Monday, 12 September 2016

Say NO to Lif3

​There's a wonderful section in the late Christopher Hitchens' Letters to a Young Contrarian where he discusses a daily ritual of frustration that made him feel alive. Every morning, he would sit down to read the New York Times, checking whether the 'bright, smug, pompous, idiotic' motto 'All the News That's Fit to Print' was still there to the left of the masthead. Yes it was. Did it still irritate him? Yes. Then at least he knew he still had a pulse.

I also indulge in a "daily infusion of annoyance", perhaps it is a form of secular self flaggelation. Mine is to visit the Twitter page for Lif3 Smartchip, a $70 piece of snake oil-infused plastic that protects you against the imagined dangers of mobile phone radiation. Because health. And the children. And the health of children. And really, don't you want to protect the children?

Never mind the fact that the overwhelming volume of evidence indicates electromagnetic radiation from mobile and cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers and other 'smart' devices isn't dangerous to human health. Never mind the slight inconvenience that there's no known biologically plausible mechanism for low power EMR to damage cells. Never mind the sober recommendations of the vast majority of national and international health bodies which indicate there's no reason to be concerned about EMR radiation. But overwhelming evidence aside, as Lif3 themselves say, 'why take the risk?' It is, of course, much easier to make a quick dollar by ignoring decades of evidence. Oh, and did I mention the children?

Daily I will visit Lif3's Twitter account and if I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do the insult me with their moronic claims and what do they take me for and why do they bother with their snake oil BS — all while earning the eye-rolling ire of my patient wife — then I know I too still have a pulse.

Unfortunately I can't check Lif3's Twitter page when logged in to my own Twitter account. I have to either log out or use private browsing because these fine corporate citizens have blocked me, along with many others who dared to question their pseudoscientific snake oil. But at least they're thinking of the children...and their parents' wallets.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

(Talcum) Powder Keg

Not cocaine – By Mattman723, Wikimedia Commons
The news today tells me that Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is being sued in the US by ovarian cancer sufferers who claim their use of talcum power caused their medical condition.

This is not new. Talcum powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson has been successfully sued twice in the US after juries found two womens' use of talc led to their terminal ovarian cancer.

Firstly, these are sad cases that often involve very sick people trying to find some rhyme or reason as to why they got ill and, in some cases, family trying to blame someone for why their consequent death. These are tragic circumstances in which these people find themselves.

But even in light of these successful lawsuits, there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, this is not like smoking and lung cancer. Smoking was pretty was known to be dangerous by the 1950s, with links suggested as early as the 1930s (the link is to a history of this research and is fascinating reading).
It was the tobacco companies continued to obfuscate, cover up and deny and their is no disputing their culpability. But there is no such evidence of a similar causal link between consumer talc and ovarian cancer, nor of like behaviour on the part of Johnson & Johnson.
Unlike with cigarettes and lung cancer, where the risks were obvious and well understood, there is very little evidence to suggest talc causes an increased risk of ovarian cancer, and even less to suggest it 'causes' it. Some studies find a slightly increased risk of cancer with talc use, others don't. And, as all the 'red wine increases/decreases risk of cancer' stories demonstrate, humans are crap at understanding what 'risk' really means. More info on the state of evidence here:

Secondly, science isn't decided by the courts, it is decided by the scientific process. Courts and scientists work to very different levels of proof with very different methods. Just because a French court rules a woman should get money because of her claimed electromagnetic hypersensitivity to mobile and wifi waves, doesn't mean such an affliction exists. Actual evidence — tried, tested and retested all over the world — suggests it does not and a judge's gavel cannot render decades of peer reviewed research null and void.
Natural therapy fans, antivaxxers and pseudoscience acolytes often point to these successful personal injury claims as evidence of harm. But they are not. They are evidence of success in a courtroom setting, not a laboratory.