Listener Feedback Episode VIII: No New Hope
Again it's time to give a voice to our listeners. Some approve, some disapprove, some are insane raving lunatics straining at the straps of their straitjackets and flapping around on the floor like landed fish. But I love them all.
Responding to my episode on Detoxification Myths, the gift that keeps on giving, Devon from Austin, TX gets us started with some familiar arguments against Big Pharma:
I commend Devon for standing out from the crowd a little bit, in that he does seem to appreciate the value in finding treatments that actually work. But I'm not quite sure what his point is. No drug companies or doctors "write off" natural compounds. The majority of drugs are developed from natural compounds — that's why drug companies have field researchers in rainforests and the like — but Devon says such treatments are not to be trusted because they come from drug companies. Who do you expect them to come from? The drug stork?
When he says it's more profitable for a doctor to write a prescription than to "spend time looking for a natural cure", that's obviously true; doctors couldn't be very productive if every time they saw a patient they had to hack their way through the jungle with the gas chromatograph. The drug company has already done that for him. Moreover, they've also tested the drug for safety against rigorous standards, purified it, developed it, and determined proper dosages. My sense is that Devon is unaware of the process of developing drugs, and has been more impressed by a naturopath who goes into his back room filled with jars of herbs and compounds and powders. Devon, the reason the naturopath does this is that he's untrained and unlicensed in medicine and it would be illegal for him to dispense anything that may have a clinical effect.
Truth is always more fascinating than fiction. Your naturopath can make up whatever magical stuff he wants to tell you about his jars of dragon's breath and hemlock, but have a conversation with a molecular biologist who works for a pharmaceutical company. You'll be blown away by some of the exciting stuff they're doing with molecules found in nature. Not long ago I was down at the Scripps Institute looking into a tank of ocean scum, and my friends who are researchers there were pointing out some of the algaes and gross floating stuff and telling me what they're doing with it. Yes, Devon, drugs do come from pharmaceutical companies; but that's not a reason to reject them in favor of untested drugs. These are simply the type of resources that it takes to responsibly develop natural compounds into proven, developed treatments.
Josee from Raleigh, NC had some things to say about the episode where I showed that despite its vilification from the natural foods lobby, High Fructose Corn Syrup is indistuinguishable from natural sugar by your body, and is chemically identical once digested:
Of course everything is a chemical: Citric acid in an orange is the same as citric acid in a pixie stick. Josee's point is that association with humans makes one automatically bad. Why is it that so many people seem passionately determined to find things to hate about themselves? Whether it's a crop that's been developed to thrive in poor conditions or a cancer drug, some group is vehemently opposed to it simply because it was created by people. At the same time, they embrace nightshade, toadstools, asbestos, curare, strychnine, and body odor because those chemicals come from Mother Nature.
Foods labeled as "natural" are regulated by the USDA, not the FDA. It's a definition that's constantly embattled. It's such a desirable marketing buzzword that every food producer wants the definition to favor its particular product. Consequently, the definition is pretty weak, and as Josee points out, foods sold as "all natural" rarely mean what the anti-human crowd hopes it means.
And as long as we've got sort of a theme going, why not hear from Tristin in Vermont who had a problem with my episode on Fast Food Phobia:
I wonder what research Tristin did that led him to conclude that fast food restaurants spend extra money to do this. I'll tell you what research I did. Among other things, I went into a couple of fast food restaurants, photographed the nutrition information on their most popular items, then compared the ingredients with items from the supermarket that you use at home. The ketchup, the bread, the ingredients in the milkshakes. Big surprise, they're all the same. But just consider the logic: Would it add to McDonald's profits to go out and buy additional sodium, sugar, and fat to mix in with their ingredients? Of course not. Their ingredients come from the same producers that wholesale to other restaurants and supermarkets. If you make yourself a 32-ounce milkshake and a Big Mac equivalent at home, do you really think it's going to have fewer calories than a McDonald's version?
Apparently, doing such research "undermines my credibility". Sorry, Tristin, next time I'll follow your example, and uncritically parrot popular anti-fast-food rhetoric from the mass media, regardless of whether it even makes any sense, and call that research.
OK, change of pace. Dan from North Carolina, who works on F-15 computer systems for a living, had this to say about the NTSB's findings on TWA Flight 800, which exploded after takeoff out of New York City in 1996:
The evidence is not slim, and following the evidence is not the definition of "great faith". 95% of the aircraft was recovered and reconstructed. 95%. Missile strikes and explosives leave unmistakable signatures: High speed impacts, chemical residue, and heat damage to name a few; none of which was found on a single square inch of the aircraft. Forensic pathology on the bodies proved no exposure to explosives. Radar data from over 20 different sources proved no contacts ever approached the aircraft. This is not "slim evidence", this is exhaustive and conclusive evidence. We don't know what caused the plane's center fuel tank to explode, but we know it exploded, and we know it was not caused by either a missile or an explosive planted on board. This conclusion is not reached "foolishly" as Dan describes it. It is what's absolutely supported by all available evidence.
John from Sydney, Australia wondered if I was really serious in my discussion of the Fatima Miracle of the Sun, where I proposed explanations other than the sun actually did spin around and dance through the sky for a crowd of devout Catholics in Portugal in 1917:
John, it is not naive to seek out the most probable explanation for reports of a strange event. It is, however, naive to uncritically accept a religious cleric's account of that event written to support a bid for canonization. (Father John de Marchi literally spent years building evidence to support the divine nature of the story, and the surviving accounts that we have of the sun's strange behavior come from his writings.) It is not naive to consider the reliability of second or third hand anecdotal evidence, nor is it naive to consider that no observatories anywhere in Europe reported any unusual behavior by the sun on that day. What we're left with is a lot of solid evidence that nothing extraordinary happened, and a small amount of very poor evidence that a miracle was made visible to a select few scattered among a group of onlookers; those few evidently not including the photographers who documented the day, showing nothing unusual.
I did not say that "it must be something else", nor did I say that nothing happened. I merely concluded that Catholics should probably reconsider their position based on the available evidence. John, should you ever decide to re-examine the validity of any of your religious beliefs, try to do it with the impartiality you'd give to a Mormon or Muslim claim. My sense is that you're a little too predisposed to assign undeserved credibility to poorly sourced reports simply because they come from your own church's doctrine.
Finally, I'll close with the following email I received, which speaks for itself:
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