A Candle in the Dark

A look on science, politics, religion and events

Archive for October 2008

Another defeat for the freedom of expression

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I had posted about how a student was threatened with the death penalty in Afghanistan in the beginning of this year, for the victimless “crime” of blasphemy (actually, he had distributed pamphlets highlighting the lack of women’s rights in Islam).

While the death sentence was overturned, he’s been handed a 20-year jail sentence. It’s very sad that parts of the world are still so backward, where some basic human rights like the freedom of speech are absent, and where people are brainwashed into accepting ideological oppression as a way of life. What kind of democracy is it, where the citizens don’t even have the right to criticize a religion?

I guess it will take plenty of time as “freedom and democracy” grows in Afghanistan, but the transition is very painful to watch. Here’s hoping that this ridiculously unjust sentence to Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh gets overturned soon.

Written by parseval

October 27, 2008 at 1:18 am

Posted in events, people, politics

Pseudoscience in the TOI

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This article was published in the Times Of India.

Homeopathy key to ovarian cysts?

Nisha didn’t want to take contraceptive pills. Instead, she took a three-month course of homeopathic pills and pain-relieving tablets. After three months, another scan showed the cyst had disappeared.

The key question is, if she had NOT taken the homeopathic pills, would the cyst have disappeared? The answer is probably yes. Indeed, as a two-line quote in the TOI article hastily mentions,

On ovarian cysts, Dr Neerja Batla, additional professor, AIIMS, says cysts less than 50 mm usually regress on their own. “I’m not sure how far homeopathy helps.”

To attempt to give some scientific credibility to this pathetic article, we get

Homeopathy’s efficacy in ovarian cysts was corroborated, says Dr C Nayak, director, Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, by an article in the British Homeopathic Journal. The article, ‘Homeopathic treatment of ovarian cysts’, cited a study of 40 women with ovarian cysts. “After nine months of homeopathic treatment, the cysts disappeared in 90% cases,” the article said.

The article which Dr Nayak mentions, published in 1991,  can be found here. I don’t have access yet to the complete article, but the abstract states:

Forty women suffering from ovarian cysts, diagnosed and measured by ultrasound, were treated with a single homœopathic medicine according to their specific mental, general and local symptoms. The hormonal disorders suffered by these patients lead to several symptoms, some specifically gynaecological, others general or mental, demonstrating how the health deterioration process effects the general state of the sick person. The ultrasound examination was repeated after about nine months. Results were positive.

  1. First, In my opinion, the “British Homoeopathic journal” hardly seems like a neutral or unbiased journal
  2. Then, what exactly are the “general” and “mental” symptoms? (See Parts II and III in the essential reading below, which points out how loosely this term is used )
  3. Importantly, how was the study conducted? Did they blind the test against placebo effects? Did they have a control group to make sure that the cysts did not regress on its own?
  4. Also, are these results reproducible and replicated in other studies to ensure that it wasn’t the result of some freak error in conducting the test? Indeed, how credible are these “results”?

I’ve not yet read the study (this will be fixed soon), but I’m pretty confident that the answer to most of these questions will be ‘no’.

External Links and Essential Reading

For more regarding Homeopathy and the current (lack of) evidence, there are a series of brilliant posts by the wonderful people at Science Based Medicine, who point out why “Homeopathic ‘Remedies’ are Placebos“.

For the hardcore and mathematically inclined readers, the series is actually continued where the authors go on to explain why the results of clinical trials can be misconstrued as evidence despite the scientific implausibility of the original claim.

Written by parseval

October 11, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Posted in pseudoscience


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Meera Nanda, who’s opinions and clarity of thinking I respect immensely, has a blog!

The God Delusion in Action: My Indian travelogue.

I am convinced that as long as we don’t challenge the worldview, the background assumptions, the explicit and tacit beliefs that animate popular Hindu rituals and practices, we will be fighting against the menace of Hindutva with one hand tied behind our backs. For then, we will only allow ourselves to challenge the material and political interests of Hindu nationalist parties. But we will be no position to challenge and change the mentalities, or the habits-of-the-heart, of the millions of ordinary people that incline them to support Hindutva politics, enthusiastically (by joining the many rath-yatras, pujas and other religio-political spectacles organized by the Hindu Right), or passively (through the ballot box only). Unless we question the basis of faith critically, rationally and scientifically, we will not succeed in stemming the popular support for faith-based politics. There can be no viable secular politics in India without a secularization of consciousness and conscience of Indian people

Go read now.

Written by parseval

October 8, 2008 at 2:21 am

Posted in people