Off the pedestal, Western medicine

hubris

Western medicine can be a smug son-of-a-bitch. Seriously.

Now, it would be unfair to lump this attitude on all practitioners of Western medicine, but I haven’t the time to survey all of its adherents and gauge individual opinions so that I can name names of those who are the smug bastards and those who believe in thoughtful open-minded consideration.

To provide some context, I have a B.Sc. in molecular biology and a M.Sc. in medical genetics, and have written about the latest biotechnical and biomedical advances for about 15 years. I have also written about Western medicine for about 7 years.

Given this background, it may seem odd to some that I am writing a complaint about the attitudes of Western medicine, but what may not be as obvious about that background is the amount of hubris and self-satisfaction I have seen in questionable practices with limited benefits.

Old wisdom isn't useless because it is old

Old wisdom isn’t useless because it is old

Recently, there was an article in New Scientist magazine that described the rediscovery of a possible treatment against superbugs (e.g., MRSA), a therapy chronicled in an Anglo-Saxon era manuscript. The roughly 1000-year-old remedy is being studied in a modern lab and early results suggest that it may prove effective against the bugs that threaten modern lives on a weekly basis.

(BTW, there is a thousand miles between early results and coming to a pharmacy near you.)

But what struck me most was the response to the findings in various media, which bordered on shock and awe that something relevant to today could come from such an ancient source. Even CBC’s The National (Canada’s national news broadcast) commented that the discovery came from an era when leaches were considered good medicine.

Which leads me to scream:

Science wasn’t invented in 20th century, people.

The grand assumption seems to be that anything that happened in medicine before the First World War was complete voodoo and not worthy of consideration in an era of rational thought.

Everyone involved in health remedies before the modern medical era was either a charlatan or a moron, and either way was dangerous to the people around them. The human capacity for sober scientific enquiry did not occur until shortly after the invention of the Erlenmeyer flask, the spectrometer and the harnessing of the X-ray.

I call bullshit.

If you can grind it or infuse it, you can medicate with it

If you can grind it or infuse it, you can medicate with it

Folkloric medicines are based on scientific inquiry by people without test tubes and spectrometers. The approach may have been less statistical in nature, but everyone from apothecaries to shamans (shamen?) ran clinical trials the old-fashioned way.

Take this. Do you feel better? Great. It’s a keeper. Did you die? Yes. Nuts, try something else on the next guy.

Having actually looked at modern clinical trials, the only differences between then and now are the test patient population size and the accounting of the results. And I don’t know that we can say definitively that these parameters have improved things.

I am not advocating that we discard modern medicine—it has merit—but rather than it must get off its high-horse and approach historical medicine with an open mind so that more rediscoveries like this latest one can happen and be tested.

TCM has worked for millennia

TCM has worked for millennia

China has about 20% of the planet’s population, so there might be something to Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCMs). The same goes for India and folkloric Indian medicines (FIMs). Or Anglo-Saxons or Sumerians or the indigenous peoples of the Americas. These people were not morons.

Our ignorance and outright hubris is a hangover of the Age of Reason as we dismiss everything that came before because it was often presented in raiments of spirits and ritual.

Modern does not guarantee success

Modern does not guarantee success

We should not let our fascination with the instrumentational bells and whistles of the modern scientific method blind us to the wonders of the not-so-modern scientific method, which lacked in instrumentation but not in knowledge and understanding.

Before you blithely dismiss something as troglodyte quackery, perhaps you should ask yourself:

What would Hippocrates do?

And as to the CBC’s comment about the era of leeches, both leeches and maggots have a long history up to this day of facilitating health in people (see Leeches and Maggots).

In other words

Word up!

Word up!

According to a Global Language Monitor survey from 2014, there are 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. (Not sure what the 0.8 word is.) And based on further research, this tally makes English anywhere from 5- to 10-times larger than most Western European languages.

Depending on who you ask or possibly where, a native English-speaking adult has a functional vocabulary of anywhere from 10,000 to 75,000 words. Thus, on a regular basis, we use about 1-10% of the words available to us.

Many of those words have similar if not identical meanings and can often be used interchangeably with slight variations in implied meaning or significance. Hell, a British clinician with a list-making fetish famously went out and tried to catalogue these word relationships, offering encyclopedic lists of alternates to the most commonly used English words.

A man with a list (or maybe that's just how he sits)

A man with a list (or maybe that’s just how he sits)

So, given this profusion of synonymic wonder, why am I seeing an increasing number of stories—novels, screenplays, etc.—that seem only capable of the low end of the vocabulary spectrum?

And I’m not even talking the big words here. I am talking the simple words we use every day and yet which hold little more meaning than their strictest definition. Words like “said”, “walk”, “enter”.

Now, I am not suggesting people necessarily have to write with a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus next to them, something of which I have been accused on occasion. But while exsanguinating your latest cerebral machinations into the fibrous folds of the human record—sorry, I digress—why not make the most of the words that are at your disposal?

For example:

Hearing a cry from the other room, Cecily walked through the door.

Now, Cecily may indeed have “walked” through the door, but that tells me absolutely nothing other than her transitional geographic location.

What was Cecily’s emotional state and how eager was she to discover the source of the cry?

There are so many other words—common words—in the English language that will tell us so much more about Cecily than the fact that she moved.

What about strutted, strode, skipped, crashed, bolted, dashed, raced, blasted, crept, snuck (sneaked?), sauntered, staggered, bounded, tripped, stumbled, inched, crawled, or fell?

Each of these words tells us so much more about Cecily’s relative state of confidence and sense of urgency, and any one of these in place of “walked” prevents the writer from having to later explain her emotions with a second sentence.

In some cases, people will append adverbs to offer greater insights into the emotional state of a character, but again, even this can often be avoided through use of more descriptive verb.

For example:

“You’re crazy,” Philip replied angrily.

Definitely better than just “Philip replied”. But what if Philip did more than reply? What if he screamed, shouted, barked, bellowed, screeched, roared, or cried?

Again, each word offers a slightly different take on Philip’s emotional state and gives us a sense of whether he is angry at his target or terrified by her.

All the kids are doing it

All the kids are doing it

And what holds true for verbs, also holds for adjectives, and particularly as some of the simpler ones can be relative.

The precise height of a tall man varies significantly between someone who is 5 ft 2 versus someone who is 6 ft 1. And again, the adjective has an opportunity to add an emotional or psychological angle to the description.

Rather than “tall”, what about towering, mountainous, tree-like, statuesque, cloud-scraping, looming, or neck-straining?

Or instead of a specific age (unless the precise number is vital), what about world-weary, worn down, spry, vivacious, ancient, wizened, infantile or cadaverous?

Got your back, kid!

Got your back, kid!

Again, I don’t think we need to discard the presocialized anthropoidal biped with the bath water, but particularly in our writing, I think we need to make better use of the wealth the English language affords us and open ourselves to more precise and effective word choices.

Together, we can strut the walk and hallelujah the talk.

It (tediously) Follows – A review

It Follows

We all remember the dire warnings from health class or worried parents: If you have unprotected sex, you run the risk of coming down with an STD.

Well, for the kids in the movie It Follows, the itch of crabs or the need for antibiotics would be a welcomed distraction from the STW they risk by having sex with the wrong partner.

Choose your partners wisely

Choose your partners wisely

STW? Sexually transmitted wraith.

It Follows tells the story of Jay, a sexually active late-teen who finally succumbs to the charms of her newest beau Hugh, only to learn that not only did she accept his penis, but she also accepted a curse that involves a plodding ghost trying to kill her.

As long as Jay stays alive, the ghost leaves Hugh alone. The best advice, he suggests, is for Jay to pass the curse onto someone else as soon as possible, hooking up like he did with her. If the wraith gets Jay, it then comes after Hugh and then continues up the line of transmission.

Complicating life is the fact that only the cursed can see the wraith, which can transform from a urinating half-naked mutilated woman to a senior citizen to someone you know. Thus, even when Jay enlists her sister and friends to help her, they are largely useless other than as a source of comfort and uncontrolled screaming and running.

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Now, I don’t like horror movies. I am a jumpy person by nature, and so sudden surprises bother me. Thus, when my horror-loving friends suggested we see It Follows, I was reluctant. But I am trying to expand my genre repertoire and so joined in.

As it worked out, there was no reason to worry.

(HEREAFTER THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.)

Throughout the entire 100 minutes of the movie, I jumped only once, and as it turned out, at nothing that had anything to do with the story.

None of the appearances of the wraith (okay, maybe one) were particularly startling or unexpected. And aside from the musical cues to the audience to become anxious—music that would not have been out of place in any classic 80s horror—the movie offered little suspense. And after more than a few musical feints, even that ceased to make me uneasy.

Aggravating the lack of tension was an excruciatingly plodding pace to the story, which triggered more yawns in me than shudders. The only thing slower than the pace was the plodding approach of the wraith.

My friends—the horror aficionados—suggested that this gave the demon (and the movie) a relentless feel…the wraith was often shown slowly approaching from a distance in wide-angle shots. But to me, the movie was relentless in the way a train travelling at one mile per hour is unrelenting.

It will crush you…eventually…once it reaches you…assuming you don’t simply step off the tracks.

What I will admit was relentless was that truthfully the story could only end one way. (I am trying not to tell you how the movie ends.)

Because the wraith will always move up the chain of transmission, Jay is fated to die. Even if she passes the curse onto another. She will die. It is simply a matter of when.

Not taking the news well

Not taking the news well

The writer and/or director essentially painted themselves into a corner from the outset.

This is not to say that the kids only run away, but they also had no information to help stop the wraith…if possible. And no one seemed interested in determining what is was or why it was.

This is yet another reason why I could not engage in the movie. It gave me nothing to do but wait, and watch the kids attempt roughly the same actions time and again.

Maika Monroe

Maika Monroe as Jay

Given the nature of the beast—horror movies, that is—the performances were solid. The acting was quite good—Maika Monroe as Jay was quite effective—and the relationships between the characters felt real. Aside from a few subtextual set-ups that had no payoff, most of the character interactions satisfied.

Sadly, the actors were completely let down by the writer and/or director.

With the wraith largely incapable of harming her sister or friends (it only wants the cursed), all of Jay’s (our hero’s) actions were self-serving. Simply put, Jay did everything not to die.

And while this is understandable and even compelling early on—again, Maika Monroe is very likeable—it eventually lacks nobility. There were no other stakes, and how do you raise the stakes from gonna die? After a very short period, I was ready for Jay to die simply so my friends and I could get to the pub.

I appreciate that I am in the minority here (and at the pub).

It Follows will inexorably spawn a sequel—no doubt entitled It Still Follows—and possibly a third (Yep, Still Following) and fourth (Hunh, Where’d It Go? Oh, Jesus, There It Is) chapter.

For me, however, I’ll just go back and watch Poltergeist (the original, thank you) and have nightmares about clown dolls.

Now THAT is scary

Now THAT is scary

Now, if you want a good (and shorter) counterpoint to my antipathy for It Follows, check out a post written by another friend Danny F Santos, which can be found here.

101 Facts About Canada

Created by RCW:

One fact for every Canadian I can name or know

Originally posted on Bite Size Canada:

Canada is interesting. I’ve said that many times. Some have asked me “in what way?” So here are a few ways:

Map of Canada Author: Ssolbergj. From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canada_(orthographic_projection).svg

  1. 10% of the world’s forest is in Canada
  2. 15.9% of the population is 65 or older. 68.5% are between the ages of 15 and 64.
  3. 17% of Canadians are daily smokers.
  4. 280,681 new permanent residents were welcomed to Canada in 2010. That number does not include temporary workers or foreign students.
  5. A 9.3 kg lobster is the largest documented lobster caught. It was caught in Nova Scotia in 1977
  6. About 90% of Canada’s population is concentrated within 160 kilometers (100 miles) of the Canada/U.S. border.
  7. Canada became a country on July 1, 1867
  8. Canada birth rate is 10 births/1,000 population
  9. Canada features the longest coastline in the world, stretching 202,080 kilometers (125,570 miles).
  10. Canada fertility rate is 1.59 children born/woman
  11. Canada has 198 jails.
  12. Canada…

View original 1,218 more words