Stuff from the Science Blogosphere

Stuff from the Science Blogosphere

Welcome, welcome, all three of you. Once again I have the best available stories for you -have I ever let you down?

The menu today includes: a discussion of the common myth that we need 8 glasses of water per day; the problem of duplicate science publications along with an interesting (if not funny) use case; an especially interesting discussion of the creationists attacks on neuroscience and materialism; and a primer on the potential causes and explanations of placebo-like effects on animals!

  • Ben Goldacre discusses a serious problem in scientific research: duplicate publications. No one knows exactly how often it happens, but it does happen, and it has potentially very serious consequences:

    it distorts a reader’s impression of how much evidence is out there. If you think there are two trials showing that something works, then obviously that’s much more impressive than if there’s just one.


    And it’s not just about planting duplicate information in prescribers’ memories. Duplicate publication can also distort the results of “meta-analyses”, big studies where the results of lots of trials are brought together into one big spreadsheet. Because then, if you can’t spot what’s duplicated, some evidence is actually counted twice in the numerical results.

    Ben’s use case is a company named Lilly (what kind of a name is that for a drug company anyway?) which has published the same data on their antidepressant drug (duloxetine) twice in two different papers! The irony here is that this particular trial was severely flawed: there was no control group and it was fairly easy for participants to realize what was being tested (a new drug for an old one). Nevertheless, they liked their experiment so much that they published it twice :-)

  • Dr Aust provides an excellent post on why the common myth “you need 8 glasses of *water* per day” is exactly that: a myth.

    In a nutshell, it doesn’t have to be water -it can be any fluid, and even food contributes to that!

    The total amount of “fluid intake” being suggested here (1900 ml per day, so nearly 2 litres) is sort-of reasonable (though still anywhere from 10 to 50% above what scientists and doctors think of as the normal daily drinking requirement), but it can be ANY fluid. Everything that you drink counts.

    Water. Coffee. Tea. Herbal tea. Beer (yes, beer). Wine (yes, wine).

    Dr Aust also tackles some other related myths on caffeinated drinks; urine quality :-); what being thirsty means; and the common “liquids (other than water) are processed in the body as food” parroting… Of course no one is suggesting we should stop drinking water! Just that 8 glasses is not necessary…

    No need for me to say more. Just go over there and read the original post.

  • Another excellent post (two actually) comes from Steven Novella at NeuroLogica Blog: “Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature“. Steven discusses the new religiously-led anti-scientific trend to attack the relatively new field of neuroscience with the ultimate goal of overthrowing materialism.

    Steven takes his cue from a New Scientist article raising the alarm on this new disingenuous attack on science. (Interestingly, I happened to read this article a couple of days ago while waiting in the hospital for my orthopaedic appointment, and I wanted to discuss it too!)

    Since attacks on such an established science as Evolution, were met by ridicule and utter failure (yet they still go on; sigh, they never learn) Intelligent Design (ID) and creationism proponents have now turned their attention to the much more vulnerable field of neuroscience. They are trying to change the definition of science in order to “free” it from materialism, thus allowing supernatural causes (their Gods) into the scientific paradigm. The main point here of course, is the separation of the mind from the brain -the mind is something independent and immaterial. Yeah, good luck with that…

    Steven’s opinion on the issue is definitely worth reading (especially considering that he *is* a neurologist), however I think the discussion that unfolds at the comment section is particularly interesting and I would urge you to follow it.

  • Finally, David Ramey at Science-based Medicine, tries to explain the psychology of animals and how a placebo effect might be manifested and explained in animals.

    Two possible candidate theories are conditioning and expectancy. Conditioning was extensively studied by Ivan Pavlov (among many other) and his infamous salivating dogs, while expectancy theory proposes that “bodily changes may occur to the extent that the person [or animal?] receiving the therapy expects them to.

    Just a similar note here: the apparent and anecdotal efficacy of homeopathic remedies on animals can be easily explained away (e.g. see here) and is in fact a self-destructing argument for homeopathy. For a homeopathic treatment to be prepared, a proving has to be done where the symptoms the original substance causes are documented. How the hell do they do provings on animals?!? How do they document their symptoms?!?

That’s all folks, it’s over to you now. By the way, if you have stumbled across an interesting post or blog, let everyone (that is, my three readers) know by posting it in the comments here.