… and as it turns out is oh so suddenly very very relevant …
Typically, scientific iconoclasts range themselves against scientific institutions and accepted theory. This is not an easy task, can be very costly, and brings few plaudits. If you’re going up against, say, the embedded wisdom institutions and resources of the ‘War On Cancer’ — a Nixon concept, by the way, drawing from his other ‘Wars On…’ then you’d probably need a cadre of experts backing you, some heavyweight institutions, and plenty of cash to cover your lost research grants. But what if all you have on your side is science?
Bailar’s salvo, “Mammography: A Contrary View,” appeared in the well-respected medical journal the Annals of Internal Medicine … First, he wrote, the benefits of screening mammography “have not been determined — Not every lesion discovered by screening should be considered a success of the program,” Bailar wrote… Second, according to Bailar, the risks of mammography “may be greater than are commonly understood.”
In 1986, on the 15th anniversary of Nixon’s war, Bailar and Elaine M. Smith coauthored an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine… Citing data that overall cancer mortality had only declined by 5 percent since 1971, and that breast-cancer mortality had not budged at all, Bailar and Smith called the war a “qualified failure.” …Death rates from cancer actually increased until 1991, when they finally peaked. As would be expected, the cancer establishment immediately challenged Bailar and Smith’s findings, calling them “erroneous” and even “reprehensible.” But other skeptics, such as San Diego oncologist Michael Shimkin, called the article a “public service.”
As you might expect from the tone of the introduction, he was proved right. Science eventually prevailed, and guidelines were changed (although only relatively recently) reflecting his decades-long campaign. A true, if little-known, hero.
But what happens when science is on your side, but politics not?
Recently science, and the free flow of scientific information have come under attack, especially at the agencies dealing most with climate science — National Parks Service, NASA, and the EPA. Presidential orders now restrict communication, hiring, and funding.
But pressure on science is bringing new heroes. With the Twitter account of the National Parks Service frozen, anonymous NPS employees set up a new account — First Amendment, yes? — to carry on the work. You can follow AltUSNatParkService here. They were quickly followed by RogueNASA and altEPA. In fact, staff at many of the major federal agencies, including NIH, CDC, FDA, and others, have set up their own independent accounts (for the same reasons. Alt Parks now has 800k+ followers, Alt NASA is heading towards 100,000. There’s also info about a ”science march’ in the works, intended to mimic the Women’s March.
A new generation of (in this case, anonymous) heroes, holding out against everything the world’s most powerful establishment can throw at them — all in the name of science.
And then of course, John knows of a cure for cancer …
… all of the above is news of such importance and goodness and he is happy to read. But we do sometimes also need to differentiate truth – and sometimes the truth does not sit where you think.
For example … did you know that a patent for a cancer cure was filed and approved by the US Patent Office at the end of 2013? And before you click through – ask yourself these two questions.
- Is there a cure for cancer?
- Is there a patent for that cure?
If the answer to the first is no and the second is yes … would you be worried?
Did you get it right? You just might be surprised.
The “War On Cancer” did a huge disservice in implanting the idea of a single disease called Cancer, implying a single cure. But there are over 100 diseases brought together under this label — some largely curable, many not. No wonder there is so much false information and quackery out there about cancer — we’ve all been fed a (probably well-intentioned) bill of goods from the get-go.
And another thing — what Bailar really did was to apply pure science — OK, statistics — to stop the early detection process killing and injuring more people than it saved. For that I’d pay attention in Stats III.