Courier Mail article 'Aborigine, scientist find pain relief in marjarla tree'

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Queensland needs regulated at-fault driver personal injury insurance

Sorry for the serious title, but this is a serious issue.

I work, and despite trying to wriggle out of it, still work, in the community sector and in brain injury.

I am currently, as a result of a report I am writing for job no. 2, skimming through the add-on at-fault driver protection schemes that most of Queensland's licensed Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurers include with their CTP schemes as an incentive to get more customers.

CTP is automatically attached to vehicle registration, and it covers personal injury, up to and including permanent disability or death. As the medical expenses alone could run over a million dollars for a serious accident, this is a good thing, no matter how much it stings to have to pay half of your registration as compulsory insurance.

The thing is, Queensland (and most of the other states in Australia) have an at-fault scheme - if you were judged to have caused the accident which maimed you, you can fucking well pay your own medical and rehabilitation or care costs.

Which has resulted in the most extraordinary drain on the publicly funded disability support system, and far too many cases of family breakdown as families try to cope with long-term disability resulting from drunken street-racing or simple lapse of concentration.

Which is why the CTP insurers tack-on an at-fault cover, with payouts ranging from laughably inadequate to just about reasonable.

But they all limit themselves to physical, sensory or spinal cord injury. They specifically exclude, all of them, psychiatric illness or psychological disorders. And none of them even make any mention, exclusionary or otherwise, of brain injury. This is the bit that ticks me off. In the Civil Liability Regulation (Qld) 2003, Schedule 4 lists each category of injury covered by regulated, at-fault, CTP. And not only does it list brain injury, it lists Extreme, Serious, Moderate and Minor brain injury. Ditto for mental disorder.

What's going on here? Are they drawing an arbitrary line in the sand to cut costs? Are they counting on community ignorance of the appalling, debilitating effects of brain injury and quietly ignoring the issue? Or is brain injury, with its potential to demand lifetime care costs that make simple quadriplegia pale into insignificance, such a huge cost that they're running scared?

For added hypocrisy value, Suncorp Metway Insurance are a commercial partner of YoungCare, a new and very high-profile provider of 5-star (I'm not joking) age-appropriate (well, kind of) long-term high-care accommodation for young people with brain injury and other debilitating conditions. YoungCare advertised strongly on the brain injury issue. Suncorp appear to be refusing to acknowledge their client group.

Shame, Suncorp, shame, and shame on the rest of you as well.

May the madness please stop now?

(Update: links fixed)

It is not uncommon in this life for people with no basic knowledge of science/medicine/biology/you name it to grab hold of an idea with all the fixity of a tumour-free Tasmanian Devil grabbing hold of a large steak and, refusing to let go, get lifted off the ground by the Park Ranger of actual fact and be left without a leg to stand on.

There are creationists who can't seem to grab the simplest principles of evolution. Flat-earthers who can't grab the simplest principles of gravity. Moon-landing denialists who refuse to listen when people patiently explain away all the things that their earth-bound experience has trouble with.

But although these things may reduce the average level of knowledge or even intelligence of the general population, and may even faintly reduce the pace of progress or even stall it altogether through limiting community or political (and therefore financial) support, few wacko, woo-woo, denialist beliefs are quite so dangerous as the "Vaccines cause autism" crowd, who are slowly dragging us back from the brink of all-but-eradicating measles, whooping couch and others to the point where, once again, hospital beds and graves are being filled by preventable diseases and complications such as encephalitis or meningitis are causing very real long-term disabilities and, just for added irony value, potentially causing autism through pregnant mothers catching rubella.

I was looking, a while back, for a good website which collected their scatter-brained arguments and summarised the (really quite simple to understand, for the most part) rebuttals from actual science. There wasn't one, so I started compiling my own list of web resources

Well, now there is a website I can reference.

First, a bit of background: The whole stupid scare really got off the ground in the UK with a "professional witness" for vaccination injury lawyers called Andrew Wakefield. But the face of vaccination denialism in the USA, where most of the debate is happening, is a former Playboy Playmate and current actress called Jenny McCarthy. To add some proper celebrity endorsement to the united ineptitude of her cause, she's boffing Jim Carey and now
he's putting his foot in his mouth on a regular basis to back her up.

And so the website to go to for a nice concise overview of the vaccination denialism nonsense is called, unfortunately for its international relevance,
Stop Jenny McCarthy.

Go there. Read it. And stop trying to abuse the concept of intelligence by saying things like "But vaccines have formaldehyde in them!" or "I hear what you're saying, but I just wonder why there are so many children being diagnosed with autism". Stop fucking wondering, and start listening to the answers.

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