Hello world! – Dr Aust goes live

Fascinating – have found even blank posts auto-generated by WordPress can attract grumpy comments. Extraordinary.

Anyway, to forestall the accusations that I am a member of the Scientific Global Illuminati Conspiracy hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, some information:

Who is Dr Aust?

A grumpy approaching-middle-aged man (hopelessly watching hairline recede while combing it forward, other hair growing in odd places, spreading waistline etc etc) with a Ph.D. and a job as a biomedical science lecturer at a UK University. I run a small research lab measuring things on cells in dishes that you can only see down a big microscope. Like most scientists in research-intensive Universities, I have published a vaguely respectable number of serious and pretty unreadable papers, absolutely none of which have been in Nature or any of those really fancy journals (I wish). I teach and have taught all sorts of things, from how cells in your kidney or heart do what they do, through pharmacology of various drugs, to very general how-the-body-works stuff (including, once, the entire immune system in one 50 min lecture!) all to science and medical students…not to mention a rag-tag of other student groups (dentists, pharmacists, nurses etc).

In my 20s I used to say this was the fill-in job until I really worked out what I wanted to do, but after over two decades in science I’m clearly a lifer. At least I get a free computer and internet connection.

Dr Aust is married to (logically enough) Mrs Dr Aust, a real gen-u-wine medical doctor. Mrs Dr A (MRCP) spent a decade plus in the NHS trenches, working in general medicine (“Internal medicine” as the Americans would say) and anaesthetics, and ending up as what is technically called a medical registrar (one level below consultant).  She is now working in a less “intense” medical specialty but is still more than able to correct anything really dumb I might be tempted to write about medicine or doctors.

We have one daughter, the rather wonderful Jr Aust, who orders us about mercilessly. Mrs Dr Aust says Jr Aust inherited her never shutting up from Dr Aust.

Summer 08 Update: we are now also the proud if stunned parents of a baby boy, henceforth “Baby Aust”.  Being only a few weeks old, he only eats (a lot), sleeps (a lot, which is good), cries (not as much as his sister did, another plus), and… that other stuff (a lot).

Spring 09 Update: Baby Aust is now mobile and dangerous.! See the Diary entry for Feb 25th.

Why a blog?

The usual. Spent so much time posting on my favourite blogs that I thought I’d try my hand myself. Plus my friends and colleagues kept telling me to (not because they thought I had anything to say – more to stop me boring them with my monologues at the Friday lunchtime lab meeting at the local bar).

What’s it about?

Anything at all, really. Though probably 99% science and how it intersects with the news. And especially scientific nonsense in all forms.

Why “scientific nonsense”?

Because there’s so much about, and it makes us science types variously cross, depressed, or just nervous about what crazy claptrap people believe… almost always about things for which there are perfectly sensible explanations.

More seriously, one reason some doctors and scientists (like me) get rather obsessed with this “rubbish about science” stuff is that it rather defeats the point of doing biomedical research if the public don’t believe any of the results. Or don’t grasp, or believe in, the “scientific method”.

Heroes

Disturbingly, they all seem to be dead. Scientific one: Richard Feynman. It doesn’t do to take yourself too seriously.

And finally… a disclaimer:

As you will noticed if you have read the above, I am NOT a medically-trained doctor, or physician or MD if you prefer. I am a PhD-trained scientist. I know lots of medics, I teach them, I work with them, I publish papers with them on and off, and I’m married to one – but I am NOT one myself. Hope that’s clear enough.

Which leads me to:

THE DISCLAIMER:

None of the content on this blog is intended either as, or as a substitute for, medical advice . If you need medical advice, see your own doctor.

Any information should not be used for diagnosis or treatment.

The author is not a medical doctor, nor has he had any medical training.

(With apologies to Coracle, from whom I borrowed the original version of this statement)

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47 Responses to “Hello world! – Dr Aust goes live”

  1. Ephistopheles Says:

    Lovely!… Bravo, Doctor! ;)
    And do you believe that now you have shuffled off the cloak of anonymity? I fear that you have deepened the mist around your person. But earlier it was the mist of silence, and now it is clouds of words. “Words, words, words…” – as one hero said ;)

    Second question – why do you think that Holford is worse than you? Yes, people call him “charlatan”. But it doesn’t mean that you are better than him. You are sure that Holford is charlatan and heavy villain, and you are good liver and excellent specialist. I can prove you wrong. Do you want it?

  2. Ephistopheles Says:

    Deleted??!!
    Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!
    That is a cause, why “absolutely none of” your paper “have been in Nature or any of those really fancy journals (I wish)”!!!
    It is necessary to pay in kind (your soul!) for real achievments in Science. But you have no soul… :(

  3. draust Says:

    As a non-believer in religion I would have to agree that I am soul-free.

    As to the rest… Unlike Holford, I am not selling a miracle cure, or even a book. And I really do have a Ph.D. Hopefully I don’t have delusions of grandeur.

  4. David Colquhoun Says:

    Good to see your own blog Doc.

  5. Ephistopheles Says:

    No soul” – it was merely my trick, little fish-hook. But you have swallowed it, my dear Doctor! ;) …and have represtinated my comment deleted by you! :)
    Do you decided to sustain our interesting conversation? Oh, you are curious man, Doctor ;) Take care! It is dangerous game…
    So, you avouch that you are soul-free. Really? Stuff and nonsense. You have a soul. And you know it perfectly well! Is the belief in God a required to believe in the existence of soul? The belief in a devil is quite sufficient thing for that. Do you believe in a devil, eh? Sure! Or else you wouldn’t call me. You hope to get SOMETHING. And you are positive that you can pay for that.
    OK!
    What do you desire? The paper in “Nature”? It is most easy and simple thing, which I can make for you. What next? Woman? It is none the worse. It is as easy as shelling peas :) Ah, yeah… You are married. Don’t fear, Doctor, your “Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue” will suffer no harm. By my troth. The times, when some philanderers got a foolish girl into trouble and run out of them, passed irrevocably. Today it is out of fashion. The scientific lady, the bluestocking – it’s the in thing to do now. Don’t be frightened! ;) :) The bluestocking in our XXI century is best of all women. Only one exemplar in your lab – and the well-known play of Goethe will seem a lurid novel to you as compared with the great future, which is reserved for you!
    Anything else? Something, thrill, whizz, numero uno! Oh, yeah… You “don’t have delusions of grandeur”. Hmmm… My most favourite (and most famous thanks to genius of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) client didn’t have delusion of grandeur too. He wanted merely to be cured off his spleen. You have a spleen as I see ;)
    What else?
    O-o-oh, Holford!… Listen to me, please. What’s the big idea? Holford is a confounded bore! Honestly! By the way, he is just one of men, who has no soul! Do you want to know – why? Because he has no mind (and probably – brains!). He is stupid. I knew it earlier, but several days ago I have proved it again. I have come to him in mask and proposed him some deal against DC. And he has agreed immediately. Nevertheless I gave him nothing as a result. Why? No, not because I can’t give him it. Simply – he is a terrible bore! I have told him the whole plan. I have expounded each points! But he could nothing to do himself! Oh, what a bore! Such dull villains are on this earth now! It is real degradation of the World Evil!
    I hope that your society will be more interesting for me.
    Well! I must be off…
    I’ll visit you soon.

    See you later, Doctor!

  6. Skeptyk Says:

    Oi, another blog to grace my fave favorites list. When blundering about the blogosphere, your sig always gets me to read. The more clear voices out to call BS on the flood of scientific nonsense, the better. Looking fwd to more of your grumpiness. (Now, if Ephi will go easier on the smilies…)

  7. Ephistopheles Says:

    hmm… No answer.
    You have a soul, but it is not very courageous… :(
    Perhaps the absence of one only letter in the name has more strong effect than it could seem…
    Faust was more interesting type.

  8. Ephistopheles Says:

    Thanks for your SIGN!!!
    Our contract is concluded.
    Congrats ;)

  9. Xixen Says:

    Well that’s a first. I’ve never seen anyone actually claiming to be Mephistopheles on the internet before. Although he doesn’t appear to be the greatest speller in the world…

    Anyway, it’s nice to see you have a blog of your own at last, I shall be lurking on it (what can I say, it’s nice here in the dark.)

  10. draust Says:

    I think “he” is a “she”, Xixen. Too complicated to explain.

  11. Persiflage Says:

    I, for one, was thrilled to read Ephistopheles’ comments. It was completely worth wading through, just to find the rather euphonious neologism “represtinated”. It’s just like “repristinated”, but – obviously, from context – specifically refers to restoring a comment on WordPress… although it really ought to be spelled “represstinated”.

    I am, frankly, jealous. I’ve been going a month without attracting a single solitary crackpot and you picked one up inside five days!

    Anyway, hullo there Dr. Aust – I can’t believe it has taken me this long to catch on to the fact of your having started a blog of your own, and I look forward to reading more of you.

  12. draust Says:

    If your blog is lacking first-letter-free commentators of a rather mad (not to say hyper-talkative) nature, Persiflage, you are welcome to mine. Actually I can’t really take credit as the “persona” in question followed a link here from a well-known spot elsewhere in the blogosphere.

    Have been snowed under at the day job the last six weeks or so, hence the lack of new content. Hoping to generate a new post in the next couple of days.

  13. Persiflage Says:

    That’d be great: send the nutters over and I’ll try to come up with some suitably provocative captions for them to rant about ;) I rather rely on my favourite science/sceptic writers to provide lolquacky inspiration, so I hope the day job lets up on you soon!

  14. Muscleman Says:

    Dr Aust please feel absolutely free to use my comments on the Paper in CAM on treating induced liver carcinogenesis in mice. Also feel free to email me on the matter if you want to use my real name.

  15. LeeT Says:

    You say you run a “research lab measuring things on cells in dishes that you can only see down a big microscope”. I was wondering what you think of Patrick Holford’s belief that Vitamin C is a better treatment for AIDS that drugs? When Holfordists advance this view what should we say to them? It would be great if you could do a post on the scientific reasoning behind the view that he is incorrect …

  16. draust Says:

    The short answer, Lee, is that it’s a load of rubbish.

    Incidentally, Patrick H has retreated from this view, and now tries to say he didn’t say this, although all in a rather weaselly fashion. For details see e.g. here. And more on Ben Goldacre’s argument with Patrick Holford here

    The basic problem is that experiments with cells in a dishes do not predict effects in man. Full stop. So the current retroviral cocktails help people to live with HIV, rather than die of AIDS, because they actually do stop viral replication in live human beings. Trials in live human beings show they do this (stop the virus replicating), and also show they make people survive healthier longer. When Vitamin C has been tested in man as an “anti-HIV adjuvant” (add-on to therapy), it doesn’t make any difference – Coracle gives the references in a post on this thread over at Holfordwatch.

    Part of the underlying problem, which the Alt Health lot either can’t grasp or resolutely ignore, is that it is generally pretty easy to kill viruses, or at least stop them replicating, in cells in dishes. If you add a vast load of some other chemical it may well interfere with viral infection of cells, or viral replication, to some extent. Lots of chemical do this, and the research literature is therefore full of such reports. The daftest one I know used relatives of Buckminsterfullerene. (a very silly experiment that got a lot of publicity a decade or more back).

    Getting things to work in human beings is another matter. You cannot add however much of your “virus killling agent” you like, the amount you can get into the body may be far too little to work, the body may change it into X other substances, substances are toxic to diverse bits of the body so your remedy may kill before it cures, etc etc.

    So while scientists like me do dream of discovering something that ultimately turns into a treatment, it is an incredibly long shot. If it was easy then the PharmaCos would have cured all cancer a decade ago.

    For a useful analogy for your Holford-oid friends, try

    “This is exactly like saying:

    In a dish, Domestos bleach stops HIV replicating better than AZT. The by-analogy-with-what-Holford-says approach would then be to protest that there hadn’t been enough trials of drinking bleach as an HIV therapy.

    [Since we KNOW Anti-viral drugs weren’t as effective as bleach, and that this was ALL a conspiracy because the PharmaCos couldn’t make any money patenting bleach.”

  17. LeeT Says:

    Thanks, that makes things much clearer.

    I appreciate that vitamin C is water soluble and the body is able to get rid of excess amounts, but is there not a danger that Vit C could be poisonous if it received a large quanity in short amount of time?

  18. jdc Says:

    My specialist subject is answering questions I haven’t been asked, so here goes:

    The Oral LD50 (median lethal dose) in rats is 11.9 grams per kilogram of body weight. If you’re thinking of Vit C in terms of murder weapons, then it’s probably not going to be your first option. There can be other unpleasant side-effects, though.

    Links

    http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v05je20.htm

    http://www.pcl.ox.ac.uk/MSDS/AS/ascorbic_acid.html

  19. draust Says:

    I’ve never heard of Vitamin C being poisonous in the classical sense, Lee.

    If you eat more than your body’s GI uptake systems can handle it goes straight through you (as it were) and gives you diarrhoea (this is what scientists call an “osmotic” effect, like with mannitol). In fact, some of the Alt practitioners who like to have their victims take mega-doses (several grams / day) of Vitamin C talk about adjusting your Vitamin C dose to the “sublaxative” level, which I assume is Altie code for “a bit less per day than the amount that gives you the trots”. Excess (simple) Vitamin C in the blood will also be excreted in the urine.

    Published studies and reviews generally suggest Vitamin C is very safe to take in moderately large doses (up to about 2 g / day). But whether taking Linus Pauling-style grams and grams a day (Pauling supposedly took 6-18 g / day!!) has NO effects (other than diarrhoea) is less clear. There is supposedly some evidence that taking super-dose vitamin cocktails may actually be associated with a slightly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, although I don’t know whether this has been done for Vitamin C.

    A personal view: The body’s “antioxidant defences” are a complex set of systems that are interacting and regulated. So thinking that taking humungous doses of Vit C “because it says it’s an antioxidant” can only ever be a good thing (the woo position) is pretty naive. The key idea for oxidant defences is probably “keep them steady and ready”. Unless you have a disease condition that quite clearly places you under chronic oxidant attack (much, much less common than the Woos would have you believe) I would rather not whack my antioxidant systems around by taking 10 grams of Vitamin C a day. But that’s just me. I might have freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast, and a glass of apple juice and fizzy water with my lunch, but that would be because they taste good.

    Apropos of which, it is truly amazing how often a chase round the science of nutritional advice, complete with daily intake levels and loads of talk about biochemistry, comes neatly back around to “eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and veg”

  20. LeeT Says:

    Thanks guys, I think I’ll stick to the orange juice and oranges. Might patent the domestos-cures-AIDS idea just in case …

  21. draust Says:

    Good old Bleach is the lab scientist’s No. 1 favourite virus and bug killer, Lee. UV light is good too, and for specialist sterilizing of cell culture equipment some people swear by formaldehyde….

    …but for everyday clear-up you can’t beat Domestos. Of course there is a lab variety with a fancy name, but hypochlorite is hypochlorite.

    And almost inevitably, the Woos have already got there in terms of embracing bleach therapy, but they use “environmentally-friendly bleach” – a.k.a. hydrogen peroxide.

    A while back I saw an episode of CSI (“Crow’s Feet”) which revolved around an anti-ageing doctor killing patients (accidentally-ish) by giving them intravenous hydrogen peroxide therapy. I thought they had made this up until I went and had a look round on the Internet.

  22. DMcILROY Says:

    Heroes all dead, did you say? How about Sydney Brenner ? He’s biology’s answer to Richard Feynman I reckon, and still (just about) alive.

  23. draust Says:

    Sydney Brenner is certainly known for his caustic wit, as well as for his scientific accomplishments… but I have never read his columns and other non-mol biol stuff corralled into a handy book, like “Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman” and its follow-up. Is there one, DMcIlroy? Would like to get hold of it if it exists.

    One of my relatives, who is also a scientist and is of a similar vintage to Sydney Brenner, tells a good story about him. This comes from the Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab in the late 60s. There were regular get-togethers, and at one Brenner was particularly expected to do some meet-and-greet. He turned up about two hours late. Someone asked him what he had been doing. My relative (who was there) tells me Brenner said “Well, I was talking to the most interesting person in Woods Hole… myself”.

    “Of course the bit about him being the most interesting person in Woods Hole was true”, says my relative.

  24. DMcILROY Says:

    Hmmm, I don’t know if there is an anthology of his columns from about 10-15 years ago. I occasionally trawl about on the Current Biology web site to get pdfs of articles I vaguely remember being interesting at the time. I could put together a definitive collection, I suppose, but I’m not that much of a fan.

  25. Dr Aust Says:

    It appears that 38 of Brenner’s columns from the mid-1990s were collected together as a small hardback:

    Loose ends from Current Biology

    by Sydney Brenner, Current Biology Ltd, 1997. ISBN 1 85922 3257

    – but it is out of print.

    There is a review here.

    One vignette from one of the pieces anthologized in the volume that was reprinted in Science, and that would please David Colquhoun:

    Citation Science

    Before we develop a pseudoscience of citation analysis, we should remind ourselves that what matters absolutely is the scientific content of a paper and that nothing will substitute for either knowing it or reading it. We should also recognize that citation often tells us more about the sociology of science than about the science itself. In rapidly developing subjects, the lifetime of the average paper is exceedingly short, perhaps only months, before it utterly vanishes, never to be referred to again. I have been told that in physics only a handful of papers more than 25 years old are still being cited. It must be very gratifying to have a paper in this class, but better still to be the author of a work that is so well known that it doesn’t require a literature citation. If in writing a paper now on DNA one cited Watson and Crick (1953) it would probably be regarded as part of an elaborate joke.

    Sydney Brenner
    in Loose Ends from Current Biology (Current Biology, 1997)

  26. DMcILROY Says:

    Yes, I have that one. In another one that DC -and maybe your good self – would like, Sydney Brenner complains about management jargon

    “I can offer one word of advice; I have personally found it extremely useful, when dealing with managers, to invert all the catch phrases and exhortations. For example, suggesting the introduction of “pay-related performance” is enough to stall most managers for plenty of time.”

    The rest of the article is here -and re-reading it just now, it seems uncannily prescient.

  27. draust Says:

    The reviews also credit him for one of my favourite descriptors, “extinguished Professor”. Met a good few of them in my time. Not sure I believe Sydney B really coined that one, though.

    There is an interesting recent interview with Brenner here.

    Another site of interest is here, where they are a lot of reminscences of Brenner written by different colleagues and friends on his 75th Birthday a few years back (2002), including a short piece by Francis Crick.

    The first article, by Horace Judson, starts with the following story, which suggests Brenner would not be a person you wanted to get on the wrong side of.

    Roger [Kornberg] told the story [that], late one night [at the LMB in Cambridge] he, Sydney, and several other postdocs who followed Sydney’s work habits were drinking tea and talking, mostly science. One of the postdocs left. Sydney immediately said of him something true, funny, and cruel. Ten minutes later, another left. Sydney said of him something true, funny, and cruel. So it went. “Finally, Sydney and I were sitting alone,” Roger said. “And I was afraid to leave.”

  28. gimpy Says:

    My PhD supervisor used to say that on meeting Nobel prize winners they were never as smart as you thought they would be, apart from Sydney Brenner.

  29. LeeT Says:

    Hi

    Can I interrupt your discussion to ask another question?

    Have any of you heard of Dr John Briffa? Apparently he “Lectures and seminars at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London”. On his blog he makes the rather astonishing claim that drinking tap water increases your risk of cancer. That’s one of the strangest nutritional claims I have ever heard. I have put a comment on. It would be great if anyone with anything relevant to say could do likewise. Thanks.

    Lee

  30. draust Says:

    Dr Briffa is another of the UK “Celebrity Nutritionistas”. It is a small circle, as we discussed some time back in one of BadScience’s threads about Patrick Holford here (scroll down the comments thread to 39 or so).

    I don’t think BadScience has ever done a column solely on John Briffa, but for other Briffa appearances en passant on the Badscience threads try Google-ing “Briffa” and “Badscience” together.

    John Briffa has a proper medical degree (1990, Univ of London), as well as (some would say) a strong belief in his own tremendous erudition. His website bio indicates that he makes his living writing, lecturing and running a private nutritional therapy practice somewhere.

    Briffa is very visible on the British Medical Journal’s electronic threads whenever anyone is a bit sceptical about anything nutri-faddish (for instance see here).

    I notice he now cites the e-letters he writes to the BMJ on his website as “Medical Journal Publications”…!

    Briffa makes a lot of use of variants of the “Pharma shill gambit” line, not so much in attacking specific people but in the general sense of “mainstream medicine is riddled with conflicts of interest and utterly in hock to Big Pharma, so all you guys are biased”. He also likes to nit-pick irrelevant minor details in peoples’ arguments, rather than tackling the main themes, or set up straw men he can demolish i.e. by taking issues with something that he says you said, rather than what you did say.

    In many ways Briffa’s approach seems to me to resemble Holford’s, so it is no surprise to find him hooked up with the ION. Like PH, Briffa cites (or rather cherry-picks) real studies to support many of his suggested therapies. As Briffa is medically-trained he avoids some of PH’s dafter general claims, and thus some of the more general dietary advice he dishes out can be uncontroversial – eat less fat and red meat, more fruit and veg etc, However, he tends to have weird add-ons like “don’t eat this in combination with this” – these “food combining” ideas are a common Harbinger of Woo.

    One key thing Briffa and Holford share, to my mind, is their tendency to recommend a whole series of nutritional supplements or “superfoods” for A.N.Other problem. This is a classic Nutritionista guru line – “Oh yes, you can treat yourself for X by eating the right things, but you need my guru-like wisdom to tell you what things”.

    I was surprised by the “drinking tap water increases your risk of cancer” thing, as it sounds totally loopy and Briffa usually steers clear of the madder claims. However, looking back I find he has been peddling this line for a good few years – see e.g. here from back in his days as the Absurder’s resident Nutri-columnist. However, as he is saying this he will almost certainly be basing it on a published study of some kind somewhere. I would predict that this will be something where “Tap water = danger!” is either:

    (i) only one of many possible interpretations, ignoring more plausible explanations like selection bias (e.g. people who drink only mineral water are richer and more health-conscious);
    (ii) based on a sample too small to draw really reliable conclusions.
    (iii) heavily extrapolated from the actual studies (i.e. “Tap water = danger!” because the water contains tiny trace levels of something that is toxic in much larger quantities)

    I would also predict that “Tap water = danger!”! will be flatly disagreed with by lots of far more convincing studies.

    But people see what they want to see. Briffa, of course, would say the same about me.

  31. Ulrich Berger Says:

    dr aust: completely different topic, but i remember you were once looking for the van wijk et al. paper which reportedly successfully replicated the rey 2003 thermoluminescence experiments on ultra-high dilutions. i found this one:

    http://www.carstens-stiftung.de/wissen/hom/pdf/grund_vanwijk_jahrbuch.pdf

    i wonder why they call it a successful replication. “not significantly different” is not the usual wording for reporting a success…

  32. draust Says:

    Thanks Ulrich. I had read some stuff relating to these people, but I don’t think I had found the PDF of their paper on thermoluminescence. This report seems to cover the same experiments.

    The “International Institute of Biophysics” where this paper comes from sounds a bit odd. Part of it seems to be an actual place or unit, in Neuss in Germany, but it also seems to be a pan-national association of people with similar interests. The language on the webpages seems suspiciously mystical to me, making me think it is some kind of grouping for scientists interested in “unexplained energy phenomena”, but perhaps I am too stupid to understand it. And several of the people involved in Neuss certainly seem to use words like “healing” and “holistic” a lot in their bios, which makes me instantly suspicious.

    If any proper physicist can advise me on the serious-ness (or not) of the Institute I would be grateful. Prof Van Wijk (the thermoluminescence paper) certainly has a long publication list of mainstream science, though not exactly in this technique. I note that he was also Head of a “Research Unit for Complementary Medicine” at the Univ of Utrecht.

    I will try and write a proper post some time on thermoluminescence and homeopathic solutions. The take-home message from the people I have asked seems to be that the mysterious differences seen by thermoluminescence in the heavily shaken solutions probably reflect the formation of small bubbles when the solution is shaken, so nothing to do with the memory of water. Though no doubt homeopaths would claim the bubbles therefore must have mysterious healing powers.

  33. Ulrich Berger Says:

    This report is indeed a copy of the published paper, as it says on the bottom of the last page.

    The IIB is somehow notorious. Its leader, Fritz-Albert Popp, has published dozens of articles in reputable journals, nearly all of them on biophotonics. This is the subject he popularized during the last decades. His central thesis, however, that light emitted by biological tissue is (a) coherent, (b) squeezed, (c) a means of communication between cells, is not met with enthusiasm by his colleagues, to put it this way. A part of the controversy is described in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophoton

    One of the problems of the IIB is that it is a private institution and mainly relys on financing from the private sector. Unsurprisingly, IIB members therefore also published favourable reports on e.g. the intensity of light emitted from the hands of “spiritual healers”, or on the special characteristics of “tachyonized water” as measured by biophoton emissions and similar crap. Moreover, Popp has demonstrated a habit of sueing his critics and is also known for having used the title of a professor for years without being entitled to do so.

  34. LeeT Says:

    Thanks for the info. Sorry, I forgot to post the link to his blog so here it is if anyone is interested ….

    http://www.drbriffa.com/blog/2007/12/31/chief-scientist-of-fsa-discredits-detox-regimes-without-using-any-err-science/

    I am sure I posted a comment last week asking him if he believed water caused cancer and referring him to the BDA website. Either my memory is going or the comment has been deleted.

  35. Dr Aust Says:

    I will leave Briffa and the deadly water for another time and hopefully a full post, Lee. Though I can’t resist pointing out that some of the recent studies say that any small (and it is small) risk associated with “chlorinated water” is more likely to derive from washing in it than drinking it.

    I can see the slogan now:

    “Avoid cancer – don’t wash! Ever!”

  36. draust Says:

    Re. the IIB, thanks for the tutorial Ulrich. I had not come across Herr Dr Popp and the IIB before, but perhaps he is a bigger fish in the German-speaking world.

    For curiosity’s sake, I subject some of the IIB’s web pages to Quackometric Analysis. The slightly coy front page scored a mere 1 Canard, but the History of Biophotonics scored 6/10 Canards, and the description of Popp’s research group and their activities a whopping 7/10 Canards.

    The Little Black Duck’s Quackometer site characterizes a rating of 7/10 Canards thus:

    “The quacking noise is deafening. This web site is riddled with loosely defined terms and possibly pseudoscientific language. It is full of scientific jargon that is out of place… It shows little or no sceptical awareness and so should be treated with caution.”

  37. LeeT Says:

    Thanks. Look forward to reading about about tap water and cancer.

    Meanwhile I have added a comment to Dr B’s blog.

  38. LeeT Says:

    Dr Briffa has now replied and I have replied to his response …

  39. draust Says:

    Yes, I’ve read the thread, Lee.

    To cut to the chase, there may be a small increased risk of some types of cancer from 40 yrs worth of chlorinated water.. and for bladder cancer this does seem to be fairly consistent, see e.g.the comment here… although it is hard to completely rule out “confounding” factors.

    Anyway, even if one assumes causation (i.e. that the slight increase in risk is definitely due to chlorination byproducts in the water)… well, c’est la vie. Better that miniscule risk than the risk of dying of cholera, or getting Shigella or Giardia dysentery, or E. Coli diarrhoea… which of course is why we chlorinate lots of our water. Statistically your chance of dying from bladder cancer is about a twentieth of your chance of dying from heart disease, so a 20% increased risk of bladder cancer from having to drink – and wash in – tap water is not going to get me stressed.

    And a risk factor does not, of course, equate to “you are going to get it”. It’s sort of another of those statistics of rare events things that Ben Goldacre has written about in the context of screening

    Anyway, to my way of thinking Briffa is taking a number completely out of context, and flashing it at people for shock value (“Get ‘em scared”). And when he then posts the study abstracts, again without context, that is “Blind ‘em with science”. It masquerades as “giving people the information they need to make informed choices”, which I am quite sure is how he would defend it, but to my mind it is scare tactics. I’m sure the bottled water manufacturers will be delighted.

  40. D B-Hon Says:

    Dear Dr Aust.

    I have the distinct tingling in my gut that you may be the person I think you are. A collaborator in our current research and my ex-supervisor?

    Have I misjudged the situation? =)

  41. Dr Aust Says:

    Hmm – obviously a highly-developed sensory internal organ you have there.

    Re my identity – to borrow a phrase:

    You might think that – I couldn’t possibly comment…

  42. Ephistopheles Says:

    No, my young buddy ;) It is NOT he… ;)

    Doctor is MY collaborator! :) :P

  43. draust Says:

    Not sure that is right, (M)Ephistopheles.

    Wasn’t part of selling one’s soul traditionally that one became rich and successful?

  44. Ephistopheles Says:

    Oh, Doc… And don’t you see that you are rich and successful actually?! My eyes! 8-O
    Well… Your self-estimation in the title of this blog is quite right! You are really “grumpy”… And greedy :) … and suffer from spleen… ;)

    Nevertheless, despite of your disappointment, I insist – you are really successful and rich man. I have done all my possible for this. Simply you are working in university, so you can’t see it. Go into business! And you will be more rich than three Bill Gates together! Become politician! And none of Americans will not elect Obama, McCain and brainless Sarah. 100% Americans will elect you.
    But you are too lazy… :( You prefer to sit in your university and write the nursery rhymes!
    Ah, Aust! I can do nothing with it! I can make you rich and successful, but EVEN I can’t make you active…

    And besides, you were not main man in my deal. You were merely one of three. And all you were not my aim. The fourth man was my aim…..

  45. She-Liger Says:

    Don’t believe him, Doc! He is palavering.
    I don’t like him – he is dark inside and smells of evil. By the way, he doesn’t like me too. The black forces hate great cats ;)

  46. It’s three years of Spleen – anyone still out there? « Dr Aust’s Spleen Says:

    [...] it is exactly three years today since Dr Aust’s Spleen went live, and three years and a day since the first major post, [...]

  47. Melissa D Says:

    Hi Dr Aust
    Why don’t you contact the Friends of Science in Medicine? scienceinmedicine@bigpond.com

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