The company Halo Neuroscience is now offering a device, the Halo-Sport, which they claim enhances sports performance through “neuropriming.” Their website claims:
Neuropriming uses pulses of energy to increase the excitability of motor neurons, benefiting athletes in two ways: accelerated strength and skill acquisition.
Regular readers of SBM can probably see where this is going.
A proper threshold of evidence
Before I get into the details of this product, I want to back up and discuss some basic principles. There is a clear pattern that has played itself out countless times on SBM or with regular authors on SBM in their other outlets. A person, company, or industry makes a clinical medical claim. We examine the evidence and find it wanting, and state so. Believers in the claim then attack us for being shills, closed minded, and/or failing to do our research.
The heart of Federico Infascelli’s questionable claims.
Retraction Watch is a great website. As the name implies, it focuses on a key aspect of quality control in science, the retraction of scientific papers that have already passed peer-review and were published when serious concerns about those papers come to light.
Retracting published papers is similar to phase IV clinical trials – tracking side effects of drugs that have already been approved and are on the market so regulatory agencies can monitor for post-marketing concerns and recall the drug if necessary.
Recently the journal animal retracted a paper by Italian researcher, Federico Infascelli. Here is there announcement:
From late September 2015, we received several expressions of concern from third parties that the electrophoresis gels presented might have been subject to unwarranted digital manipulations (added and hidden bands or zones, including in the control samples and the DNA ladder). A detailed independent investigation was carried out by animal in accordance with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines. This investigation included an analysis of the claims using the figures as submitted, and reassessment of the article by one of the original peer-reviewers in light of the results of the analysis. The authors were notified of our concerns and asked to account for the observed irregularities. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, the institution was asked to investigate further. The University of Naples concluded that multiple heterogeneities were likely attributable to digital manipulation, raising serious doubts on the reliability of the findings.
Based on the results of all investigations, we have decided to retract the article.
The greatest strength of science is that it is self-critical. Scientists are not only critical of specific claims and the evidence for those claims, but they are critical of the process of science itself. That criticism is constructive – it is designed to make the process better, more efficient, and more reliable.
One aspect of the process of science that has received intense criticism in the last few years is an over-reliance on P-values, a specific statistical method for analyzing data. This may seem like a wonky technical point, but it actually cuts to the heart of science-based medicine. In a way the P-value is the focal point of much of what we advocate for at SBM.
Recently the American Statistical Association (ASA) put out a position paper in which they specifically warn against misuse of the P-value. This is the first time in their 177 years of existence they have felt the need to put out such a position paper. The reason for this unprecedented act was their feeling that abuse of the P-value is taking the practice of science off course, and a much needed course correction is overdue. (more…)
The Mirror declares, ‘Scientists develop Matrix-style technique of ‘feeding’ information directly into your brain.’ Discovery News went with, “Novices ‘Download’ Pilots’ Brainwaves, Learn To Fly.” Most other outlets spoke of ‘uploading’ information to the brain, and learning in seconds.
The one thing I was certain of from reading these headlines is that this was not what was happening. Brain-machine interface technology is progressing rapidly, but we are a long way away from downloading information from or uploading information to the human brain.
The news outlets reported that electrical activity was recorded from pilots and then used to stimulate the subject. They also reported that this enhanced learning by 33%.
What actually happened
Here is the actual study: “Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Modulates Neuronal Activity and Learning in Pilot Training.”
Public health measures are those not aimed at individuals but at society as a whole, or subgroups within society. Physicians are charged not only with promoting the health of their own patients, but as a profession we (and health care professions in general) are charged with promoting the public health.
Public health measures, however, are highly likely to cross into politically charged areas. This should not deter the promotion of public health.
Issues that we deal with regularly involving public health include vaccination programs and laws surrounding vaccine requirements, fluoridation of public water supplies, helmet laws, and even gun laws. We have never, however, written about air pollution as a public health concern (except for dubious claims that air pollution is linked to autism).
The health risk of air pollution
Air pollution as a health risk is nothing new, but several recent studies are focusing attention on this issue. Recently the Royal College of Physicians produced a report in which they claim that 40,000 deaths per year in the UK can be attributed to poor air quality, both indoors and outdoors. (more…)
A new word has been added to the public’s vocabulary – the Zika virus. It seems we have one more infectious agent to worry about. Here are the facts as we currently understand them regarding the recent Zika epidemic, and also some rumors and conspiracy theories that need debunking.
The Zika virus (of the viral family Flaviviridae, an Arthropod-Borne or arbovirus) is spread through Aedes mosquito bites, the same mosquitoes that also spread dengue fever, West Nile, and yellow fever. The infections themselves are usually mild, causing fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. Many of those infected (about 80%) may even have a subclinical infection, meaning they do not notice any symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization:
Zika virus is diagnosed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and virus isolation from blood samples. Diagnosis by serology can be difficult as the virus can cross-react with other flaviviruses such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever.
It’s nice when a question can be resolved with objective numbers of unequivocal outcomes. Subjective outcomes give scientists a headache.
In this case we are talking about the effect of vaccine exemption laws on vaccine compliance rates. The question here is not the ethical one, the rights of parents to determine the fate of their children vs the right of the state to protect the health of children and the public health. I think the latter trumps the former, but some disagree.
Regardless of what you feel about the ethical question, we need to know if the laws we pass to achieve our goals actually work, or if they don’t work, or even have unintended consequences. Having an admirable goal is not enough; when you make actual decisions (practice decisions, policy decisions, healthcare decisions for you and for family) you want to know that those decisions are having the desired effect.
Antioxidants are better-acquired through food than pills.
Antioxidants are now an iconic example of premature hype making its way into marketing and the public consciousness long before the science is adequately understood. There are multiple lessons to be learned in this story, and a new study just emphasizes those lessons further.
A brief history of antioxidants
One of the unavoidable consequences of metabolism (burning food for energy) is the creation of oxygen free radicals, or reactive oxygen species (ROS). These are molecules that are highly reactive. They essentially contain oxygen with an extra electron, which can react with another molecule, breaking bonds and causing damage.
As you might expect, the body has natural antioxidants which react with ROS to form benign molecules.
In the 1990s it became increasingly apparent that oxidative stress was playing an important role in cell damage, even sometimes triggering apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Many degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, were shown to be driven in part by oxidative stress. In addition, it seemed that ROS play a role in aging.
While some parts of the world are concerned with eating, because of food insecurity, the “worried and well-fed well” are increasingly obsessed with so-called “clean eating.”
This is nothing new, but like every cultural phenomenon, it seems, has increased partly due to the easy spread of misinformation over the internet. If you are anxious about your health, and who isn’t to some degree, your anxiety is fed by a steady diet of pseudo-experts, con-artists, and internet personalities telling you about all the things you eat that adversely affect your health.
This phenomenon is increasingly being recognized as a health issue among experts. In 1996 Dr. Steven Bratman proposed a formal disorder he calls orthorexia nervosa. He writes:
For people with orthorexia, eating healthily has become an extreme, obsessive, psychologically limiting and sometimes physically dangerous disorder, related to but quite distinct from anorexia.