Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BBC's A Night with The Stars

I just finished watching this BBC lecture/documentary. I must say that I am a fan of Professor Brian Cox. Both because I have read some of his popular science books and because I have seen some of the documentaries he has done for the BBC.

This lecture had exactly what is needed to popularize physics and to make people understand some of the laws and principles of physics. It was simple to understand, without any big words or convoluted sentences. It was delivered with humour and famous guests, like Simon Pegg. As a wanna-be physicist, and as someone who is deemed weird and eccentric at times, exactly for my love of mathematics and physics, this is the kind of documentary we need. People need to see that physics, and generally science, is not as strange or away from reality as some people think.

Plus there was Brian Cox delivering that lecture, who is always a delight to watch. He is passionate about physics, he knows how to present the material, he has humour. I will say it again: I am a big fan. Science needs more people like him, to educate more people about concepts that are central to everything! From our technology to our bodies, everything is physics.

I leave you with the Youtube videos of the BBC documentary.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Of reading and books.

I love books. I love to read. I love to study. I feel naked without a book in my bag. Sometimes, I may carry a magazine I am interested in, or my e-book reader; waiting to get the iPad, so I can carry a lot of books on pdf, or on the Kindle application for the iPad.

When I read, I get transported into new worlds, I get emotionally attached to the characters of the books, especially if they are good and interesting characters. When I read, I concentrate so much in the book and what I am reading, that I get startled even by the bell or the ringing of my phone.

Each book has its own life and story; from the writer's perspective to the stories of the characters, to our own perspective of the book, each book teaches something. Even the books we deem as bad or unreadable, they teach us something, even if it is to avoid this genre or this writer.

Sometimes I cannot concentrate enough to read. Sometimes, I am not in the mood for reading. But even in those times, I need to have at least a book close to me. Because my mood or concentration may change at any moment, and when it does, I want to have my reading material handy.

I have an e-book reader and I am also getting an iPad 2, in order to be able to read some downloaded pdfs, or other material, without resorting to printing. Or because the downloadable versions are much cheaper than the paper versions. However, the feel and smell of an actual paper book is unique. I love that smell, I love the feel of the paper on my hands, turning the pages...

As someone I value says, Giannis Servetas of Radio Arvyla fame, books are your best friend. They can be in your bookcases for a long time, and you will never hear a peep from them. The books will wait patiently for you to open and read them, they will be there and never leave your side. Unless of course, you have friends that are bookworms like you... 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

1 bn euros on... water and sugar pills!

Homeopathy: the belief that water has memory and remembers the "active" ingredients, and that the more diluted a drug is in water, the more potent it becomes.

I am not joking. That is one of the tenets of homeopathy. And I am asking. If water remembers, then why doesn't it remember the shit and the radioactive elements that are thrown all over the world? Or the CO2 or anything else that we all throw in the water?

And believers in homeopathy, or should I say a kind of magic, go and spend their money on water and sugar pills. And all they get is the placebo effect.

There have been more than 100 clinical trials on homeopathic drugs. And none of the drugs showed that they have any actual real effect. All they showed is that whether you take it or not, the result is the same. Only when people believe that it works, they improve somewhat, but it's the same percentage as the placebo effect.

1 billion euros is spent every year on homeopathy. 1 billion euros is the market for homeopathic drugs and homeopaths. And this is only in the European Union. How many billions is the homeopathic and alternative medicine market worth worldwide? And then they have labelled the pharmaceutical companies as "Big Pharma". And we skeptics have named the alternative medicine crowd "Big Placebo".

The difference being that first of all, actual pharmaceutical drugs get in the market after research and extensive clinical trials. It has been shown to work. It has been shown that it is safe and that whatever side-effects it may have, have no lasting effects on the body. Or if they have, the benefits of the drug are much more important than the side-effects.

But with homeopathic drugs or should I say water and sugar pills, there are no trials, no approvals from Drug Administrations, nothing. And we get to results like the ones for Zicam, a nasal spray labelled "homeopathic". However, it was dangerous for people's health as many people lost their sense of smell after using this drug: Zicam

How much money has to be wasted on methods that do not work, and that are proven to have risks for people's health? Homeopaths, and generally the "Big Placebo" crowd, reject proven medical treatments, in order to sell water and sugar pills, and methods that have no effect.

How much money has to be wasted on useless sugar pills? Instead of spending it for actual medical research on cancer, on AIDS, on stem cell research? Actual researchers around the world, people who are trying to improve our lives and increase our knowledge are starving for research money. And the gullible give it for unproven, untested treatments, for quackery such as homeopathy. 

About 2-3 years ago, I was enrolled in MSXR209  Mathematical Modelling, a mathematical physics course with the Open University. One of my fellow students was a homeopath, and we got into arguing about homeopathy. I asked him about clinical trials and scientific papers that show homeopathy to be effective. He told me that he would send me the relevant articles, and data via e-mail. Needless to say, I am still waiting...

Homeopathy is equal to quackery. If anyone reads this blog, please do some actual research on homeopathy and alternative treatments, and see for yourself. All they have is anecdotal evidence, and the placebo effect.

A couple of books I recommend on the subject are:

Trick or Treatment - Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst
Bad Science - Ben Goldacre