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Saturday, September 8, 2007

JUNK SCIENCE ON TV

JUNK SCIENCE ON TV

As most of my readers know, I live in Panama and we have only two US TV stations regularly shown here: Fox News and CNN. Although I watch Fox News more I need to go to CNN for serious news. Sorry to say that Fox is so into the sensationalism that I only watch several programs on a regular basis.

I have written on this before but the junk science on Fox News and elsewhere is particularly disturbing because I am a physician and medical scientist and I hate to see my field of interest misrepresented. One day this past week on Fox News it was reported that a virus may contribute to obesity in America. Oh come on! Let us face it the cause of obesity is overeating not balanced by adequate exercise. Obesity is due to taking in more calories than you burn resulting in the body storing the excess energy as fat. It could not be more simple than this.

Some of my readers know that I am a great believer of the principle of Ockham’s Razor. Ockham's Razor is the principle proposed by William of Ockham (England) in the fourteenth century: ``Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate,'' which translates to: ”entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.''

In many cases this is interpreted as ``keep it simple,'' but in reality the Razor has a more subtle and interesting meaning. Suppose that you have two competing theories which describe the same situation. If these theories have different explanations the relatively simple one should be considered to be correct.

To try to explain obesity as being caused by a virus is to stretch the imagination of the body of information explaining obesity. Apparently, experiments were performed on stem cell obtained from operations on individuals who had adipose tissue removed. When these stem cells were infected with adeno viruses, which cause upper respiratory infections, the stem cells transformed to fat cells which could store fat. The problem here is that, if these stem cells were co existing with adult fat cells, they probably were precursors of fat cells to begin with. Infection with a virus just hastened their transformation. Their transformation would have occurred anyway because they were stem cells already programmed to become fat cells.

But to make the statement that viruses might cause obesity is provocative, and leave it to Fox News to use it for this is what they are good at -- give me the sensational, we will give you air time. But, let’s face it, this is junk science. The sad thing is that most people look to the TV as a source of information. What is information? Philosophically, information is fact or, in other words, truth. If we cannot depend on TV to provide us with truth, how can we depend on the other information they give us? The simple answer is “we cannot.”

My advice is very simple: Be careful of what you see and hear on the airways. Be critical and look things up on Google Or Yahoo or other search engines to get another view. Be careful of what you read on Wycopedia for some of this information may be erroneous because of the fact that readers are able to modify and insert information. And we know little of the qualifications of the individuals providing this additional information.

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.

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