Reject Pat Robertson

“On Sunday morning, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson told TV viewers nation-wide that the threat posed by liberal judges is “probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings.” When an incredulous George Stephanopoulos asked if Robertson really believed that these judges posed “the most serious threat America has faced in nearly 400 years of history, more serious than al Qaeda, more serious than Nazi Germany and Japan, more serious than the Civil War?,” he responded, “George, I really believe that.” [1]

These comments were not made in isolation. In fact, Robertson’s statement is only the most outrageous example of a growing effort from the extreme right to whip up an intense fear and hatred of American judges — including comments from Republican congressmen and senators intimidating, threatening and even justifying outright violence against judges. [2] The strategy is designed to build support for the Republican “nuclear” scheme to break the rules and stack the courts — and it is poisonous to our democracy. It must stop here.

That’s why we are launching a national petition demanding that Bill Frist and Tom DeLay publicly reject Robertson’s statement. If they do, it will send a clear signal that this type of dangerous incitement against officers of the law is not welcome in our democracy. And if they don’t, it will send an equally clear signal about how far they are willing to go. Please sign today.” (Move On)

Aging: Clues for the ‘Stay Sharp’ Diet

“Folate, or folic acid, a common ingredient in multivitamins, may be linked to faster mental deterioration in older people, even at the recommended doses.

Researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that older people who took folic acid supplements at or above the recommended daily allowance of 400 micrograms had a faster rate of mental decline than others their age. The effect was also evident in people whose diets were high in folate.” (New York Times )

Its routine inclusion in multivitamins aside, many health-conscious people have deliberately added folate supplement to their diets because of evidence that it has cardiovascular benefits. This is in addition to its established benefit in averting certain birth defects in the developing embryo when taken by women in pregnancy.

Bedside Wisdom

One of my favorite physician writers, Sherwin Nuland (How We Die) shares my malaise about the increasing penetration of ‘evidence-based medicine’ into medical practice. EBM is the slavish practice of basing medical decision-making only on the odds established by peer-reviewed research studies. It is all the buzz, and is especially amenable to the managed-care bureaucrats interested in denying reimbursement for healthcare itnerventions that aren’t ‘cost-effective’ or ‘proven.’ Evidence-based medicine, and the ‘treatment algorithms’ that accompany it, largely cripple what used to be one of the central intellectual tasks of the physician — being an intelligent consumer of the medical literature and a creative, indeed artistic, synthetist of research findings with one’s own clinical experience and the more anecdotal wisdom of one’s colleagues.

There are so many flaws with this way of doing business that I cannot begin to enumerate them in any better way than Nuland has done here. Just as consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, the belief in ‘objectivity’ is sometimes little more than the last resort of the uncreative, the subjectively challenged. The practice of medicine has been considered an art as well as a science; imagine if artists in other fields were constrained to produce only the types of art the market researchers had ‘proven’ would sell to the masses, or the cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists had ‘proven’ would activate the proper aesthetic centers in the brain as measured by PET scan or fMRI?

The so-called objectivity of medical research is a misnomer in many ways, among them the prejudiced opinions about what is worthy of publication of the academic journal editors and referees; the bias in favor of positive findings at the expense of negative, refutory research results; and the increasing fist-in-glove control of the research industry by the pharmaceutical industry. (Slate)

PBS Goes Inexorably Republican

GOP-Style ‘Objectivity’ Rules! “The CPB is the private, nonprofit corporation that Congress established in 1967 to bankroll PBS and its member stations, public radio, and online media. The CPB charter mirrors the language of the Fairness Doctrine, stipulating that the corporation adhere to ‘objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.’

The new CPB chairman, Republican Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, invokes the ‘objectivity and balance’ clause to demand that PBS abandon what he considers to be its liberal line. Tomlinson’s crusade, documented in a Page One story in yesterday’s (May 2) New York Times, includes the hiring of two CPB ombudsmen to inspect public television and radio content for bias. The Times says he’s put in the fix for a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee to take the recently vacated slot as CPB president and CEO. Tomlinson also helped raise funds for The Journal Editorial Report, the leaden public-affairs program produced in conjunction with the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page, and has implored public stations to air it. Tomlinson cracked the CPB ‘objectivity and balance’ whip in December 2003 with a letter to the head of PBS stating that ‘Now With Bill Moyers does not does not contain anything approaching the balance the law requires for public broadcasting.'” (Slate)

Brain-Injured Fireman’s Recovery Takes Science Into a Murky Area

“When Donald Herbert broke 10 years of virtual silence on Saturday and announced that he wanted to speak to his wife, his family and doctors were astonished and bewildered.

Mr. Herbert, 44, a Buffalo firefighter who suffered severe brain damage after being struck by debris in a burning building in 1995, had mustered only ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers sporadically throughout the years, passing his days in front of a television that he could barely see because his vision was so badly blurred.

Neurologists said yesterday that such remarkable recoveries for people with severe brain damage are rare – but perhaps not as rare as the medical literature suggests.” (New York Times )

And, no, just to head off the inevitable Rabid Right take on this, his recovery has absolutely no bearing on Terry Schiavo’s case. You heard it here first.

Embracing the Random

The New York Times review of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival draws interesting parallels between the shape of a festival and the metaphysics of our technologically-mediated listening habits:

“A few years ago, some music festivals seemed to reflect a world that was increasingly organized around obsessive fan Web sites. Like-minded listeners were forming micro-communities online, and you would see something similar at multistage festivals: ravers in the D.J. tent, hip-hop kids watching the rappers, thrift-store shoppers swooning over the indie-rockers, and so on.

But this year’s Coachella festival suggested a different model: narrow obsession has come to seem less appealing than broad familiarity. Insular Web sites seem positively old-fashioned compared to the scrupulously eclectic world of MP3 bloggers and iPod Shuffle owners, all of them finding ways to make chaos part of their listening experience. As the current Apple slogan has it, ‘Life is random,’ and listeners seem to be finding ways to make that truism true.” (New York Times )