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Monday, August 13, 2018

Bad Advice by Paul Offit (BOOK REVIEW)

I've been reading a lot lately. It's good for my brain... much better than playing video games on my Kindle. In the past 2 or so weeks, I've read 5 books (as of this afternoon), and I have several others going. In the next week, I want to talk about 2 of them (since 2 more are about the supernatural (and that's not this blog) and the other was the book that became the Denzel Washington movie Man on Fire, to which I'll say, "Stick with the movie.").

The only other thing I'll say about that book is that it didn't feature the great quote, "I wish you had more time," which became the title of ONE OF MY FAVORITE POSTS EVER.

The other book is When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which was fantastic, but I'm getting ahead of myself since that's for another day.

This is the 4th book that I've read by Offit. I've liked them all, though the essential thrust is basically the same: Bad science by people like Andrew Wakefield and bad scientific understanding by people like Jenny McCarthy (also here) leads to situations where parents are led to erroneously fear things that aren't as they appear to be.

I am a big fan of Offit's. Other people tend to, well... this is their handiwork (people make me wonder).

Inevitably, your understanding of science leads you to conclusions. My experiences with medications leads me to describe how they feel when I take them, how they interact with me, and what medical sites say about them. Like many of you, I have had some rough experiences with medications that messed with me really hard. These things are known in real medical circles, and they should be described to you by doctors and pharmacists (not people without credentials). Our unofficial leader (Michael J. Fox) describes these at his foundation's website. As someone in the game of explaining pros and cons, creating better medicines, and curing our common ailment, this is only right.

I'd like to hope that I'm clear that I'm praising the possibilities and capabilities of medications (despite my personal fear of some that I've tried) and that I'm not trying to steer people away from a medication / medication type, though I am telling people to be aware of the potential side effects. Yes, I feel my written language is expressed in my spoken voice, and for this, it's expressive and passionate, but it is based on my experiences and my feeling that the public needs to know the pros and cons to make a value choice between types when we can do this (like choosing grocery store donuts over Dunkin Donuts since we NEED a donut.

This is something I think about as I approach my next doctor visit on September 6th. What anti-tremor med is next? Could it be CBD or levodopa / carbadopa? Time will tell. Maybe it's something else altogether.

For me, I am not a doctor. Up until a few months ago, I taught people to write and research. I taught about website credentials and validity. That's my area of expertise. My areas of experience are "I have PD" and I write about it from a first-person point of view. My mission is to get you wired for mental toughness, to encourage you to enjoy life, and to find a cure for this poop storm that is PD. 

With that, ALL medical decisions need to be made with a doctor.

Offit is a Children's Hospital of Philadelphia doctor. He has decades of experience in immunology and research. This is what Offit does well. He expresses how he helped created a vaccine for rotovirus, and he got it out into the world to save lives. He's proud of what he did, does, and will do. I respect the work he's done a lot.

Offit's battle is for safe vaccines anad against unregulated vitamins and alternative medicines that do more to generate streams of revenue than actually help cure anything. In some cases, they're really dangerous. If you're not aware, this is the National Institute of Health's take on multivitamins.

Throughout his books, he battles with a parent's right to choose / religious + philosophical opt outs and the problems they create (the comeback of measles, for instance). This isn't an easy option or a popular option, but it is an issue we face to achieve healthy kids and herd immunity. In a world where ideological arguments by the few are waged on equal footing against what science has and hasn't shown for television ratings and political grandstanding, the truth is often complicated and boring.

Offit's mission is to make sure "the truth is out there." In a world where other people put their "truths" out there, that's not easy, especially for a guy who by his own description comes off in a way that is "off the cuff" and reactionary (he even tells stories of his failures, such as dropping an F bomb on an activist who was up in his face harassing him.

I call this point of understanding and needing to get it out to the world "The X-Files Blues." We want to shout it from the rooftops. We want to destroy barriers. We want to stifle our enemies to save the world and tell the truth.

Unfortunately, that's how the other side feels, too.



Anyway, there are some great quotes in this book.

"Never dare to sell your soul for money, because no amount of money will you an air conditioner in Hell." Edmond Mriaka

"The Democrats are the party that says the government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected to prove it." PJ O'Rourke

"If you're going to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you." George Bernard Shaw

"You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic." Robert Heinlein

HOWEVER, his best quotes were from a chapter called "Feeding the Beast," where he talks about his own mistakes and the problems he caused himself by not knowing how to remove his emotions and for being too passionate. Like or hate his position, this is essential reading for learning how to persuade effectively (as is Carl Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit")

Don't go on a show where the host isn't on your side
Be comfortable
Be sympathetic, no matter how trying the circumstance.
Don't panic. The facts are your safety net.
Take on religious issues at your own peril.
Avoid debating celebrities (unless no one remembers them anymore).
Make sure you have the backing of your institution.
You are going to say things that, although scientifically accurate, you will regret. It's unavoidable.
Advertising revenue is the ultimate conflict of interest.

In the end, I add that in 2016, I cast a protest vote against my 2 "choices" for president since I had "serious misgivings" about both of them. I chose Gary Johnson, the Libertarian to send a message that we need third parties (and viable options other than Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb). While I'm glad I didn't vote for A or B, I'm not sure the Libertarian party is the best alternative option as based on Johnson's stance on vaccination (local level - not federal). Following some of this thinking, in an interesting take at CATO, a Libertarian physician writes how he wishes all people would vaccinate, but how we shouldn't mandate since bad choices are essentially choices in a free society. This is still infinitely better than those who garble out the misunderstood science and follow the ethically problematic withdrawn conclusions.

As Offit laments, science is demonized. In our world, this is everywhere. As we look in the news, we see asbestos issues coming up as our government seeks to make its use in building possible again - despite, MESOTHELIOMA. We see a complete denial of the science, yet people still cheer for it.


What does the future hold? If we learn anything from Offit's book, we see that we need to find a way to express and understand science. If we don't, it's only going to get worse.

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