Margaret McCartney

Hurrah – sense sees through the day.

The British Chiropractic Association have evidently decided enough is enough from their statement BCA vs Simon Singh and have dropped their case against him.

Margaret McCartney

The BMJ noted the blog post  – The long arm of pharmaceuticals and PR – about generic drugs and asked for a piece on it – Generic drugs: protest group was not quite what it seemed

In case anyone is interested there is also a review - Suicide Watch – published on the BMJ of an amusing Dan Rhodes book called Little Hands Clapping – on the subject of a suicide museum.

Margaret McCartney

An excellent book about making sense of health advice from the southern hemisphere, by Les and Judy Irwig, Lyndal Trevena, and Melissa Sweet. Highly, highly recommended and now available for free online here: Smart Health Choices

Margaret McCartney

Simon Singh goes to the UK courts today (Tuesday 23rd February) in an appeal against a preliminary ruling in a libel action raised by the British Chiropractic Association. I wish him well.

Another libel action is ongoing on in the UK against cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst, who is being sued after comments made about results in connection with research done by US company NMT Medical.

There is an unsettling feeling in the UK about libel law: many scientists and doctors are speaking out about it as a bad way to judge scientific proof and evidence.

The potential cost puts many people off even pursuing debate and many choose to settle before a case knowing they may not be able to afford it.

You can read about Dr Wilmshurst’s case here and he is also interviewed on Radio 4 for a programme Science on Trial.

I would urge you to consider signing the petition if you have not done so already. Sense about science: National petition for libel law reform

Margaret McCartney

So last week I had several emails, and then saw several adverts/advertorial, for a device which is being sold in Boots, called ‘Breast Light’. It is almost 90 UK pounds, and it is being given a prominent position in my local store. The website for it claims it is ‘for earlier detection’.

I asked the pharmacist why Boots was selling it. She said it was for patient choice, and it was a useful thing for women to have. I asked her what the evidence was that it worked. She told me to look at the website. Hmm.

Margaret McCartney

A nurse in Glasgow has been suspended, pending an investigation about photographs of patients, having surgery, being posted on Facebook. Not very nice, we may think.

Nurse suspended for putting photographs of patients taken during operations on Facebook

What I find just as concerning though is the reaction of the Chair of the Patients Association in Scotland, Margaret Watt: “Any nurse caught doing this should be sacked, if not sectioned. Putting pictures of patients in hospital on the internet is a gross breach of their human rights and dignity – the worst I have ever heard of.”

Spot the absolutely inane, anarchic and thoroughly degrading reference to mental illness there. Is this really the kind of attitude that should belong to one in such a position?

Margaret McCartney

I feel very bad that I haven’t written about this until now: an email from Simon Singh reminds me that the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign, as run by Sense about Science, has moved up a gear. The campaign started when Simon was being personally sued for writing about chiropractic for a newspaper article. His case is now at the appeal stage, due to be heard in Febuary 2010.

Sense about Science have joined forces with English PEN and the Index on Censorship: they are hoping for a large response to a petition to campaign for a change to the law altogether. My name is there; please consider signing up. Debate in science is essential. I suspect we’d still be doing blood-letting otherwise.

I’m also grateful for this series of festive science experiments Simon links to  - from  Quirkology - highly recommended – from Professor Richard Wiseman. Fun for the children (and the grown ups.) Remember to put some bicarbonate of soda on your shopping list.

By Rebecca Knight

Have you ever read a newspaper article about cancer risk and felt anxious that something you do – or neglect to do – puts you in danger of developing a terrible disease? Or have you ever watched a television news report about a new cancer drug and felt optimistic – perhaps too optimistic – about a promising breakthrough?
It happens every day, according to an editorial published earlier this month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The editorial, written by the editor and researchers at the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in New Hampshire, discusses the exaggerated fears and hopes that often appear in news coverage of cancer research. Promoting Healthy Skepticism in the News: Helping Journalists Get It Right 

By Rebecca Knight

My daughter woke up three days ago with a runny nose, a fever of 101, and a wheezy, puffing cough that made her sound as though she’d smoked a pack a day for the past thirty years. My girl – age 22 months – is precocious, but I was confident that she hadn’t been sneaking cigarettes.

So I did what any novice mother in my situation would do: I went straight to the internet. I logged on to my favourite medical site and dutifully typed in her symptoms. Immediately I got a diagnosis: croup.

“Croup is a condition that causes an inflammation of the upper airways, and it often leads to a barking cough or hoarseness especially when a child cries,” the site said. “Most cases of croup are caused by viruses, and it is most common in children 6 months to 3 years old, but can affect older kids, too.”

Margaret McCartney

So Gordon Brown has “two minor tears” in his retina, the findings of a routine follow up on his vision has revealed. Mr Brown, who has sight in one eye only, is said not to be unduly concerned about this development.

This comes not long after Andrew Marr  – a well-known journalist and political commentator – harangued him, during an interview, about his use (or not) of medication in order to help manage his job. Mental illness was most definitely implied.

What double standards. We are supposedly in more enlightened times, and should know that disability does not mean no ability. David Blunkett – a labour politician and former home secretary who has been blind from birth  – and his guide dog managed perfectly well. Mental health problems should not automatically preclude high office either.

There would be nothing worse for this country than to have only people with unmarked medical records who thought themselves worthy of scrutiny about their health, standing for parliament.

Indeed, people who have understood what it means for them or family members to be unwell may have much to contribute to politics. Even if we did have a society where disclosure of health problems meant nothing except understanding, we should still accept that privacy is an entitlement. Politics does not negate this.

Health and science blog (Archived)

This blog, part of the FT's health series, is a forum for readers interested in the science, policy, management, technology, business and delivery of healthcare.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

About our regular bloggers

Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog:

Clive Cookson has been a science journalist for the whole of his working life. He joined the FT in 1987. Clive, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education.

Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow