Cafe Dark Ages

Today, like most mornings, I biked to a cafe to hack on my laptop while slurping on iced coffee. Exercise, fresh air, sugar, caffeine and R&D. On this lovely sunny Autumn day I’m tapping away on my lappy, teasing bugs out of my latest digital radio system.

Creating new knowledge is a slow, tedious, business.

I test each small change by running an experiment several hundred thousand times, using simulation software on my laptop. R&D – Science by another name – is hard. One in ten of my ideas actually work, despite being at the peak of my career, having a PhD in the field, and help from many very intelligent peers.

A different process is going on at the table next to me. An “Integrative Health Consultant” is going about her business, speaking to a young client.

In an earnest yet authoritative Doctor-voice the “consultant” revs up with ill-informed dietary advice, moves on to over-priced under-performing products that the consultant just happens to sell, and ends up with a thinly disguised invitation to join her Multi-Level-Marketing (MLM) organisation. With a few side journeys through anti-vaxer land, conspiracy theories, organic food, anti-carbo and anti-gluten, sprinkled with disparaging remarks on Science, evidence based medicine and an inspired stab at dissing oncology (“I know this guy who had chemo and still died!”). All heavily backed by n=1 anecdotes.

A hobby of mine is critical thinking, so I am aware that most of their conversation is bullshit. I know how new knowledge is found (see above) and it’s not from Facebook.

But this post is not about the arguments of alt-med versus evidence based medicine. Been there, done that.

Here is what bothers me. These were both good people, who more or less believe in what they say. They are not stupid, they are intelligent and want to help people get and stay healthy. I have friends and family that I love who believe this crap. But they are hurting society and making people sicker.

Steering people away from modern, evidence based medicine kills people. Someone who is persuaded to see a naturopath rather than an oncologist will find out too late the price of well-meaning ignorance. Anti-vaxers hurt, maim, and kill for their beliefs. I shudder to think of the wasted lives and billions of dollars that could be spent on far better outcomes than lining the pockets of snake oil salespeople.

There is some encouraging news. The Australian Government has started removing social security benefits from people who don’t vaccinate. The Nursing and Midwifery Board is also threatening to take action against Nurses who push an anti-vaccination stance.

But this is beating people with a stick, where is the carrot?

Doctors in the Dark Ages were good people. They really believed leaches, blood letting and prayer where helping the patients they loved. But those beliefs sustained untold human misery. The difference with today?

Science, Education, and Policy.

10 thoughts on “Cafe Dark Ages”

  1. A couple of (maybe) humorous comments. I was reading that the number one procedure for most doctors in the 19th century was the prevention of hysteria in women. This of course necessitated manipulation of the erogenous zones. Finally one doctor invented the vibrator. It was a dangerous device, as many people used DC at high voltages back then.

    The other (funny) thing, is they say up to 50% of all health care professionals in the USA have fake diploma’s (received by diploma mills). You pretty much have to check everyone’s credentials.

    A friend wanted to marry a couple, so he got a doctor of divinity diploma online, and he calls himself Reverend now. All tongue in cheek of course, but all he had to do was pay $10 to have his certificate filed with the county records.

  2. Hi David,

    We certainly think a lot alike! “Eat good food.” You hear it so often. What is good food. Actually a very good question. A LOT of useful data can be measured. Is it worth anything?

    While most folks seem to have fuzzy brains (due to the ‘food’ they are eating?), I suggest going to some local farmer’s markets. Find a farmer who is happy, joyous and free.Visit his/her farm. Observe whether It is a ‘chemical’ farm? If not ask the farmer(s) what they eat and eat the same things.

    If you eat fresh alive farm food, you will feel MUCH better and your brain will eventually start to work (again?).

    So if you have heathy soil, you can grow healthy crops and raise healthy animals and then have healthy humans.

    I used to talk about the ‘grocery store and label’ addiction. Most folks couldn’t seem to deal with that concept.

    And yes, I got one of those diplomas just for a laugh. I was also a ‘justice of the peace’ for a bit.

    Lots of fun :).

    warm regards,

  3. David,

    I know that feeling so well. My mother was a self-professed naturopath. She and my step-father despised modern medicine. They saw conspiracies everywhere. And they believed so deeply. Their strength of belief inspired others to believe. As a result, my young niece, who just had her first child, is an anti-vaxxer. She too believes so strongly. You can’t trust the government, but you can trust any fool who can loft a web site or post to Facebook.

    The internet may well user in an age that is the opposite of the enlightenment, at least for some folks. We need to teach kids to be rationalists.

  4. Hi David,

    We are in times of AMAZING revolations. Statin support by 5 respected doctors. Cost $50,000. Profits to manufacturers?? Profits to others for its side effects.

    The whole vaccine game is trying to defend itself. What are the data? They are out there don’t seem to have the positive effect believed by many. But check for yourself. It is your life after all.

    You can fill in the blanks yourself. For me it is NOT a pretty picture.


  5. Was this post aimed to be a honeymoon for anti-vaxxers and naturopath and woo-woo practitioners? I predict an influx of irrational comments from the anti-science brigade, which, considering the nature of your blog, is quite ironic.

  6. I usually right away skip over your posts of this kind, as im purely interested in your research 😉
    But for some reason I still ended up skimming through, and ended with a grin on my face.

    But why I’m really commenting is the following OT, which came to my mind just about when commenting was closed in your previous post:

    I know there is almost a magnitude in between, but did you ever consider comparing codec2 at various bitrates to voice codecs like opus @6k or speex at its? lowest end? Or with the likes as ie. GSM HR, or AMR (WB). I understand well that on HF you have to fight for every single bit to gain on SNR but on VHF it might also be interesting investing more into the modem and FEC rather than in optimising the codec. What do you think about this approach?

    1. Yes I am interested in the high quality end, e.g. wideband (Skype like) audio over VHF two-way radio would be fun to try. These sorts of experiments are parts of the goals of the SM2000 project. I am also interested in a HF broadcast mode that has high quality and a large LDPC code/long interleaver delay.

      Given SNR = Eb/No + 10*log10(Rb/B), using say Eb/No = 2dB (0 PER for a good LDPC code), Noise BW B=3000Hz, SNR=10dB, I get Rb=15000 bit/s, which would support very high quality audio. Might need 16QAM though, to squeeze it all into a 2000-ish Hz SSB channel.

      1. In playing with the SM1000, the only thing I would suggest is lots of external ram for any future designs. The 192k is kind of limiting.

        Maybe a modem/audio/PTT daughter board for a Pi3, and skip the CPU design :-)

        1. I’m not ?convinced the pi is the way to go…
          Too many blobs, too much control by the foundation (did anyone see a 64bit kernel for pi3), too much Broadcom. If going this way, in my opinion an Allwinner V3s would be more interesting: hand solderable, SD-RAM in package, single core Cortex A7. Mainlining efforts are going on under the lichee pi zero project/Linux sunxi. Once this is done Linux as well as bare metal should be an option…
          But still optimising code should be #1 priority, before linuxifying DSP…

  7. That’s an interesting concept, compeeting with DRM. Do you think some variant of EDGE or maybe a mod thereof with concentrical ring constellation would have benefits over QAM? After all QAM needs linear amps…

    That idea of algorithmic/processing gains, I first came across when DSSS was state of the art, I just recently realised its connection with fec et al. So no more black magic 😉

    Your last blog entry just made me have a look at opus’ comparison chart where I realised how in the lower left corner the AMR family of codecs seems to have an edge over the competition. Do you think some hybrid mode between codec2 and opus’ silk component could improve things there? Or is there any common understanding why there is no oss codec competing? Lack of a use case? Too fast internet connections?

    Sorry if im jumping topics, writing long texts on a phone is not straight forward but still more practical if my little kid is jumping than a pc 😀

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