Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where the Sidewalk Ends: part 2 of 2

Where we draw the line for what's acceptable and what's not poses an interesting conundrum: For instance, one study shows that recycled paper products contain lots of toxic "goodies", but I seriously doubt that any public-health-naysayer (a la Jenny McCarthy) is going to advocate not-recycling. Yet if you think about it, considering how much recycled plastic and paper is in our lives, the odds of those being the "cause" of autism (if there even is an environmental cause) would technically be much greater.

So why do we cling to erroneous beliefs in the face of good science showing that they're false? I think the answer is two-fold: first, that scientists can be "bought", and secondly, that people simply don't know enough.

The idea that Merck and Pfizer and Eli Lilly and all the big pharmaceuticals juggle the data in order to get their drugs out on the market is most likely false. I say "most likely" because undoubtedly someone will point to Vioxx and sneer, but if you look at the statistics--at the actual numbers--for the incidence of cardiovascular events of patients on rofecoxib (generic name for Vioxx), they don't vary between Vioxx and placebo.

"But those scientists are paid consultants! Of course they have a vested interest in keeping Vioxx on the market!"

Okay--well, then, another study, far less friendly towards Vioxx, says pretty much the same thing: no increase in cardiovascular events. What they do note is a slight increase in the number of annual myocardial infarcts in the Vioxx group--a difference of less than 1%. Yes, the difference is real. But less than 1%? You have a higher chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident, but nobody's suggesting that we ban cars.

Regardless of which side you believe, the outcome of this was hardly a picnic for Merck. But it also illustrates our f*cked up way of deciding what's worthwhile and what's not. To whit: parents who are terrified that vaccines can cause autism apparently have no fear of measles outbreaks, and with the way they're being portrayed as heroes, we can only surmise that children dying of easily-vaccinated diseases are acceptable casualties in a war against a disease that has no known cause.

And I though George W. Bush was insane when he decided to invade Iraq.

The problem is that people know enough to be skeptical, but not enough to know how to discern truth from smoke. Even today we're still terrified about radiation, so much that we treat foods that have been irradiated as though they've been poisoned. Yet we have no problem microwaving a can of soup, or basking in UV rays, or sitting in front of a TV--and if I'm not mistaken, there's a lot of TV-sitting.

Kinda makes you wonder how we ever made it this far.

1 comment:

Studd Beefpile said...

It's not so much that scientists can be bought as people are eager to sell themselves. If you are passionately dedicated to proving autism is cased by vaccination, it is really easy to find "evidence" that supports your theory. Likewise, drug company scientists find it easy to prove their buddies on floor 12 are doing a good job.

Of course, there's a simple solution for this. Companies push these drugs because they've already gone through the massive FDA approval process, which takes a decade and billions of dollars. Make FDA approval optional (non approved drugs being required to have giant warning labels) and you eliminate a lot of the incentive to push old products.