Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

My Litmus Test

Apologies for a political post. I try not to do them very often, but current events have intruded on my generalized political apathy. Although I have tried my hardest to avoid the recent conventions, some of their drivel has leaked through, rather like a tiny gap in a window frame lets in enough moisture to fog the windows. As I read about the candidates and their positions, I realize that I have a personal litmus test.

The expression "litmus test," by the way, comes from elementary school science classes where we first learned about acids and bases; the concept of pH. Litmus paper is either red or blue, and turns red when dipped in acid (meaning that red paper stays red) and blue when dipped into a basic, or alkali solution. There are no degrees of acidity measured; every solution is either considered an acid or a base; red or blue. Simple; clear cut.

The concept of a litmus test as applied to politics refers to a single issue whose importance to a given voter is so crucial that a candidate's failure to agree with the voter's position will cause the voter to refuse to vote for that candidate. I suppose there are some people who also use the term to refer to the converse: voting for people based on their views on a single issue, regardless of where they stand on all other issues. In my case, the former applies.

My litmus test is that I cannot bring myself to vote for any political candidate who believes in magic instead of science, and who uses those beliefs to determine policy.

Homeopathy is magic. "EverCleanse" colon cleanse (advertised daily on the radio) is magic. Enzyte is magic, and it's inventor/marketer is on his way to jail for fraud. Chiropracters run the gamut from those who understand that they're glorified physical therapists to those who don't believe germs cause disease; in general, chiropractic is magic.

Creationism is magic, but because it is cloaked in the trappings of religion, it gets treated with kid gloves. Religion needs to stay out of the science classroom, and I cannot bring myself to vote for anyone who doesn't understand why.

I think it's a shame that ignorance has become not only prevalent but desirable in this formerly great land of ours. I suppose hypocrites are so popular because they make people comfortable with their own hypocrisy.

I can't even tell if my dominant emotion is fear or sadness.

All I can do is apply my own private, non-partisan litmus test in the privacy of the voting booth. Magical thinking is a thought process of childhood. It's time this country grew up.


At Thu Sep 04, 09:57:00 AM, Blogger Cheryll said...

Hear! Hear!

Add: hiding in the notion that the country can go back to 19th century thinking and force the rest of the world to comply... We are not independent of foreign oil or anything else; we are an interconnected world. Time to grow up and abandon toddler tantrums!

At Thu Sep 04, 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

I am so frightened that this country is just pushing itself back so far to the "good old days" in a world that is moving faster and faster forward. These however, are just the surface conversations that distract us from what is truly going on, which is much more frightening.

At Thu Sep 04, 01:09:00 PM, Blogger Ed said...

Like this?

At Thu Sep 04, 01:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't confuse people with those pesky facts, ed. Voting is much easier when you get yourself worked up into an emotional tizzy.

At Thu Sep 04, 07:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps because I'm the age of your children, I feel more anger and fear than sadness. This is the reason I go out of my way to avoid political conversation because it generally makes my blood boil. (I don't like being angry.) So much ignorance, and as The Angry Pharmacist says, "Their vote counts as much as yours".

While I disagree with racist constructs like poll taxes that unfairly punish the poor, I don't think I would be against basic economic and scientific literacy tests. If you don't understand basic supply and demand; opportunity cost; and the scientific method, you don't vote. That simple. These are two things that are so fundamental in describing how the way the world works that a lack of such knowledge should disqualify you from having a say in choosing your leaders.

The stakes are simply too high to allow for anything less. (Basic literacy in these areas doesn't mean that you'll vote for a particular candidate/party, and anyone that will try to claim that it does is an idiot.)

And really, there's absolutely no reason for *anyone* to fail these tests, as "free", mandatory education exists for all, and even the worst school districts can (and presumably do) teach these principles. Whether they're learned or not is another matter. But then again, you can lead a horse to water...

And if you're a naturalized citizen, such education should be part of the naturalization process.

At Thu Sep 04, 10:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

amen dino

At Fri Sep 05, 07:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Ed's article is consistent with what I've read elsewhere.

2. I'm less concerned about creationism magic (that's been around forever and even most christians believe in evolution) than I am about the magical thinking that surrounds economics, especially medical economics. Most of the population, including many docs, are too willing to suspend disbelief there.

At Fri Sep 05, 08:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you work day in day out in the field as a doc?
Do you have to deal with insurance company's day in day out as a doc?
Do you have to figure out what is best for patients in a system that at times that works actively against patients and docs?

Well I do pal. There is nothing "magical" about it.

Do fill us in on your extensive experience.

At Fri Sep 05, 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Doc said...

What's wrong with a little magic?

There's plenty of room for magic in trying to understand the human condition. Ever been in love? Ever felt exhilaration when your football team won? Enjoyed a good wine? Cried at watching "It's a Wonderful Life?" Some people look at the world and all of it's mysteries and see plenty of magic.

There's even magic in medicine, we call it the placebo affect, yet we don't disregard the entire practice of medicine.

While we should not want our leaders to condemn or stifle science, we should not be afraid of those who question the presented "facts". Even if they believe in a little magic.

At Fri Sep 05, 11:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Family doc for 10+ years, private practice now, military and VA experience at different levels, government bureaucracy experience as well.

I hate the current mess as much as any of us and its collapse is inevitable. I fear a single payer will be even worse in the long run. I'd like to see a free market emerge for most outpatient routine care, with catastrophic coverage for everyone and an appropriate safety net for the vulnerable members of society.

At Fri Sep 05, 07:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does the free market for plastic surgery work? Because it is something people want and the only way they can get it is to pay for it themselves!

Generally speaking, I believe people pick their insurance based on what it costs, not what it provides and they only find out what it provides when they try to use it. Why would anyone be shocked that a cheap product really offers little value?

When enough physicians say, sorry I don't accept any insurance-I will sign your claim forms, but you need to pay me and pursue collecting what ever your insurance will allow-we will be on the way to a free market for health care. The good doctors will be busy and have less overhead,and make a good living. The poor docs, well, I suppose unless they try to become good docs, they may become poor! But that is how the free marklet works.

At Fri Sep 05, 08:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually central paying works fine in Australia. As much as doctors here complain about the Health Insurance Commision it is at least consistent and a minor irritation compared to the horrors described on this blog. It is also terrific to have universal coverage for all patients. I gather we have a compromise between the US and Canadian system with the option of private cover over and above public hospital cover.

Geoff (a GP for twenty years Brisbane, Australia)

At Fri Sep 05, 11:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The placebo effect is not "magic". I would expect a psych doc would have a better understanding of the mind/body interrelationship. Your other statements are totally irrelevant to the specific issue of creationism. Really, what the hell does winning a football game have to do with creationism. If you want to question evolution, then go for it. It has been questioned for over 150 years and with our scientific knowledge advancement(carbon dating, DNA mapping, etc) the evidence becomes stronger not weaker. Contrast this with creationism. I have no problem with a personal belief in creationism, that is what church is for. However, to teach it as equal in support and an alternative in public schools, well that is just plain stupid. Following your reasoning "doc" we should also teach the existance of bigfoot, vampires, trolls, and the lochness monster. Sorry 'doc" but I expect more critical thinking of my elected officials.

At Sat Sep 06, 12:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The trouble is that the epidemiology done the past 10 years leaves too many doubts in the minds of the public as to the efficacy of many drugs and treatments.

At Sun Sep 07, 11:35:00 AM, Blogger ANATOTITAN said...

The problem with exercising your non-partisan opinion in the ballot box is that it IS the ballot box of two political parties. What we need in this country and aren't going to get in any of our lifetimes, is a third or even fourth party. Writing in a name is a waste of a vote. Voting for someone chosen by either of these controlled political parties is a poor substitute for intelligent choice. If the people in this country want real choice, they have to get it by demanding another party. Yeah right....that will happen.

At Sun Sep 07, 12:39:00 PM, Blogger Doc said...

Thanks for assuming that I am suggesting the teaching of creationism. I am not. I am only noting that science should not try to stifle other opinions. In school, the curriculum in science class should be scientific, just as math should be mathematic. Alternative explanations can be accepted with a statement of "this is one opinion that we are not covering in this particular curriculum."
As to magic. The author of the post suggested that chiropractic treatment and homeopathy is "magic." I am only extrapolating upon that and giving other mind/body connection examples to suggest that such "magic" is okay in the world.
As a physician, I work in the world of logic and proof, and it is why I do not prescribe homeopathic medicine. As a psychiatrist, I understand how a football game can make people feel better.
My only point is that scientists do not need to try to crush all non-scientific rationale. Science does not have a monopoly on truth, and those who try to crush the "magic" in the world strike me as insecure.
(Of course, their insecurity is only due to an insufficient regulation of serotonin pathways found on the quantitative loci of chromosomes 1, 4, and 15.)

At Sun Sep 07, 04:54:00 PM, Blogger ccinnkeeper said...

Beautifully written post, Dino.

At Mon Sep 08, 10:48:00 AM, Blogger DCS said...

I guess we all have our deal breakers tucked away when it comes to voting. Personally, I have less fear about the religious/scientific views of a VP candidate than I do about policy declarations of presidential candidates of either party who ignore compelling evidence that continuation or amplification of current entitlements will bankrupt the country. The president and vice president don't sit down and write curricula for public education, just as they don't write Supreme Court decisions or amend the constitution on some whim. I sense some panic on the part of those of the liberal persuasion as the basis for trashing Gov. Palin's nomination because she doesn't dance to what they regard as inviolate orthodoxy. Too bad. This country was founded on the principle that debate and diversity are good in the long run. If you can't handle that a woman has succeeded in her personal and professional career, so much the worse for you.

At Mon Sep 08, 11:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


re: "Thanks for assuming that I am suggesting the teaching of creationism. I am not."
" we should not be afraid of those who question the presented "facts". Even if they believe in a little magic."

re: "As a physician, I work in the world of logic and proof..."
"Science does not have a monopoly on truth..."

Do you have any idea how incongruent your statements sound? Do you really understand what you are saying? It doesn't sound like it. You may be a physician, but you appear to be lacking in knowledge of the scientific method.
By the way, as a FOOTBALL FAN I understand how a football game can make people feel. Being a physician and scientist is irrelevant.

Members of the PTA and small town officials DO make decisions in the curricula (or influence the school board) of public schools. Examples of this behavior are everywhere. Has your head been in the sand? I have no problems with diversity and debate, but call me odd, advocating the violation the first amendment is not my idea of "debate". Lastly, I never, brought up the VP candidates sex, you did. Keep the prejudging to yourself.

At Tue Sep 09, 11:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uff Da! and Oy Vey! The rants that I have just read are so biting. Why? The more that I study the human body the more I am amazed by the awesomeness found within each cell. To me this support my belief in God, to you--who cares? Why does everyone care so much if an idea is debated.

As an older student, in my non science classes, at a top research school in Los Angeles, I tend to think that students are no longer able question an idea in class without some sort of grade retaliation or academic ostracization. To challenge a liberal idea for a conservative or even a libertarian ideal is met hostility. I find this to be appalling and mostly sad.

Have we really come to the day where dissenting ideas are no longer tolerable? Where they are no longer met with respect but with disdain and coupled with character assignations? Is this the United States anymore? Is freedom of speech and ideas substituted for politically correct speech and ideas?

I just tend to think that when a cultural environment is no longer tolerable to "other" ideas, we lean towards policing our thoughts and actions. I do not care for that too much.

At Wed Sep 10, 06:20:00 AM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Anon 11:03:

At least you learned enough science to appreciate the awesomeness of the cell. This means that your science education wasn't stunted by teachers *telling* you that the awesomeness of the cell was due to Gd's magnificence, but rather allowing you to figure it out on your own.

I have no problem with the free exchange of ideas. My problem is refusing to teach the science as science, so that future generations do not have the ability to understand as deeply as you just why the cell is so awesome.

At Fri Sep 12, 08:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 11:03:
1: I didn't know evolution was a "liberal" idea rather a hypothesis with significant scientific support.

2: Speaking of censorship, which VP candidate explored banning books at the local library (though granted she never did follow through on this subject) and almost had the local librarian fired for standing up on this issue while she was mayor? Is this really someone you want a heartbeat away from a 70 something year old president? I frankly don't.

At Sat Sep 13, 01:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 08:24 misses the point of anon 11:03 and drinks the kool aid. Brilliant.

At Sat Sep 13, 08:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So being against banning books (that sparks ideas) is drinking the koolaid? Rich. Just WHO is drin king the koolaid?


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