Dear Diane, Your frustration about folks avoiding original sources is reasonable. Especially when it's actually easily available. But, of course, the "original source" itself is an interpretation of data. In short, we fall back on easier, less time-consuming ways. ("We" being me. See the back-and-forth comments about—presumably—the same data between Erin Johnson and myself.) In fields that I don't feel deeply connected to, I mostly look for the experts I "trust". There's no way to be an expert in all the subjects I need to have an opinion about! So I go along with the consensus in some ...

Hi Deb, Welcome home from Russia! Hope you got your 36 hours of sleep. Given the sad history of Russia over the past century, it will be difficult for them to shake off the burden of so many decades of authoritarianism and totalitarianism. For sure, one can find dissidents under Czarism and under Soviet rule, yet not much of a democratic tradition. Even today, the idea of a free press or the checks and balances that we associate with a healthy democracy seem to be waning, and the forces of authoritarianism appear to be gaining ground. I have learned over ...

Dear Diane, I needed 36 hours of sleep when I got back from Russia! But it's time to begin to sort out my thoughts. Aside from all the fun, including the pleasure of traveling with my sons, it has reinforced some old theories, and raised some new questions. The most obvious is that "command"-style schooling is still alive and well in Russia. After a brief "pestroika" for schools, the heavy hand of the state has come down again. The rhetoric is very familiar. Some of which you'd like (a single state curriculum) perhaps? But most of which would chill ...

Dear Deb, I agree with you about the uncertainty involved in medicine. The closer any of us gets to a very serious medical problem, the likelier we are to encounter medical uncertainty. Many years ago, I lost a two-year-old child to leukemia. At that time, in the mid-1960s, the doctors tried a range of drugs, knowing that in the end, it was a lost cause. I kept hoping for a miracle that never happened. That was when I discovered that there is a limit to what doctors know. The good news is that medical research keeps pushing the limit farther ...

Dear Diane, Did you read The New York Times Magazine piece called "Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?" by Gary Taubes? Or the follow-up on Oct. 9 in the Times Science Section by John Tierney? Medicine (and nutrition) have all the odds in their favor vs. education when it comes to being "scientific". There's a lot less disagreement about what constitutes good health, for one thing. Politics—in the best and worst senses—is less intimately tied to medicine. It's easier to have placebos and random samples. And it's easier to track patients for long enough to assess...

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