Archive - Jul 20, 2015

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Mencken on education

It warms my heart whenever H. L. Mencken is cited in a modern publication, as he was today in an article in the Star-Tribune. 

Alzheimer's study

Here is a more local twist on Alzheimer's research, reported in the Crookston Times. 

The problem with most, if not all, of the research findings thus far: The scientists are finding correlation, not causation. So, just because there are certain sticky proteins on the brain doesn't mean those proteins cause the disease; it merely could mean they are a symptom of the disease. Breaking down those proteins, which some new drugs attempt to do, won't necessarily stop the progress of the disease. 

If you read every new study carefully, it eventually becomes apparent that mere correlation is all that is proven. "Coffee may prevent dementia," to use a hypothetical headline, usually breaks down upon closer examination to "coffee drinkers have been shown to develop dementia later in life," with no proof that the coffee addresses the cause of the disease. Instead, the onset of dementia might cause people to drink less coffee. 

Vitamin and quack cure magazines jump on correlations to push their scams; doctors and scientists have to maintain a higher standard. Many people get furious with doctors for not jumping on quack cure bandwagons. The difference between causation and correlation usually explains their reluctance. 

The study of early-onset families is very important, as researchers can know for sure that they are going to develop the disease at a certain age and can measure if their treatments actually delay or prevent onset.

It might seem awful to know in advance that you are going to get Alzheimer's disease, given the horrors of the disease––but I have met some people who, knowing they have the gene for a particular disease, have put themselves in research programs. They report great satisfaction and a sense of purpose at helping do something about their malady over the long-term, even if they themselves may not benefit.