Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.


Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.

Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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One way to stay healthy: keep out of hospital

Who shall guard the guardians?

The ability of bacteria to evolve immunity to current antibiotics is a dark cloud on the horizon of modern medicine, and an increasingly hot news topic as efforts are made to cut down on antibiotics in the food chain.

What many people may not realize, however, is the extent to which human behavior compounds the serious problem of infection in hospitals. Doctors and nurses in US hospitals do not wash nearly often enough, according to Ms. McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York State who is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org) in the New York Sun today (Sep 27).

Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

What this can lead to is a real horror story:

September 27, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version



September 27, 2005

URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/20634

Three-year-old McKenzie Smith was taken to the hospital with a rare hereditary disease. She died, not from the disease she came in with but from an infection she got in the hospital, her distraught parents explained in the New York Post. The Post also reported that another little girl, Grace Murphy, treated on the same pediatric floor, died from the same infection a few months later.

Construction in hospitals is almost always to blame for the type of infection these little girls got – Aspergillus. It’s a fungus found in soil and old buildings, and when disturbed, its deadly spores can float through elevator shafts, windows, vents, and hallways into patients’ rooms. According to the grieving families, the little girls were treated within yards of the construction. The dust was so thick, McKenzie’s mother Michele told the Post, that she could run her finger through it on virtually every surface in her daughter’s room.

Hospitals undergoing construction are supposed to seal off the work site, move patients with weak immune systems as far away as possible, and monitor the environment for spores. Mrs. Smith was constantly wiping down her daughter’s room, struggling to remove the dust as it piled up. It makes you wonder whether hospitals are doing everything they can to protect their patients from deadly complications.

McKenzie died four years ago. Though Aspergillus is a rare infection that affects only a handful of people each year, her death is a sad indication of a vastly larger and underreported health crisis. Each year, 2 million people in our country contract infections in the hospital, and more than 100,000 die from them. All of us have heard of one of the most common infections, Staph, short for Staphylococcus aureus. It’s so widespread that it’s becoming a household name. Nearly all these infections have a common cause: poor hygiene.

Staph germs race through a hospital because of unclean hands, contaminated equipment, bacteria-laden uniforms, and inattention to proper procedures. Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

Dealing with hospital construction is an unusual problem, but what is not unusual about Michele Smith’s plight is that she had to constantly clean her daughter’s room. All too commonly, family members are left to their own devices, scrubbing the bathroom floor or wiping up. When Lydia Dyroff’s mother went into a Florida hospital for bypass surgery, she did her best to clean her mother’s room, but it wasn’t quite enough.” It needed professional care. We complained to many, but nothing seemed to help” Lydia later recalled in an e-mail to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Her mother contracted a Staph infection that didn’t respond to medication. Her wounds didn’t heal, and she eventually died.

Staph infections are growing more dangerous because, increasingly, they cannot be cured with commonly used antibiotics. Patients who get MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, often spend months in the hospital and go through several operations to cut out infected tissue. Sixty percent of Staph infections are now drug-resistant.

A new report (September 15) in the medical journal “Clinical Infectious Diseases” warns that another large group of infections, including Acinetobacter, Pseudonmonas, and Kliebsiella, to name a few, are rapidly becoming drug resistant. You’ve probably never head of these other “superbugs,” even if someone in your own family has suffered from them, because most hospitals say as little as possible when there’s an infection problem.

A few hospitals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Iowa have virtually eradicated the worst drug-resistant infections. How? Through rigorous hygiene, meticulous cleaning of equipment in between patients, testing incoming patients to identify those carrying dangerous bacteria, and strictly isolating them to prevent transmission to other patients. Unfortunately, most hospitals don’t make hygiene a top priority. It’s time they did.

Medical schools should also be teaching future doctors how to protect patients from infection. Some medical schools are stressing the importance of curbing the use of antibiotics. That’s good, because overuse of antibiotics wastes money and causes bacteria to morph into new, drug-resistant strains. But limiting the use of antibiotics won’t stop hospital infections. No hospital has ever eradicated infection merely by controlling the use of these drugs.

It’s hard to believe, but most medical schools devote virtually no time, not even one full class, to showing students how germs are transmitted from patient to patient on clothing, equipment, and hands, and what can be done to prevent it. It’s ironic. Medical schools have committees to ensure that bioterrorism is covered, but not hospital infection, a far more immediate threat to most of us. How could a hospital stop a covertly introduced contagion from racing through its patients if it cannot even stop a common infection from spreading? When medical students put on their white coats and swear the Hippocratic Oath, they should be taught how to do no harm. They should learn it before they go out on the hospital floors and touch their first patient.

Ms. McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York State and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org).

September 27, 2005 Edition. Section: Opinion

Shades of Semmelweiss!

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