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Interesting Links: Feb 18, 2016

February 18, 2016 11 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the unacceptably high levels of subjectivity and bias in what is passed off as “scientific research” by “experts” from “famous” universities.

Link 1: The truth is rarely pure and never simple

Zika is not the new Ebola But what is the truth about Zika and microcephaly? Argentine and Brazilian doctors suspect mosquito insecticide as cause of microcephaly Meanwhile Brazil’s health minister insisted on Friday that authorities were “absolutely sure” Zika was connected to microcephaly, though it has yet to be scientifically proven. A review of four years’ worth of medical records finds far greater numbers of microcephaly cases from before the ongoing Zika virus epidemic than had been officially reported.

Link 2: Brazil’s Pre-Zika Microcephaly Cases

In the past year, clinicians in Brazil have reported around 4,700 babies with suspected microcephaly, and reviews of 400 of the infants have confirmed the birth defect (another 700 suspected instances of microcephaly have been ruled out). The numbers are alarming to many clinicians in the South American nation. Some have questioned whether the cause of this increase in microcephaly is due to Zika virus—a hypothesis favored by many doctors and public health officials—other infections, or simply a catch-up in reporting.

To get a grasp on just how much the prevalence of microcephaly has changed recently, Sandra da Silva Mattos of the Círculo do Coração de Pernambuco and colleagues combed through the medical records of more than 16,000 babies. The infants were born between 2012 and 2015 at one of 21 medical centers in the state of Paraíba, which has been hard hit by Zika. Since 2012, Mattos’s team found, a strikingly large number of babies—4 percent to 8 percent—appeared to have microcephaly, according to the broadest definitions of the term. Additionally, the number of babies affected peaked in 2014, before Zika had been detected in Brazil.

Link 3: Scientists can’t agree whether salt is killing us. Here’s why.

The debate over the perils of salty diets may be one of the most polarized in all of science. On one side, scientists warn ominously that most Americans are killing themselves with salt. On the other, scientists insist most Americans are fine. The inability to resolve this question may seem puzzling. It is a question with deadly consequences, at least potentially. How much salt is healthy? Given the marvels of technology, it seems like that ought to be an easy one.

Now a review of hundreds of papers on the topic indicates that the inability to reach a consensus stems at least partially from the fact that the two groups of scientists operate, in essence, in parallel scientific universes. In one, the scientists write papers about the dangers of our salt consumption, and typically cite other papers that point to the same conclusion. In the other, the scientists write papers dismissing or minimizing the danger, and typically cite papers agreeing with their position. Each side, in other words, steers away from taking into account contrary results.

What do you think? Comments?