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Friday, February 27, 2009

Science and popular culture: Guy pays for recommending vitamin D, finds new job

He pays here:

If the name Michael Holick means anything to you, you will recall that he was asked to resign from a post in Boston University’s dermatology department in February 2004 for promoting "sensible sun exposure" in his book The UV Advantage.

Holick’s thesis—which was apparently anathema to Boston University derm department chair Barbara Gilchrest—is that most people who live in the US north of Atlanta are vitamin D deficient because one of the key sources of that vitamin is the sun. (Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium and thus strong, healthy bones.) And even when the sun shines brightest, and for the longest, during the summer, we’re told to shun the sun and slather our bodies in high SPF sunscreens to defend against skin cancer. But in doing so we might be hiking our risk for a variety of health problems including heart disease, breast cancer, and colon cancer, says Holick.

"You have about a 30 to 50 percent decreased risk of developing colon, prostate, and breast cancer if you maintain adequate vitamin D levels throughout your life," Holick said in a 2007 interview with a Canadian television station.

I am glad that I have nothing to hope or fear from Barbara Gilchrest (identified above), who strikes me as just one of many people who make the lives of those who front new and possibly important knowledge difficult.

So let me just add one thing that anyone can take down and use in evidence against me: Women who are required for cultural reasons to spend their entire lives under heavy clothing are - I am told by a doctor whose opinion I trust - at risk for Vitamin D deficiency.

Look, gals ... wear it, don't wear it. I don't care. Believe what you think is right. But you need a porch or sun room or something where you can just be exposed to the sun (with appropriate privacy, of course), especially if you live in one of the ungenerous latitudes of this world (like my beloved Toronto).

I don't even know that my Rose of Sharon trees (which I mostly grafted myself) will survive this winter, never mind that you can survive in places like Toronto without any contact with the sun ...

If doctors say you need it, believe them. Okay? Insist on it!

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Eugenics in Canada: Forthcoming book by journalist historian

I am pleased to announce that a friend will be writing a book on the Alberta eugenics program in Canada (= why the world will be a better place if the government decides who can and can't have children*). Jane Harris Zsovan's publisher is the excellent Gord Shillingford of J. Gordon Shillingford Publications of Winnipeg, who kindly published my own first book, Faith@Science, a collection of my faith and science writings, in 2001.

I wrote to Jane to say congratulations and,
Yours is a needed book, I think.

Right now, the world is jam packed FULL of false knowledge.

I hope your book on the Alberta eugenics program will help people revisit how false knowledge gets started and how it motors along on the success of its own dissemination - not on its inherent relation to reality - and how much damage it can do.

I faced a very difficult dinner recently with a purveyor of tons of false knowledge. An atheist who makes a big deal out of challenging religion from a tenured position in a religious college - whoop, whoop.

I don't mean to be vulgar, but false knowledge was dropping off him like fleas off a cat who has just been bathed in "De Fleas Flee!" cat soap.

False knowledge is NOT harmless. People differ greatly in social power. When those who have the power are afflicted with false knowledge, those who don't have power must beware. Hence eugenics.
In my experience, lots of false knowledge gets batted from one lazy textbook author to another, so the purveyor of false knowledge thinks that the number of times the nonsense is repeated in his hearing makes it more true.

A life in journalism can cure a person of false knowledge - because, if you choose to cover original sources, you can also uncover the origin of false knowledge - but that cure only works if people want it, and many people do not.

Now, Jane, get busy and write that book! You know the history, and I will help any way I can. And congrats to you and Gord on a very worthwhile project!

*Unnecessarily - but just for the record - let me clarify that government can and should protect children from unfit parents. But unfitness must be based on concrete evidence in the present, not on speculation about the supposed past or future of humanity. Government will always find itself fully occupied in the present and near future, and has - in my view - no brief for policy based on mere speculation.

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