Category Archives: Drug Use

Big Pharma vs Big Supplement

Right behind used car salesman and politicians, some of the most commonly distrusted people in our lexicon are large pharmaceutical companies—if people use the term “big pharma,” you can often assume that their thoughts are less than flattering.

Image result
Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli

People like CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals Martin Shkreli, engaging in a clear example of what can only be called price gouging, and later arrested on securities fraud charges, certainly don’t help the public opinion of the pharmaceuticals industry. And the list of civil and criminal actions against some drug companies don’t help either. As with any industry, there are clearly some bad actors.

Off-Label Promotion/False Advertising

One look at that civil litigation list provided, and you start to see a common theme. Almost all of them are for an “Off-Label” promotion violation of the False Claims Act, originally enacted in 1863. Off-Label promotion is when a drug company promotes a particular drug for treatment of something that isn’t supported by clinical data and thus isn’t approved by the FDA based on that data.

As an example, for men with male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia), minoxidil, which is often sold under the brand name Rogaine® from Pfizer was tested on the back of the scalp, often referred to as the bald spot, and as this report from the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery after a 1-year post marketing study states:

In evaluating minoxidil effectiveness in stimulating hair regrowth, the investigators found the 5% solution very effective in 15.9% of patients, effective in 47.8%, moderately effective in 20.6% and ineffective in 15.7%.

Image result for rogaine

 

But it was not tested on a receding hair line near the forehead (bitemporal recession), so despite the fact that logic would seem to dictate it would be effective there also, it can only be marketed to restore hair at the scalp until studies confirm its efficacy for bitemporal recession as well.

This kind of false advertising is certainly inexcusable, and I don’t want to claim otherwise—the purpose of this article isn’t to argue that pharmaceutical companies are faultless and incorruptible. But instead, to promote skepticism as to whether they are to be trusted to a lesser degree than supplement companies.

Because of the life-and-death situations or general health implications involved when taking pharmaceuticals, that industry is far more heavily regulated than most—and arguably for good reason.

Image result for regulations

But such heavy-handed regulation has other implications. The more regulations an industry has, the greater the risk they’ll be prosecuted for violations, as their compliance is that much more complicated to achieve.

Said violation may be an intentional misrepresentation, an innocent mistake, or a subjective situation where they feel their claims are fair and accurate, but the courts ultimately disagree.

However, any industry has a list of civil litigation, so the argument that pharmaceutical companies are unique in this where supplement companies aren’t, or any other industry in general isn’t, is patently false logic.

Supplement companies have often been found to make equally false claims through the years, and  as this article from the New York Times shows, the federal government has cracked down on them also.

But it’s imperative to understand that pharmaceutical companies largely make testable and proven claims, where supplement companies almost never do. I don’t think one can fairly argue the people making testable and proven claims most of the time, are somehow less honest than the people who purposefully don’t, because they know they’ll get sued for false advertising if they do.

Profit Motives

There’s this notion that big pharma rakes in huge profits, while supplement companies are promoting all-natural products that work just as well at treating illness, and are being suppressed by the pharmaceuticals industry because they’re so cheap, so big pharma can keep you sick to maintain those huge incomes.

The problem with this argument is that it’s a patently false premise because the supplement industry is incredibly profitable too. As this PBS article from 2016 points out, they’re a $30-billion industry. By comparison, this US Trade Commission report shows that total pharmaceutical sales weigh in at a stout $333 billion.

Big supplement is 1/10th the size of big pharma, but they’re nothing to sneeze at, and at the end of the day, the profit-based-motive argument that decries big pharma is equally true for big-supplement. So one cannot fairly use that to attack big pharma against big supplement. But there’s more meat on this bone than you might think.

Why the Price Discrepancy?

As was noted earlier, the regulations around pharmaceuticals are based on the FDA requiring clinical trial data to support their claims. This is a good thing. But here’s a basic overview of how clinical trials work.

As this information from the FDA points out, (copied and pasted verbatim for accuracy) there are five steps in the drug development process.

  1. Discovery and Development
    Research for a new drug begins in the laboratory.
  2. Preclinical Research
    Drugs undergo laboratory and animal testing to answer basic questions about safety.
  3. Clinical Research
    Drugs are tested on people to make sure they are safe and effective.
  4. FDA Review
    FDA review teams thoroughly examine all of the submitted data related to the drug or device and make a decision to approve or not to approve it.
  5. FDA Post-Market Safety Monitoring
    FDA monitors all drug and device safety once products are available for use by the public.

If you click on the link above, each step is explained in great detail, and they’re incredibly complicated. Especially the Clinical Research portion, which has its own set of four phases within it.

  • Phase 1
    • Study Participants: 20 to 100 healthy volunteers or people with the disease/condition.
    • Length of Study: Several months
    • Approximately 70% of drugs move to the next phase
  • Phase 2
    • Study Participants: Up to several hundred people with the disease/condition
    • Length of Study: Several months to 2 years
    • Approximately 33% of drugs move to the next phase
  • Phase 3
  • Phase 4
Clinical Study Map. Click for more info

As you should easily understand from all of this, at a minimum, 2 years to 6 years of time and money will be spent by the pharmaceutical company, before they’ll ever see a dime of return-on-investment, nevertheless a profit.

But let’s do a little math here. Based on the FDA’s account of how many of those move all the way through the clinical trials process, 70 out of 100 move to phase 2 (70%), 23 out of 70 move on to phase two (33%), and 5-7 out of those remaining 23 move on to phase 4 (25% – 30%). Which means 93-95 out of 100 will not see the light of day, and will be money big pharma will have to write off as a loss. That doesn’t even include the ones that don’t make it through the other four steps that aren’t clinical trials.

So generally speaking, if one drug costs $5-$7 to manufacture, that means a drug company would have to charge, on average, $100 for that drug, just to break even.

When looking at the above, you can understand that since the supplement industry isn’t beholden to all of this, it makes sense that the average pharmaceutical would potentially be twenty times more expensive than the average supplement ($5 compared to $100). Not to mention, they don’t have to invest in all that pesky testing to verify their product does what they say it does either.

Image result for dsheaAs this article points out:

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, which was lobbied through Congress by the supplement manufacturers, exempted them from the FDA drug approval process.

How does that compute? Think of it this way. If you’re going to argue some chemical does something to your physiology or health (everything is a chemical, even all-natural supplements, so I’m not talking solely about man-made products), then you simply have to prove it.

If you’re able to prove it, and you want to make that claim, then your product is a pharmaceutical. You will market it as such, because there’s credibility associated with your product if you do so. Not all pharmaceuticals require a prescription after all, things like ibuprofen, NSAIDs (aspirin), and other OTC medications are still pharmaceuticals that make specific, testable, and proven claims. So there’s no harm in marketing your product as such.

However, if you can’t prove it, but you want to sell something anyway, you have to make vague claims that can’t be challenged in court because they can’t be falsified.

For instance, you might say something “promotes heart health.” If something has any dietary value whatsoever, it can fairly be argued it promotes heart health, because nutrients keep you alive. Your basic apple, a juicy steak, or a big fat cheeseburger could make a similar claim, even though the latter two actually can harm heart function too. However, if you want to say it reduces the risk of heart attacks, now you have a very specific claim that must be backed up with data.

The basic gist of the argument is that if your product works, it’ll be a pharmaceutical, and if it doesn’t really do anything, it can still be marketed as a supplement. However, this is not to say that supplements can’t help. If your doctor notes a particular vitamin deficiency, then taking that vitamin supplement is surely an advantageous course of action. But as this Scientific American article points out:

The new studies, published today (Dec. 16) in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine —including two new clinical trials and one large review of 27 past clinical trials conducted by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — found no evidence that taking daily multivitamin and mineral supplements prevents or slows down the progress of cognitive decline or chronic diseases such as heart diseases or cancer.

So when comparing the two on the trustability scale, consider this:

With pharmaceuticals, you’re trusting a group who has to support their claims with clinical data under threat of civil action, and therefore spends the millions of dollars to prove their claims.

With supplements, you’re trusting a company who avoids such litigation by making ambiguous claims because they either didn’t want to make the effort to do such studies. Or worse yet, such studies were conducted, and no efficacy was shown for the claim they hoped to make, so they sell it under the guise of an ambiguous and often untestable claim instead.

The Overlooked Downfall of Supplements

With supplements, the reason they’re often unregulated and avoid the skeptical eye of the FDA, is often because the FDA deemed them innocuous, and therefore didn’t need regulated. Think about that for a minute. The FDA basically argued that when taken at their recommended dosages, these supplements do very little, if anything, so there was no need to regulate them.

So how then does one come to a conclusion that such things are better at treating a condition than something which was actually proven to do something, and specifically the something you needed it to do?

But it does get worse. Because there’s a saying in biology that states, “Everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.” In small amounts, most of these supplement compounds are harmless. But as this CBS News video points out, because many people take these supplements on the belief that they can’t harm you, the fact is, some can do harm if taken in excess.

Many people fail to realize that you get almost all the vitamins and minerals you need in your diet, assuming you eat reasonably healthy. So taking a vitamin pill when you don’t have a deficiency of that vitamin, is effectively an overdose. Most of the time, you’re body just sends it out your exhaust pipe, but they can in fact be harmful.

The Naturalistic Fallacy

One of the final arguments I like to address, is the “all-natural” argument. (If you want an explanation of the Naturalistic Fallacy, click the title above.)

Cancer, arsenic, snake venom, and a litany of other things that kill you are also all natural. Many drugs stem from extracting the thing that helps you from a plant for instance, without making you consume other parts of that plant that either don’t help you, or might harm you.

To give you a fictional example, imagine you had a panacea tree. You notice that when eating the panacea tree leaf, that you feel slightly better when you have a stomach ache. So you start eating a lot more panacea tree leaves next time you get an upset stomach, but then you get dizzy because the panacea tree also has a psychotropic substance in it.

So pharmaceutical companies will extract the compound that helps with the indigestion, produce a pull that contains just that, so the next time you have indigestion, you don’t have to eat panacea leaves. You can just take their drug, and not have to deal with the psychotropic side effects from eating the leaves.

That’s clearly an incredibly simplified generic example, but you at least hopefully understand the principle of what pharmaceutical companies might do, and why they should get the presumption of benefit, compared to just eating some random plant that may help somewhat, but harm in other ways.

Expanding on our fictional example, there’s another scenario to note as well. Some of these compounds from a natural source, are so low in that natural source, like 1 PPM (parts per million). But in order for that compound to cure your condition, you’d need a dosage that’s more like 100,000 PPM (or 10%), so you either take a pill that was made with 100,000 molecules of just that compound, or you eat 100,000 of the panacea leaves and blow up your stomach because you ate too much.

Purposefully Keeping You Sick

People argue big pharma only wants to keep you beholden to big pharma by stringing you out on a never-ending supply of drugs. But there’s a few things to note on this point.

If you have an infection, you might take an antibiotic for a week, then you’re done. If you have cancer, you might be treated by something like chemotherapy, be cured, and then you’re done. I’m sure almost every one of you reading this, at one point in your life, had a condition which required you to take a drug for a short period of time, the drug cured your condition, and now you no longer take that drug.

These are all instances where big pharma cured you and did not string you out. But most supplements expect you to take them for the rest of your life, because you’ll be healthier. So who’s stringing you out again?

Risk Mitigation

Many conditions people might have may require surgery. Surgery can be very dangerous and expensive. But there might be a drug that can manage your discomfort much more cheaply and less dangerously. If the condition isn’t life threatening, people will often choose not to have surgery, and just take the drug to manage the pain instead. Things like back surgery for lower back pain and such, come to mind. That’s not big pharma stringing you out, that’s you and your doctor choosing not to take a big risk.

Something May Be Better Than Nothing

Many conditions are degenerative in nature. If you lop a finger off, it won’t grow back. This is true for your bones for instance, as well. So with degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or osteoarthritis, you cannot cure what is no longer there, at least, not yet.

So sometimes pain medications are the only alternative to osteoarthritis relief. Again, that’s not big pharma stringing you out, that’s your own body falling apart and you managing the pain with pharmaceuticals.

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are different types of arthritis. They share some similar characteristics, but each has different symptoms and etiology.

I say “not yet,” because regenerative medicine (the ability to regrow things on someone that aren’t regrowing naturally) is one of the biggest areas of new discovery these days.

It should also be noted that because researchers are working on regenerative cures, they’re also working to heal you in a short time, then stop treatment once you’re well. If we go back to the “stringing you out” argument, if that was their goal, they’d be pushing painkillers, not spending millions to find cures.

SYNOPSIS:

Both Big Pharma and Big Supplement are hugely profitable. Arguing one is better than the other based on profits is false.

Big Pharma is heavily regulated and backed by science. Big supplement is just a company trying to sell you something that is largely unregulated.

Most people who make pharmaceuticals studied years of biology to do what they do so they could make things that save lives. People who make supplements often don’t have such training, and are largely operating on guesswork, anecdotal evidence, false assumptions, and sometimes, outright lies and speculation which can genuinely be likened to magic and the supernatural in their outrageousness.

You should always be skeptical in life, and I would never promote not questioning big pharma, but if I’m dying and have to trust one of them, I’m going to trust the one with proven results, and I’m willing to pay them in a manner that makes them profitable to do it.

Advertisements

Anti-GMO Pot Smokers: The Unwitting Hypocrites

As someone who loves science, with more than just a passing interest, I tend to trust scientists in general far more than politicians, Hollywood stars, CEO’s or the general public.

Sometimes scientists get things wrong, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any group of people are more right about how the world works; my trust is placed in the most capable hands.

One of the more controversial subjects these days is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many people consume them without knowing it, some actively avoid them, and some are like me—trustful of the people who know more than me that the product that they are bringing to market has been well-researched, and has provided no evidence of any harmful effects to the consumer.fda_sign_web_14_0_0[1]

Recently, the FDA weighed in on genetically modified apples and potatoes, approving them for resale in the US. This won’t stop anti-GMO activists from attacking them, however. And companies like McDonald’s, have stated they have no intention of using the potatoes.

McDonald’s have not elaborated on their reasons to my knowledge, but assuming they’re aware of the science behind them, and the rigorous testing these potatoes must have passed by their manufacturer, J.R. Simplot, and then the FDA, I feel it’s safer to assume McDonald’s is simply making a smart marketing decision.Simplot logo[1]

People who are OK with GMOs will still buy from McDonald’s if they already were a customer, and people who are afraid of GMOs will too. The only people McDonald’s might lose are people making a principled stand to avoid them because they’re being anti-science, and I suspect such people are pretty small in numbers.

One group of people are unwitting hypocrites however, and that’s the high number of marijuana users who say they only consume organic, non-GMO foods.

Go to any pot dispensary, and you will find a myriad of choices available to the consumer so vast, that no other consumable crop likely exceeds it in variance. There are certainly more marijuana choices available than there are varieties of apples and potatoes.

The reason for this is that marijuana is one of the most heavily genetically modified organisms on the planet. People have been combining varieties of seeds for centuries to come up with crops that are either heartier to produce a greater yield of usable plant, or more often than not to yield a higher THC content for better highs.

The bottom line is that it’s nearly impossible to procure marijuana in its natural state these days.

Marijuana Harvest
Marijuana Harvest

So these users are either supremely ignorant as to how that pot came to be, or somehow have decided that the “scientist” who lives next door working out of their basement, and may or may not have taken a few biology classes, knows more than the multitude of PhD holders at Monsanto, Simplot, and/or the FDA as to what is safe for human consumption. If there’s logic in that, I don’t see it.

The argument is that marijuana is genetically modified by cross-pollination, or cross-breeding, a process where the pollen of one plant is introduced into the stigma of another. Essentially, it’s the plant version of crossing a horse with a donkey to create a mule.

By doing this, you’re coupling two plants with DNA which is nearly identical, but specifically that share a common trait you hope to enhance by combining them. This will usually work to some extent, because that’s how procreation works in general.

This is oversimplifying it a bit, but basically, when any two organisms procreate, the commonalities they share have a high chance of being part of the offspring, the traits they don’t share have a 50:50 shot at becoming part of the offspring, and of course, if neither have a particular trait, they are all but guaranteed not to produce offspring with that trait.

Think of shooting a shotgun at a target 100 feet away. Most of the shot may centralize around the bulls-eye, assuming your aim was true, but there will be scattered buckshot all around your aiming point that’s rather indiscriminate.Shotgun_Target This is cross breeding. You’ll get pretty close, and you’ll often have something close to the desired result (a bulls-eye), but you’ll likely have a lot of other stuff you didn’t necessarily want as well (shot outside the bulls-eye).

What people like Monsato and Simplot are doing however, is specifically activating or deactivating a particular and singular gene they know will give the offspring they create the desired result, without changing anything else. If cross-breeding is a shotgun at 100 feet, GMOs are a marine sniper on his best day from just 5 feet.

While I know this can be a soft spot for creationists, evolution is a very natural process. Traits that are most common in surviving species carry on, traits that aren’t usually die off before procreation, and go extinct. It’s an incredibly slow process that can take up to hundreds, if not thousands of generations. Cross-breeding and GMOs simply speed it up to one generation, and often obtains something pretty close to the desired result of the breeder, GMOs are simply the significantly more precise of the two.

It may not seem natural, and by definition it isn’t, but it’s effectively just an infinitely faster version of evolution, something that is indeed entirely natural.

Science, somewhat justifiably so, isn’t always considered trustworthy. There is a long history of scientific discovery that has been at the expense of human lives. Whether it be malicious Nazi scientists doing experiments on their Jewish captors, or well-intentioned experiments that have simply gone wrong, scientific endeavors have occasionally killed humans.

However, when you think of all the diseases that have been eradicated, all the organ transplants and medical procedures that have given people new leases on life, or all of the wonderful technology that simply makes our lives easier, clearly science has had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the human race.

GMO producers are simply either trying to being a better product to market, or often save lives by creating crops that can grow in places around the world who are starving because the produced GMO’s natural cousin won’t grow there, saving many lives. So if you’re against that, you’re unwittingly asking people to starve to death because you think it’s wrong for mankind to “play god” with food.

Either way, I love science, and I love the idea of using science to provide the world a better organism. Now pass me the GMO french fries.

 

Liberty With A Price Tag Isn’t Liberty. Colorado’s Legal Marijuana Isn’t As Good As You Think

Recently it was announced that Colorado’s overwhelmingly successful venture into legalizing recreational marijuana has generated so much tax revenue, that the people are owed a refund.

Before I condemn them on this tax, I must at least give them all due credit for having a clause in their state constitution that limits the amount of tax revenue that Colorado is allowed to collect before it must refund a portion to the people. It’s referred to as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TaBOR), and it’s a very pro-liberty thing to do.

Sadly, Colorado Republicans and Democrats alike are now upset they may have to give some of this money back however. I understand the Democrats being upset, they’ve never met a taxpayer dollar they didn’t genuinely believe they could spend better than the person who earned it. But it’s sad that the Colorado Republicans, the party that’s supposed to be about limited government, are somehow upset with this too.

Forget all of that though, because there is a much deeper issue here. This Colorado legal-pot situation is not as libertarian-friendly as one might think.

Marijuana Harvest
Marijuana Harvest

Colorado was smart enough to embrace the science that shows that marijuana is a fairly benign drug that is often less risky in its consumption than alcohol. They were also non-hypocritical enough to know that allowing alcohol while not allowing marijuana made little sense—kudos to them on both counts. But that’s where the liberty segment of their new pot-friendly legislation ends.

Sadly, politicians love new revenue streams more than I love my mom. Because the legislators in Colorado decided that instead of just giving people more freedom to choose what they put in their body, they would give them a way to do it prosecution-free, if and only if, they paid an additional tax over and above the normal sales tax, which exceeds 25% when all of them are added together.

Knowing this would generate a significant amount of tax revenue was certainly part of the equation, if not the impetus for legalization, when the one and only reason should have been that in a free country (or state in this case), it should have never been illegal in the first place.

What Colorado is essentially doing is no different from the sugary drink tax in Berkeley, California, cigarette taxes across the country, or any other tax on a product over and above the standard sales tax. They are using the tax system to encourage behavior like a backwards carrot on a stick. No rights are being protected, nor is any governmental service being offered.

Berkeley Soda Tax
Berkeley Soda Tax

As someone who supports a consumption tax system like the FairTax.org proposal, one might think that I and other libertarians would support a marijuana tax, but it’s very anti-libertarian on multiple fronts.

When sin taxes such as these are passed, it assumes that government has an interest in what you do to yourself and should penalize you for what they have determined is bad behavior. But government’s duty is to protect you from others who would harm you, not from yourself. They have no right to tell you how to live your life or be the arbiter of what is good behavior. Are you comfortable letting them tell you what shows you should watch or what kind of mate you should choose?

The reason to support a consumption tax is that it’s effectively a fee for services rendered. If government builds infrastructure, and enforces contracts between enterprises which allow all of these products to freely come to market, it’s a fair way to charge people for that government service. But what service is Colorado providing for the marijuana tax?

For instance, I can fairly argue it’s okay to add a diesel/gasoline tax, because that money then pays for roads. You’re being charged a fee for services rendered. However, there is no additional service Colorado is providing with their multitude of tacked on taxes to marijuana, it’s simply a revenue stream that goes into the state’s general fund, and the oh-so-common “It will go towards helping schools” argument is also part of the equation.ColoradoMarijuanaTax.thumbnail[1]

I’ll set aside my argument that there shouldn’t be public schools in the first place, but why exactly is a pot smoker disproportionately responsible for educating Colorado children or paying for other non pot-related issues?

If we love liberty, we should never support a tax that cannot be directly attributed to the item being taxed as a fee for a service government is providing. With government, we are often forced to accept compromise to appease the statist-minded voters and politicians, and I’m sure Colorado’s marijuana tax is no different, but we are most certainly not to a point where we can call Colorado’s legal marijuana system a victory for libertarianism.

It’s no more of a victory than if a football team were losing 70-0 and in the closing seconds scored a field goal to avoid getting blown out. Sure it feels good to put points on the board, but you still lost in the end.

Alternative Medicine: The Grand, Ignorant And Immoral Oxymoron

There can be no doubt, many people suffer from iatrophobia ​—a fear of doctors. Being poked with needles, recommended for surgeries, or placed on never-ending drug regiments can make people want to curl up in a ball somewhere and hide forever.

As a result of this somewhat understandable fear, people often look to alternative medicine for the answers to their problems. Whether it be practices like chiropractic, homeopathic, holistic, acupuncture—the list is mind numbing.doctor_needle2[1]

So first, let’s look at the definition of the word medicine.

med·i·cine
ˈmedəsən/
noun
noun: medicine; plural noun: medicines
  1. the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease (in technical use often taken to exclude surgery).
  2. a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth.

When discussing the idea of alternative medicine, it should first be understood that there is essentially no such thing as alternative medicine.

  • There is medicine: practices or compounds that treat a medical condition or disease.
  • There is non-medicine: practices or compounds that  do not treat a disease or medical condition.

There is no middle ground here, the item in question either works, or it doesn’t work. The level of effectiveness may very, but there has to be a noted effect, above the margin of error or the placebo effect, or it cannot be considered medicine.medicine[1]

For hundreds of years, scientists have laid out the path to determine which is which. It’s called a clinical trial, an extension of the scientific method. While the concept goes back thousands of years, in the last century, the process is now pretty consistent and highly effective.

In a fictional example, I will create a drug called Libertol (I had to throw a little politics in this thing), and I will have invented it to treat a disease called oppressionitis.

Assuming I’m a drug company, I’m going to be biased to confirm that the millions of dollars I spent developing Libertol actually yielded a functional, and thus marketable product. Since that bias could either unintentionally skew my results, or raise concerns I might purposefully have skewed the results, I would find an independent party to test Libertol in order to rule out any actual or perceived biases I might have.

The independent testing facility would start by looking for a number of people with oppresionitis, and ask them if they’d be willing to submit to a study on a new drug to treat this horrible disease. For the sake of argument, let’s say we get 500 people to be our guinea pigs.

Clinical Study Map. Click for more info
Clinical Study Map. Click for more info

Why 500? Because “anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence.” (Great science maxim #1, there will be more) But what do scientists mean by that?

Imagine you flip a coin once, and it lands heads up. Would you then assume that every time you flip a coin, it will land heads up because of that one flip? Of course you wouldn’t. That is essentially anecdotal evidence. One, or barely more than one, instance is almost never to be treated as if its results are indicative of what should be expected on a consistent basis. This is also why you are wise to often get a 2nd or even 3rd opinion when seeing doctors.

So maybe you flip the coin ten times? It lands heads seven out of ten due to random chance, which is not only entirely possible, if I’ve done my math right, is likely to happen about 1 out of 8 times (15:125 to be exact). So does that mean a coin is prone to land heads up 70% of the time? Again, of course not. The more times you flip it, the closer it will get to its actual probability of 50:50 as the odds start to balance out.Coin[1]

So when doing a clinical trial, the more people you can test, the more accurate your results will be, and this is why we want 500 people in our above fictional example.

These trials are actually done in phases, with only about 20-80 people at first, if the drug ends up having detrimental side effects, you don’t want it to affect a large number of people, after all. But by the time the study hits phase 3, there will likely be thousands of participants being evaluated. But I’m simplifying the three phases down to one, and the process in general, for the purposes of this article.

Once volunteers are gathered up, half of them will be given the actual drug, the other half will be given a placebo (a non-drug). This placebo is designed to control for the placebo effect, a condition whereby a person will convince themselves a drug works, even if it doesn’t.

The placebo effect will generally not alter things that are purely quantitative, like blood pressure, heart rate, or other measurable conditions, but it can have quite the profound effect on subjective data, such as pain level and other issues the user merely reports on versus being tested with equipment.

The results of the group who took Libertol would then be tested against the people who took the placebo they thought was Libertol, and Bob’s your uncle—you have a result.

If Libertol actually worked, it would show as such by being more effective than the placebo was at treating oppressionitis. Otherwise, the results will come back as “no more effective than a placebo,” and Libertol would be sent to the ineffective drug graveyard in the sky, barring any noted side effects that may be beneficial elsewhere.

Viagra being one of the best examples of this phenomena, was originally designed for blood pressure issues, which it was horrible for, but turned out to be quite the rock star at “pitching tents.”viagra[1]

So the moral here, is that you shouldn’t take medical advice from someone who tried something once and it worked. There are infinite other possibilities to explain why it seemed effective, rather than it actually being effective. Instead, ask your doctor and if you’re a true skeptic, research yourself for clinical trial results.

I was recommended acupuncture by my neurologist for headaches, only to do my research using sites like sciencebasedmedicine.org. Much as I expected, I found that clinical trials showed acupuncture is “no more effective than a placebo.”

People who had actual acupuncture reported similar results, within the margin of error, to people who were treated with fake acupuncture where the needles were purposely misplaced. It has never been shown to be more effective despite its hundreds of years of history. The only “ancient Chinese secret” here, is that it doesn’t work.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture

While we place a lot of trust in doctors, not all of them adhere to the scientific method exclusively, some are flat-out quacks. But if you want medicine versus non-medicine, you should demand as such. So lesson learned, I won’t be seeing that neurologist again.

There are two types of alternative medicine practitioners:
Fraudsters who know they’re taking advantage of you, or
ignorant people who simply don’t know better. But why give your money to either one?

If someone is purposefully deceiving you for a fee, that is a horribly immoral practice where you take someone’s hard-earned money that could be used for something that would help them, and instead sell them something that won’t. If I lived in an anarchistic country, I would want to destroy every one of these sociopaths. They are valueless human beings, in my opinion.

But even if they’re just ignorant and think these practices actually work, they’re still taking your hard-earned money for something that doesn’t. Assuming you don’t have money to burn, why do exactly that?burning-money-e1340332352315[1]

It is true, an argument can be made that if the placebo effect does work for things like pain, giving someone a placebo might make them feel better without introducing foreign chemicals into their body. But it’s still inherently dishonest, and I would hope none of you would willingly pay someone to lie to you.

All health claims are scientific in nature, meaning there are biological processes that are either going to get better, stay the same, or get worse in your body after treatment. So trust in things that have passed the test of the scientific method, and understand that “that which can be destroyed by the evidence, should be.” (Great science maxim #2)

“Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence.” (Great science maxim #3) This is what clinical trials provide beyond any reasonable doubt.

People like Harry Houdini spent their lives trying to debunk such fraudsters. Penn & Teller had a show called Bullshit on Showtime which aired for eight seasons debunking them as well. See an excerpt demonstrating the placebo effect here.

James Randi is famous for purposefully overdosing on homeopathy, taking a “lethal” dose, to show that if such a dose had zero effect, the prescribed amount surely must do nothing.

So if I am a libertarian, why do I care? Shouldn’t people be free to put into their body whatever they want? Absolutely!

While I would never prosecute a non-medicine consumer (I refuse to call it alternative medicine), fraud is a violation of your right to property, specifically, your money, and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

These people get away with fraud by making non-scientific claims such as saying these things increase your energy or boost your immune system. An actual boosting of your immune system would essentially be an autoimmune disease where you body attacks its own cells. Something you really, REALLY don’t want. But it is effectively immeasurable since there is no number by which your immune system can be rated with, in a manner such as blood pressure or cell count.

I’d like to quickly dispel a couple of these myths by showing you the purpose, methodology and power of skepticism, or critical though, hopefully encouraging you to do your own.

Things like acupuncture, for instance, are said to be practices that are hundreds of years old (as if that is somehow evidence), and that doctors won’t often recommend them because there’s no money to be made. Might I point out that acupuncturists do in fact work for money? Therefore there is actually money to be made—they’re making it. In order to believe this argument, you must do no critical thinking whatsoever. I just dispelled it in one sentence.

People argue we have a cure for cancer, but drug companies are suppressing it to make more money on drugs that only treat cancer, not cure it. This one requires a little more skepticism, but let’s bring up some valuable points to debunk this.

  • Drug companies do make drugs that cure cancer. Chemotherapy and radioactive seeds are but a couple. We simply don’t have one drug that cures all cancer all the time, nor one drug that doesn’t have harmful and potentially fatal side effects as chemotherapy does.
  • This assumption also means that a drug company would have to invest the typically millions of dollars required to develop a drug that works, then shelve it without recouping any of that money as a return on their investment. Why would they develop it in the first place if they don’t want such a return? These conspiracy theorists are arguing how greedy drug companies are, then asserting a claim that they are purposefully throwing money away—an overwhelming contradiction.
  • Then we must also assume that the scientists who went to medical school, usually with the intent of saving lives, many of them specifically dreaming of being “the one” who cures cancer, spent years developing a drug that works. However, once realizing their dream of curing cancer, completely eschewed their ideals and agreed to suppress the drug for money. A theory that’s insulting to every moral medical student who ever slaved away for eight years in college to save your life.
  • Lastly, the above two bullets would both involve more than one person. The drug company has a board of directors, and the labs often have tens or hundreds of people on staff, yet not one of them headed over to CNN or Fox News to blow the whistle?

I could go on and on pointing out the logical fallacies and ignorance of thinking these ways. But hopefully my two examples of how to be a proper skeptic will inspire you to do more critical thinking of your own, instead of buying into these radical conspiracies. The life and the pocketbook you save could be your own.

P.S. I linked to an article debunking acupuncture above. Here is another debunking homeopathy with what is effectively simple, yet astounding math. I promise, it is worth the read. (Click the picture)

539838_10150934532972695_942140407_n-560x700[1]

Also, here’s a great video demo from Twitter’s @ScienceBabe

Libertarianism: The Non-Hypocritical Ideology

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

The word liberty is rooted in the word *libertarian—makes sense, right? That’s the cause for which we always fight. But believe it or not, while it may often not seem like it, Democrats and Republicans fight for liberty also.

For instance, Democrats often push for it on social issues such as gay rights and abortion, but they push just as rigorously to deny fiscal liberties to those achieving the American dream of unfettered wealth.PHP491F5DFE68687[1]

Republicans strive for liberty on financial issues such as lower taxation and corporate rights, but they attempt to deny social rights to people via legislation such as the Defense of Marriage Act or The War On Drugs.

Libertarians like myself of course, take liberty to the brink of anarchy and fight for both. We generally believe government’s role should be restricted to protecting our rights to life, liberty, and property as enumerated in the Constitution.

As we libertarians watch Republicans and Democrats squabble over which liberties are important and which liberties are expendable, we wonder why those parties don’t agree that liberty for all is best. It’s in our pledge of allegiance after all.

To be fair to the GOP, there is a new sect of libertarian-leaning Republicans like Rand Paul and Justin Amash to whom this rarely applies, and their rise in popularity is encouraging. I cannot recall a libertarian-leaning democrat, or I’d mention them too.

Congressman Justin Amash (R)
Congressman Justin Amash (R)

In matters of issues like assisted suicide, recreational drugs, prostitution, gay marriage, and gambling for instance, these acts rarely involve a party whose rights were violated. But all of these practices are still often considered socially unacceptable despite the fact that if you’re not an active participant, they don’t affect you in the slightest.

Legislators tend to look at a behavior they don’t agree with and determine it is their civic duty to legislate it away in order to elevate our collective moral compass. Their proposed legislation being a mirror image of how they would choose to live their own lives. But when it comes to fighting for liberty for those who don’t share their views, they often can’t find the will to do so. Instead, they insist on making futile attempts to socially engineer our great nation.

I say “futile” because anyone who has ever been told they aren’t allowed to do something they really want to do and wouldn’t harm anyone doing it, knows that the simple act of telling them “no,” often incites them to do so even more—making a special effort to not get caught. So these laws don’t prevent such acts, they merely add a new element of danger for those who will likely do them anyway.

I want liberty for everyone, including the people I have little to no respect for. If you’re a member of the Ku Klux Klan or the Black Panthers and want to open a white/black only business establishment; go for it! I think your bigotry and hatred make you a vile human being, but I’ll still fight for your rights to be the biggest piece of trash you want to be and let the market sort it out.

Black Panthers
Black Panthers

Want to go on a crack bender until you fall off a twenty story building because you thought you could fly? I think you’re an idiot, but go for it! It’s your life, live it or end it how you see fit. Just be sure not to land on someone on your way down, thus violating their right to life.

I want to fling poo like a zoo monkey at Westboro Baptist Church members every time I think about those hateful bastards. As I’m writing this, I wish them all the worst possible outcome in life. But if I were a legislator tomorrow, I wouldn’t dream of putting my pen to paper to draft a bill denying their right to spew their massively bigoted and ignorant rhetoric.

Westboro Baptist Church Member
Westboro Baptist Church Member

So why would I support these people’s rights to be this way?

It’s important for us level-headed people to know such demons exist. We can choose to either encourage them to change, or marginalize them and ignore them. But believe it or not, I feel they do serve a purpose. It is hard to explain “good” when you don’t have a “bad” standard-bearer to compare “good” to.

It is human nature to want the freedom to do the things you want to do and therefore fight for the liberty of people like you—it’s why all three political camps do so. But the minute you try to quash the liberty of someone you don’t agree with, you have stumbled your way into the land of legislative hypocrisy. It takes a much stronger conviction to fight for the rights of those you despise, but it’s the only way to legislate without being a hypocrite.

So my request to Democrats and the non-libertarian Republicans is simple. Give me one good reason your liberty is important but the liberty of others who don’t share your ideology isn’t. If the answer to this question renders you stumbling for an answer that makes any logical sense, welcome to the libertarian camp—we’re happy to have you. Now stop writing so many new laws; you’ve done enough damage already.

*Libertarian with a capital L represents the Libertarian party. But with a small L, it represents people who just champion liberty regardless of party affiliations. For instance, Gary Johnson is a Libertarian and a libertarian, whereas Rand Paul is just a libertarian.

The Point Of A Gun

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

On any given day, we are bombarded with news media, film stars, and sometimes just random citizens who champion the idea of government doing more to solve all the world’s woes. Those of us on the side of liberty think these folks are misguided and/or ignorant, but the question has always troubled me as to why two people, often of similar intellect, can come to two drastically different conclusions about the role of government.

I pride myself on embracing empathy. I try to imagine what it is like to think the way my ideological opponents think; it helps to break down any claims of theirs I consider erroneous, if I first understand them. While sometimes I get frustrated to no end with the semi-socialist mantra, I give them credit for simply wanting no person left behind. There is a beautiful altruism in the idea that people should always help other people in need.

So why can’t I come on board with them?

Socialism has been tried many times in history; we have four nations in the world today that practice it as official policy. China, Lao, North Korea, and Cuba. As near as I can tell, living conditions in these nations, by no account whatsoever, can be considered even remotely as nice as what we have in America or most other capitalist nations.

Russia, a former communist nation with similar land mass and natural resources to America collapsed under communist rule while trying to compete with us. We hardly batted an eye vying with them for economic might.

Even comparing same cultures, look no further than Hong Kong versus the motherland China. Where capitalist Hong Kong natives live largely free, make good wages, and enjoy a strong economy; the Chinese struggle to keep workers from just killing themselves.

Suicide Prevention Nets at Foxconn factory
Suicide Prevention Nets at Foxconn factory

Altruistic or not, history has shown complete socialism, as official policy, doesn’t have any successful examples (from the perspective of the citizenry) to choose from. So being someone who tries to approach everything with logic, why would I champion something so historically laden with failure?

But if someone eschews history, and simply believes that somehow the only reason a government controlled economy has always failed is because they haven’t been the one running it, that person may be stuck in an ideological Alcatraz.

For those who are willing to consider a different viewpoint however, I wish to ask you to empathize with me. I’m going to give you an exercise to try to understand how I think of government, then pick any government policy you condone and apply this simple test.

First, I want you to remember one thing:

Everything government does, it does so at the point of a gun—sometimes just implied, but the threat is always real.

I know that may seem like hyperbole, but I assure you it’s not. The IRS will show up with guns on the doorsteps of those who simply refuse to pay taxes. If you fail to comply with a government demand (they don’t make requests) every step of the way, as the situation escalates, government will not simply say, “OK,” and walk away; the ultimate conclusion will either be you or a government official getting shot and killed.Bad-boys-bad-boys-watcha-gunna-do-courtesy-freepatriot.org_[1]

So when I consider any law, the first thing I imagine is whether I would be willing to put my own gun on that person to make them do what the law being proposed is asked.

For instance, I do not use recreational drugs—I think doing so is an illogical act and they simply do not interest me. But if my neighbor were next door smoking a joint, would I be compelled to walk over there, put a gun to his head, and tell him stop immediately or I’ll shoot?

Of course not.

Yet every one of you who argue to keep marijuana illegal are asking the government to ultimately do exactly that in your name. Government is an extension of you in this country, so if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, you’re being lazy and hypocritical asking government to do it.

Conversely, if my neighbor were next door molesting a child, would I be compelled to go over and tell him to stop at the point of my gun? Honestly, I’m not so sure I’d even pause to ask him to stop. I’d probably go straight to “kill” mode. Therefore, I’m very comfortable asking government to enforce such a law.

I am firmly convinced that those of you who will not acquiesce to calling yourself a libertarian have never applied this simple principle to every single law you’ve considered a good idea.

But that’s sticking your head in the sand, because you cannot remove “being compelled by lethal force” from the equation of legislation.

Would the average Democrat put a gun to Bill Gates head and demand he pay a welfare mom who refuses to work, despite being physically able to, a chunk of the salary he worked so hard to attain?

Would the average environmentalist put a gun to the CEO of General Motors head and demand his vehicles get 30 mpg or you’ll splatter his brains all over the wall?

Would the average Republican put a gun to the head of a gay couple and tell them they had better not try to marry one another?

I’d like to think none would. But unlike me, they wrongly never take the time to think of considering the government in the proper way I proposed.

Libertarian Party Logo
Libertarian Party Logo

So I ask all of you, think about a law either proposed or on the books that you condone. Then imagine putting a gun to the head of the would-be violator and honestly ask yourself if you still feel the same.

If you do, I would like to think that for many of you, I can now warmly welcome you into realm of libertarianism. We’re glad to have you.

Drug Legalization Poll

By all accounts, the war on drugs, despite Nancy Reagan’s best efforts, has failed. People are not just saying no. So if you were president and legislator, what would you do?