I am very proud of the production of my short play "Lack of Life Valley," which was part of a showcase of plays produced by Writers and Actors Reading and Performing (WARP). The WARP show, entitled Playwright Under Pressure, was produced by Ellen Covey. The play was directed by Justin Ordonez and starred Justin Ordonez, as the tall vulture, Jeff Weedman, as the short vulture, and Ashley Salazar, as the bunny. All of them did a great job. Below are a couple of still photos from the production, and below that is a video. Enjoy.
There's been a bit of a stir caused by the rhapsodic exclamations of delight of Louie Giglio who says that he knows how "God will always hold you together, no matter what. It's by looking a little deeper into the human body. And it's a little protein molecule, called laminin." Louie met a molecular biologist who told him about this cell adhesion molecule, the "glue of the human body." Why is laminin so special? Well, below is a glowy, diagram of the molecule.
Hallaluyah! Or, as Louie put it, "WOW! That's laminin....Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! What in the world...?" "It's in the perfect shape of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." He goes on to quote the bible, "by Him, talking about Jesus Christ, all things have been created by Jesus, and for Jesus...and in Him, all things hold together." Ah yes, the laminin cell adhesion molecule, through Jesus, is holding us together.
I have some Good News for Louie--since "all things" have been created by Jesus, He apparently also has created a molecule shaped like the six pointed Star of David. Check it out!
I guess this sort of makes sense, Jesus being Jewish. But, the bad new is that this molecular structure was made in a laboratory, and seems to be similar to the shells of viruses. I'm not sure we want to blame Jesus for viruses.
Uh-oh, here is another molecule, a potassium channel, which looks suspiciously similar to a Swastika. Win some, lose some, I guess.
But wait, there is hope! Below is a sideways model of a potassium channel.
It looks, to me, like an Angel, reaching for the Heavens! Well, I suppose there a couple of things that Louie Giglio and I can agree on. Yep, as he says, "How crazy is that?" and "I love laminin" too.
Here are a couple of electron micrographs of Laminin.
I've been obsessing over the topic of anti-science. I'm embarrassed by this fact: The great state of Washington, where I reside, is a really bastion of scientific thought and achievement, with such fabulous institutions as the University of Washington, the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, the Allen Institute For Brain Science, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, the list goes on... However, in this array of illustrious institutions that promote scientific research and rationality, we still have purveyors of irrational claptrap. Anti-intellectual giants like the Bastyr University which "educates" people on the finer points of quack medicine and the Discovery Institute which promotes creationism. Ugh! In a society that pays homage to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education how can this be?
I recall a talk that was delivered to the Seattle Skeptics a couple years ago by Dr. Harriet Hall M.D, about naturopathy. She was, to put it mildly, very critical of the field. The details are a blur for me now, but I recall that she had very little to recommend it. With the intent of providing an alternative point of view, I invited Dr. Arriana Staruch N.D. Associate Dean of Academics in the School of Naturopathic Medicine, at Bastyr to give a presentation. I am grateful to Dr. Staruch for giving us a presentation entitled "Evidence Informed Practice in Naturopathic Medicine," which she delivered to the Seattle Skeptics in January of 2014. Dr. Staruch started with an impassioned attack on the medical establishment for such controversial practices as the use of prostate specific antigen screening as a marker for prostrate cancer, and the apparent over-extension of the value of breast mammograms as was in the news at the time. She identified the Principles of Naturopathic Medicine as follows:
1)First Do No Harm
2)Healing Power of Nature
3)Identify and treat the cause
4)Doctor as teacher
5)Treat the whole person
I really doubt (with the exception of point 2) that anyone object to these bullet points. Point 2, which Dr. Staruch annotated "Trust in the body's inherent wisdom to heal itself" is a good example of an "appeal to nature," sometimes referred to as the "naturalistic fallacy." The idea behind this is that somehow natural is inherently better than unnatural.
An aside: I recall once I was standing in line is a store and the customer in front of me was interrogating the cashier whether a bottle of Vitamin C tablets was derived from a "natural" source or if the tablets were "unnaturally synthesized." He ended up not buying, because the pills weren't "natural." Sadly, he perhaps didn't realize that Vitamin C is a defined chemical, and his question made as much sense as whether distilled water is pure. Here is the structure of Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid). A further aside, I think it is likely that he was buying the vitamin supplement as either a treatment, or prevention of the common cold, in spite of the fact that there is precious little evidence that Vitamin C does anything to prevent or reduce the severity of colds.
Most of the rest of Dr. Staruch's talk consisted of specific studies that Naturopaths are engaged in. I don't recall any of the data being very persuasive, but that might just be my bias. Dr. Staruch walked into a buzz-saw of criticism from the Seattle Skeptics group--not all of it polite. I know it is hard sometimes for us impassioned skeptics to control ourselves, but it might be valuable to watch, or re-watch, the video I post below from Phil Plait about the need for temperance in our criticism. Or, as Plait expresses it "Don't Be a Dick." But, in defense of the audience, she was (and still is) really in an impossible position. Bastyr still teaches acupuncture and homeopathy, which have now widely been debunked as pseudoscience, and Bastyr still has a dispensary for homeopathic remedies which have long been shown to be worthless, and even dangerous. In Dr Staruch's defense, she did not emphasize homeopathy, and indicated that not all naturopaths endorse the practice, but as as an Academic Dean at Bastyr, it will be a difficult sell if she wishes to defend naturopathy as a scientific endeavor if anti-scientific practices are such an integral part of the field.
If you want to read excellent critiques of naturopathy I recommend this article by David Gorski and this article by Stephen Barrett on Quackwatch, or this article by Steven Novella. They pretty well summarize the pseudoscience.
All of the above is really old news. But what stimulated my thinking was new developments in the field. Britt Hermes, previously a Naturopathic Doctor, trained at Bastyr, has left the field in order to pursue a career in science. She has created a blog entitled the "Naturopathic Diaries, Confessions of a Former Naturopath." which recounts her conversion to what I consider is real scientific thinking. It must have been a difficult transition for her. Here is a link to her blog.
In conclusion, I have tried very hard to be generous and accommodating in my appraisal of naturopathy. Perhaps, but only perhaps, there are "elements" of the field that can be co-opted into standard medical practice, but until the field gets serious about exorcising the anti-scientific tendencies and integrating evidence-based medicine, I think it should be, avoided.
Below is Phil Plait's video.
What is your favorite surgery? Mine, without a doubt, is trepanation. Trepanation is the deliberate creation of a hole in the head using surgery, exposing the Dura Mater (thick covering) of the brain. This website, "The Trepanation Guide" which advocates trepanation, describes it as "...oldest surgical procedure practiced by mankind." I found what I consider a more responsible description in Wikipedia as "perhaps the oldest surgical procedure for which there is archaeological evidence." After all, doesn't it seem reasonable that soft tissue surgeries, such as castration or appendix removal, may have been performed or attempted, without leaving a trace?
Evidence of trepanation is widespread, and has been traced back to neolithic times in Europe and at least 2500 years ago in South America. Below are pictures of an Incan skull from Peru (left). In ancient Peru trepanation was apparently fairly common--approximately 1000 Incan skulls have been identified. The picture on the right was discovered in Germany. One archaeological site in France identified 40 out of 120 skulls that had been trepanated. Many trepanated skulls have multiple holes, with the margins of "successful" surgeries often showing signs of healing. Sharper edged holes may indicate an "unsuccessful" surgery. Success rates have been estimated 75-80% in South America, and a remarkable 90% in Europe.
I find it surprising that, given the absence of antibiotics and modern anesthesia, that they had any success at all.
Why would anyone want to have a hole bored in their head? One can imagine that ancient humans might have used the technique to try and treat headaches, dizziness, epilepsy, evil spirits, tumors, head injuries, hematomas, etc.--virtually anything that might be related to the head. But, widespread use of trepanation and the presence of as many as 4, 5 or even 7 holes, might suggest a ritual aspect of the surgery. With the advent of modern medicine, trepanning has largely, gone the way of blood letting and bulbing, as an archaic treatment. There are modern, defensible uses of trepanation, to treat hematomas and assorted brain surgeries, but, of course, the bone is generally replaced after the surgical procedure (Many docs play golf. I wonder if they mumble to themselves "Always replace your divots," at the close of surgery.)
However, there are a few advocates of the surgery for its supposed psychological benefits. Bart Huges, sometimes spelled Hughes, saw trepanation as a "pathway to higher consciousness." A recurring theme that I see in advocates is that it is an attempt to increase blood flow to the brain in an attempt to recapture the plasticity and "happier and more energetic" state of mind in an infant. The rationale is that the flexible fontanel (soft spot) in a baby's cranium allows for more blood flow, which is restricted with hardening of the skull as we mature. The result of the surgery, as the "Trepanation Guide" expresses it, is that you are “…happier, more energetic and less prone to crippling bouts of ennui. You'll ascend to the child's plane of acute consciousness from which you disembarked to enter the lowly malaise of adulthood."
Hmm, to put it mildly, I have my doubts regarding the benefits.
Joey Mellen wrote a book called Bore Hole, which described his experiments with trepanation. His first attempt was unsuccessful. Mellen ended up hospitalized and was recommended for "psychiatric evaluation." His second attempt, with the aid of his girlfriend Amanda Fielding, worked. As Mellen described it,
“After some time there was an ominous sounding schlurp and the sound of bubbling. I drew the trepan out and the gurgling continued. It sounded like air bubbles running under the skull as they were pressed out. I looked at the trepan and there was a bit of bone in it. At last!”
Yeeesh, not something I would want to go through. Fielding later trepanned herself. Here is a link to an interview with Amanda Fielding, who founded the Beckley Foundation, which investigates consciousness and advocates drug reform, ran for office in the British Parliament in 1979 and 1983, although she described her candidacy as more of an "art project," intended to "try to get the medical profession to agree that [tepanation] is an interesting subject and is worthy of research,"rather than a serious attempt to get elected. Below is an interesting campaign poster.
There is an hour long documentary called "A Hole in the Head," which is available for purchase. I haven't seen the film, but it might be interesting.
If you want more info more on trepanation I recommend the Skeptic's dictionary and from this article from Charles D. Gross at Princeton.
Let me close with a couple videos. On the left is an interview with Bobby Lund, an advocate of trepanation, and on the right is a toe-tappin' light-hearted look at the process(along with some other interesting history of anatomy) from Zoochosis.
The above picture has been attributed to NASA. But,I can't find the original link. Awful pretty. Reminds me of Johnny Cash.
About a year and a half ago I posted a very simple blog-entry, entitled "Who Knew the Sun Could Create Such Beautiful Music," highlighting a video from my favorite government agency,NASA. Now I found another just-as-impressive video. I am pleased that NASA, and the Sun, are still making beautiful music.
Ah, the joys of theater! I recently wrote a short play that was performed as part of a showcase entitled "New Blood" by the amazing folks at Writers and Actors Reading and Performing (WARP) which I've been a part of for several years now. The showcase was produced by Ellen Covey and videographed by Jeff Weedman. My play, entitled "Fungal Attraction," was capably directed by John Paul Sharp and Mary E. Brown, starring Laurel Clark as Hedley, Bigby Dommage as Dex, as Jesse Buckley as Lefty. The play asks the hypothetical question: What if you didn't have voices in your head? What if they were in your feet? And, what if the feet didn't like each other? Enjoy.
By the way, my collection of short plays is still available from Amazon as either a Kindle E-Book or a paperback. Check out this link to check it out.
I have some ISSUES with some scientists and mathematicians. Some examples follow.
Sir Isaac Newton
You know, one more prismatic color, and a little bit of shuffling, and we could have had IB GROOVY instead of ROY G BIV. Damn you Newton! You coulda done better!
Pierre de Fermat
Yeah, sure you had a a clever proof for your theorem that you just couldn't quite fit into the margin of your book. Yeah, right. Sure you did. Well, I call bullshit. You just wanted to mess with people--and it worked--for 358 years. Come on. Admit it. You never had a proof. What a poser.
Albert, you suck! If E didn't equal MC squared, we might be able to exceed the speed of light, and make interstellar travel a practical reality. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks we probably can't do it. Go re-work your math, willya?..and quit messing with my dreams.
You suck too! If Lamarck had been right, then parents might be able to pass a college education on to their kids without paying for it. I hope epigenetics kicks your bearded ass! Go back to staring at barnacles ya loser!
James Watson and Francis Crick
You two guys can go suck an egg. It woulda been a whole lot easier to visualize DNA replication and transcription if you made it flat instead of all twisty. Fix that, dammit!
Gads! You math- and scientist-types are getting on my nerves. Makin' things so dang complicated! What pests!
Oh, and one more thing--about Pi--I'm rounding it down to 3.141. And if you don't like it, STUFF IT UP YOU NOSE.
"Everything should be made as simple as possible,
but not simpler." Source unclear
Scot Bastian Ph.D. is a scientist and artist who lives in Seattle WA.