Chris Rock: Funny, but wrong in his slam of medical science

January 1, 2010

I usually like Chris Rock’s comedy.  He’s profane, so you can’t use it in class.  But he’s often quite witty while exposing  key problems of society.

I bumped into a YouTube video of a few minutes of Rock’s rant against doctors and science at an odd site called HealthNoob.com. On the one hand, Rock is ripping off Voltaire and others from  the 18th century who noted that doctors of that time rarely cured anyone — without antibiotics and a very incomplete understanding of the human body and diseases, how could they?

On the other hand, the idea that physicians don’t want to cure people gained considerable traction among African Americans over the past 40 years, especially fueled by comedians like Dick Gregory who, God bless him otherwise, thought most of the medical establishment conspired against African Americans at every turn.  Rock builds on that platform.  This is not a good trend.  Especially to the extent that wrong views of medicine discourage African Americans from seeking health care that could prevent serious disease until it’s too late, spreading disinformation does no one any good.

Past that, such comedy encourages crazies to crawl out of the woodwork and spread even more disinformation.  For example, in the comments at HealthNoob.com, some wag claims that DDT caused polio in the 1930s, apparently ignorant of the fact that DDT was not available for use until after 1939, and no available for use on farms until 1946.  This is grotesque urban legend.

Here’s Rock’s rant, below (not safe for work or school due to profanity); below that, the response I left at HealthNoob.com (which is “in moderation” as I write this).

Give us your views in comments, will you?  Is Rock way off base?  Is his comedy routine here more damaging than funny?

At HealthNoob.com, I responded:

January 1st, 2010 at 10:46 pm

This conversation is certainly deteriorating.

A couple of observations:

Polio is caused by a virus. No one is sure exactly where it came from, or why it wasn’t more widespread prior to the 20th century. It well may be that it was around, but harmless, until a 20th century mutation caused it to become deadly. In any case, we know it’s a virus, and that’s why and how the vaccines worked against it. It’s not caused by chemical exposure, though some exposures may insult human immune systems and make some people more prone to get the disease the virus causes.

2. We know it wasn’t DDT, too. DDT was not available for use against insects by anyone prior to 1942. Polio was rampant before then (my brother caught polio in 1939). DDT was not available for use outside the military prior to 1946.

3. Diseases cured by medical care? Streps and bacterial infections, including tuberculosis (save for the drug-resistant kinds). Leukemia. Measles, almost. Polio wasn’t counted as eradicated until very recently (if at all). Goiter and iodine deficiency ($0.15 per ton of salt to “iodize” it, and cure goiter; the cheapest public health action ever).

4. Do you want to know how good cures work? The American Dental Association pushed for fluoridation to help prevent and cure dental caries. It worked fantastically. Now dentists spend more time fixing other stuff, and dental caries is basically a disease of the past — except for those people who don’t take care of their teeth or have some other special weakness to decay. Of course, were Rock to do something on that, he’d probably complain that fluoride causes disease instead of prevents it.

5. Ever heard of Voltaire? In the 18th century, he noted that doctors never cure anyone, but just hold the hand of the patient until the patient gets better, or dies. That changed with the advent of antibiotics. Interesting to hear Chris Rock rip off Voltaire.


Chinese government behind “climategate” hacking?

January 1, 2010

Conspiracy fans — a category which appears to include almost all climate change denialists — won’t like the news from Planet Green’s “Planet 100.”  This little news show claims evidence that China was the source of the hacking of the University of East Anglia’s climate related e-mails.

Why won’t the denialists like it?  They won’t like it because it makes sense:  Who stood to profit from embarrassing scientists just before the Copenhagen meetings?  China, who wished to avoid any binding agreements, would gain simply by sowing confusion.

Evidence is pretty thin, but for the first time since the hacked e-mails were published, there’s a plausible motive.   Also, the source is also not wholly pristine or reputable in science stuff — the Daily Mail of London, which specializes in gossipy tabloid news.  Watch that space.

P.S.  — Don’t miss the squid invasion story in the same newscast.

Resources:


Millard Fillmore in cartoons: “Buck” takes the pot (1856 presidential elections)

January 1, 2010

The first Republican Party nominee to the presidency, Gen. John C. Fremont, has stumbled and is spread out on the floor.  Former Whig, now American Native Party (Know-Nothings) candidate Millard Fillmore carries a lantern, but is blindfolded.  James Buchanan takes the pot of soup, victory in the 1856 presidential race.

From the Library of Congress American Memory Collection, published by Currier and Ives in 1856:

Buck Takes the Pot, 1856 Presidential Election cartoon - Library of Congress, Alfred Whital Stern Lincolnia Collection

"Buck Takes the Pot, 1856 cartoon published by Currier and Ives - Library of Congress

Captions in the balloons, as read by the Library of Congress:

SUMMARY: A pro-Buchanan satire, critical of the divisive or sectionalist appeal of the other two presidential contenders in the 1856 race. “Buck” or Buchanan (left) has evidently won a card game over Fremont (fallen at right) and Millard Fillmore (at right, blindfolded).

Holding four aces and a large cauldron of “Union Soup” Buchanan vows, “I have fairly beaten them at their own game, and now that I have became possessed of this great “Reservoir” I will see that each and Every State of this great and glorious Union receives its proper Share of this sacred food.”

Fremont has tripped over a “Rock of Disunion” and fallen to the ground, still holding his large spoon “Abolition.” He laments, “Oh, that I had been born a dog!–This is too much for mortal man to bear. Had I not stumbled over that “Blasted” rock I might have reached the fount of my ambition and with this good ladle ‘Deal’ to the North, and leave the South to ‘Shuffle & Cut’ off their mortal coil, by starvation, I shall have to ‘Pass’!”

Behind Fremont, Fillmore wanders blindfolded, holding a Know Nothing lantern (reflecting his party’s nativist affiliation) and a spoon. He despairs, “I regret to say that ‘Going It Blind’ is a loosing Game, I did hope that I would be able to dip my spoon in the Pot without much difficulty.–My Hand is played out–‘Buck’ wins, and I am satisfied–Four aces can’t be beat! and Buck holds them.”

One severe handicap of these 19th century cartoons:  They are much too wordy!


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