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Posts from the ‘Writing’ Category

Chesterton on the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy

“This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There was never anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.

The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any war-horse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to the left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the early power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.

To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom — that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 152-153.

Maturity, a Twostep

In the first step we cut out things that do not belong.
  • Do you domineer conversations? Cut it out.
  • Does your humor make others uncomfortable? Stop it.
  • Did that social faux pas need to happen? Never again.
In the second step we add things that do belong.
  • Can I be more encouraging to others? I should start that.
  • Could my jokes be funnier? Let’s improve them.
  • Would my generosity help people? Time to give.

The twostep of maturity is a complicated dance. As in the real twostep, our feet feel awkward moving in the same direction at the same time. It takes time and experience to learn. But you know what is even more awkward? Moving one foot forward, again and again. Likewise in life it is easy to fall into phases of cut-cut-cut or add-add-add.

two step image

When we keep eliminating things, but do not replace them, we become empty inside. Instead of becoming a fuller, more alive person, we become the hallow shell of the lesser person we once were. Remember that stoic, emotionless guy you met in 8th or 9th grade? That could have been you. It was me. Being in control of your emotions does not mean killing them. The mistake is that to mature is to cut out bad emotions. Sure, do that. But without replacing them with better emotional states, you have not grown.

The same is true of seasons of adding. We can add all kinds of new character traits or habits. But in time we will have accumulated the baggage of old ones that should have died, hard. When I receive harsh criticism that seems out of place for “how mature I am” generally, this is the problem. In total I have grown, but in this one area I have not eliminated the old way.

We dance the awkward step-step-restep until, by their grace, someone comes by to help. They show us how to dance life. By watching them, we see new things to cut, new things to add. This, by the way, is mentorship. Teaching others by example how to grow.

Enter David Hume.

Hume wrote a book in the 1740’s called “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” The book focuses on the limits of what we can know. In the first chapter, he includes a great meditation on what it means to be a human being:

Man is

•a reasonable being, and as such he gets appropriate food and nourishment from the pursuit of knowledge; but so narrow are the limits of human understanding that we can’t hope for any great amount of knowledge or for much security in respect of what we do know. As well as being reasonable, man is

•a sociable being; but he can’t always enjoy—indeed can’t always want—agreeable and amusing company. Man is also

•an active being; and from that disposition of his, as well as from the various necessities of human life, he must put up with being busy at something; but the mind requires some relaxation, and can’t always devote itself to careful work.

Here are three different dimensions to our lives: thinking, socializing, and acting. In each dimension we bump into limits, at some point. We can’t know everything, we can’t always have good company, and we can’t always work. Our minds are finite, and as Hume will argue later, knowledge cannot be certain. (I’ll also add that socializing can drain us of action, and action can drain us of socializing. So those limit each other.)

balance heart and brain

He continues:

It seems, then, that nature has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable for the human race, and has secretly warned us not to tilt too far in any of these directions and make ourselves incapable of other occupations and entertainments.

‘Indulge your passion for knowledge,’ says nature, ‘but seek knowledge of things that are human and directly relevant to action and society. As for abstruse thought and profound researches, I prohibit them, and if you engage in them I will severely punish you by the brooding melancholy they bring, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception your announced discoveries will meet with when you publish them.

Moderation is not something that we, as Americans, usually care about. If something is good, gimme as much as possible. If something is bad, keep it away. But seeking moderation is still helpful in all kinds of ways.

There is a difference between values and virtues. A value is something that you always want. Joy is a value — if I can have more, I’m taking it. Hope is a value. Peace is a value. Love too. Each of these is, itself, good.

Virtues can be overdone. Patience is a virtue because you should not be patient with everything. We exercise patience when a child throws food; we do not express the same patience with an adult. Courage is also a virtue. You can be too “courageous,” which we call recklessness. Running into battle without a shield is not courageous. It is reckless. So we need to have enough courage, or we are a coward. But not too much courage, or we are reckless.

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets. He says maturity “is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom.” I agree, though for different reasons than Whyte meant. We seeking moderation in life, but our margin for error is thin. A little too much, or a little too little, and failure is inevitable. Maturity is not achievable because moderation is elusive.

An asymptote.

The golden mean.

Knowledge, socializing, acting — Hume says that these are all virtues, not values. We can only want them in moderation, never too little, never too much.

He ends with a summary:

Be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy be still a man.’

Now that is a quote for a philosophy major.

My first take-away from Hume is the obvious one: don’t be a Brain. Have a brain, and use your brain, but do more than that. Feel things, be sociable, create something, and be adventurous. Live a little.

The other, more circuitous take-away is that you must add and subtract to find this balanced life. If you cut-cut-cut out the negative sides of yourself, then on exactly 50% of virtues you will err. Likewise with adding.

We dance the twostep of growing older because in it we grow closer to the balanced life.

Certainty, God, Lived Experience, etc.

moonrise kingdom girl

As I veered wildly toward Atheism about two years ago, something key to the Christian life had been lost that I didn’t realize until later. I finally now have the categories to understand and explain this idea. It used to be vague and nebulous, but now it is clear.

The Christian Life is not phenomenologically possible without confidence in the existence of God. There are a couple of things to break down here. First, The Christian Life. This is the lived experience of being a Christian. Not the beliefs of Christianity — those are one thing. Instead, this is talking about things like the rhythms of prayer, fasting, Sabbath, and study. The community in which one lives. The subtle attitudes that emerge from believing the truths of Christianity. If the Christian message is true, how does that impact my day-to-day behavior, and how I engage in the ordinary things of life?

This is what the gross word “phenomenologically” means. Eliminate the suffixes. Phenom. Ology. The study of. The way that things appear. Truth questions can be asked separately from lived experience questions. My reading of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age lately has opened my mind up to this whole topic of study. What do things actually look like in practice?

moonrise kingdom blurry

If a belief is “not phenomenologically possible,” then nobody can live like that. The belief does not work in practice. The truths can all be there, the premises confirmed, the logic holds, the argument sound. But if it cannot translate into real action, what does it translate into? My newfound favorite example of this is Calvinism, and by that I mean Determinism. Determinism is not phenonemologically possible, meaning that you cannot live as if Determinism is true. If Determinism is true, then you have no motivation to do anything. There is not meaning in life. There is not meaning in anything. Also, since there is no free will, there cannot be moral responsibility for things that happen. Who is responsible for my sin? God, of course, because he decided I would do it. But no Christian, no matter how Deterministic they are, actually lives like this. They avoid sin as if they are an Arminian. They evangelize like they are Arminian. So, Determinism is not phenomenologically possible.

Confidence in the existence of God is important. The Bible is straightforward on this.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6.

An important point here gets misplaced sometimes.

moonrise kingdom adults

As Christians, we are not supposed to have faith in the existence of God. We do not “have faith” that he exists. No, the Bible treats the existence of God as a basic given, and then moves from there. We “have faith” that Christ’s work of atonement can be applied to our account. That is what we have faith in. There is no real reason that we should feel justified that the crosswork of Christ would mean anything in relation to us. But that is what faith is.

The existence of God, along with “believing that he rewards those who seek him,” are treated as basic givens that must be true in order to have faith. But faith is not just “believe in God + believe that he rewards.” It is something greater than the combination of the statements in Hebrews 11:6. Something like “drawing near” which is an action, not an idea. Nonetheless, those two ideas must be true for faith to happen.

The Bible never seriously poses the question, “does God actually exist?” because it doesn’t need to. God is all over the place. He sends fire, he communicates directly to people, Moses got to see him (but only backwards?), prophets speak in his name and are correct. Prayer withholds rain from the sky for three and a half years, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and himself from the dead. God has created the world. God has put conscience in all people (“the gentiles are a law unto themselves”). The Jewish religion continues in perpetuity because of the promises of God.

Similarly, in The Christian Life, we cannot entertain the idea that God does not exist. Get it figured out. Decide. Does he exist or doesn’t he? Look at the Kalam Cosmological argument. The Ontological argument. How about the Teleological one? Recall from your own personal experience the work of God in your life. Become an Atheist, or resolve to be a Christian. But the worst of all options is to remain in perpetual uncertainty. Evaluate the evidence once, and then put the counterarguments out of your mind until, a few years later, you decide to reopen the case file.

moonrise kingdom narrator

I say this because all the great aspects of The Christian Life are impossible in the absence of such confidence. Without believing that God exists, you cannot have faith. You cannot experience the power of the Holy Spirit. You cannot encourage fellow Christians in the way of the cross. You cannot testify to the goodness of God, must less experience it yourself. You certainly cannot evangelize. How could you persuade someone to draw near to God if you aren’t sure he exists? You won’t. You’ll just give up on evangelism. You cannot exercise the giftings of the Spirit in the context of the local church.

At least, I didn’t. And I’m sure that my experience was not unique. Atheism may be true. But if it is, then you cannot also phenomenologically live the Christian life. And Christianity may be true. But without confidence in one of its most basic premises (“God exists”), it cannot be lived.

 

Two years of rossneir.com

Two years ago today I wrote my first post on this blog!

It was around Thanksgiving break my senior year of high school that I decided to give blogging a try. It turned out that I never got into it too much, but have still kept it around as a place to host anything I have written.

Here are some stats from my two years:

  • I have written 78 posts,
  • 5,578 views to these posts, and my other pages
  • 3,352 viewers have visited the site
  • my top post ever was… eyeroll… the Unicorn Frap review from April of this year.

I have several dozen posts lurking in my drafts, waiting to emerge once I have finally got the concept down right. The quantity of my thinking and writing has also improved so much since my senior year that I could, if I had time, write a new post each day rather than each week or so.

I have not yet turned on ads, but if I had, then given the 1/100 of a cent per view, I would have made 50 cents so far. So. There’s that.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this project, regardless of how much support that has been or what it has looked like.

“The Current Crisis” in theoretical physics

grqm

“Like spouses,” Mitch Stokes writes concerning quantum physics and general relativity, “each completes the other.” His new book How to be an Atheist explores the relationship between atheism and skepticism generally — arguing that atheists, though broadly skeptical, fail to employ their skepticism across the board into epistemology and ethics. If they did this, the atheist must reduce these fields to reject most of what atheistic leaders propose — namely, evolution by natural selection, M-theory, and moral values that do not originate from atheism, like equality, or justice.

One chapter stands out in particular. Can we use the scientific method to find out the fundamental nature of reality? No, Stokes argues, for various reasons over a few chapters. Moreover, in the outstanding chapter, he presents the case that even if science could answer these questions, we know anyway that “according to science itself, important aspects of our current physical theories are incorrect” (119).

Stokes writes,

General relativity and quantum mechanics shocked the world with their appearance in the first three decades of the 1900s, and together they account for the entire universe, including nature’s four fundamental forces and all the elementary particles out of which the universe is made — whether these particles are entirely at rest or approaching the speed of light. Although Newtonian mechanics is an excellent approximation for medium-sized dry goods at velocities far below the speed of light, when we address the most fundamental aspects of physical reality — when the universe “red lines” — physics becomes an extreme sport and we need quantum mechanics and general relativity (120).

Yes. Newton’s laws of motion did explain much more than Aristotle’s theories of motion, but they didn’t tell the whole story. We cannot blame Newton, of course, because the extremes of outer space and inner atoms had not been discovered. So he explained everything that had been discovered at the time. When those extreme phenomena were discovered, a more comprehensive theory came along to describe space (general relativity) and subatomic particles (quantum theory). But notice, these are two theories, not just one.

They need one another. Neither of them can account for physical reality alone, and so there’s a division of labor between them. Quantum mechanics takes care of the subatomic world; general relativity handles everything else. General relativity also treats gravity, which doesn’t exist in the eyes of quantum theory. Like spouses, each completes the other.

But the marriage has been rocky from the start. In fact, it began with a shotgun wedding. The division of labor, despite its practical success, was forced upon physicists, really. Our two pillars of physics are logically incompatible with one another, and so at least one of them is wrong. They tell different stories about the observable world (120-121).

The reason why these theories can coexist so well despite their underlying inconsistency is that physicists do not need to use both. What physicist uses both sets of tools, and how at once?

Rather inconveniently, there are scenarios that require both quantum mechanics and general relativity.

There are physical situations where physicists would really like to use both theories simultaneously. These are, as Greene points out, “extreme physical situations that are both massive and tiny.” Two such extreme cases are, he says, “the center of a black hole, in which an entire star has been crushed by its own weight to a minuscule point, and the big band, in which the entire observable universe is imagined to have been compressed to a nugget far smaller than a single atom.” Normally, in the quantum realm, the force of gravity is negligible because it’s so weak, being vastly overpowered by the other three (e.g., even a small magnet can overcome the force of gravity when it lifts a paper clip off the desk). But when the mass of a star or universe is packed into a volume smaller than an atom, we have to take gravity into account along with quantum effects. In other words, we need a theory of quantum gravity (121-122).

Nice. The two most important and empirically verified fields of science are incompatible and require some larger theory, perhaps we could call it a theory of everything?, that conatins both and synthesizes all the data into one explanatory framework. Man, people should really get on that, I bet it would make for a good life quest and —

toe

Oh yeah, never mind. Someone’s already been on that for a while.

But Stokes remains unimpressed by Hawking’s solution. String theory in general does not seem to be falsifiable: the versions of string theory we can test have been disproved, and the ones we cannot test are so numerous (as many as 10^500) that no experiment or set of experiments can disprove them all save the true one. M-theory in particular seems to be one step forward and two steps back: it is

a network of theories in which each theory is good at describing phenomena within a certain range. Or course, this sounds very much like our current situation, where general relativity and quantum mechanics each adequately deals with its respective domains, yet in some ways worse. Instead of merely two patches in the theoretical quilt, we now have five (124).

But, curiously, the same atheists who propose radical skepticism on the existence of God claim M-theory as the multiverse framework for the creation of a universe without a creator. Does that not also require non-skepticism? Stokes uses this point to support his claim that atheists are just not skeptical enough — and on precisely the issues that matter.

Why believe what false theories (allegedly) imply about topics even further removed from the topics they get wrong? Good skeptics will be wary of both.

So why aren’t they? (129).

“Why ‘tock-tick’ does not sound right to your ears”

Here is an interesting article about another one of those unwritten rules of the English language:

tick tock

“Defending the Faith” as an opportunity to learn daily

The morning begins as usual: the blackest coffee possible, a rush out the door to get to work or class on time, and a commute frustrated by traffic. The day goes about as usual: four hours of work, 45 minutes to eat a brown paper-bagged lunch, and another four hours of work, this time having a 15 minute break interrupting. The evening ensues as usual: return from work, put together a meal, perhaps exercise, read a chapter or two of whatever lame novel you picked up from the grocery store, and sleep.

(Is this the life of our dreams since childhood?)

What if, instead of that lame novel you picked up at Aldi, you had read The Universe Next Door by James Sire, The Reason for God by Tim Keller, Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, or Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig?

These books are only a few hundred pages each. Read a chapter a night and anyone could finish all five in a year, comfortably.

In the past months I’ve come to realize that books (or audio, or any other medium) on “defending the faith” can have a particular effect if I let them: they require me to research continually. Slow consumption makes an important difference. It reminds me of the difference between the drip drip Chinese water torture method and just dumping a bucket of water on somebody wholesale. But in a good way…

When you take it in slowly, the chapters start and finish each day, giving the daily grind of life an apologetic context. Reading the entire book at once on a lazy Saturday afternoon can be good! But slowing down, allowing the ideas to incubate over time and through life experiences has been far more beneficial for me.

I have a class this semester on apologetics, and like usual in college, the course readings are divided into a by-the-class schedule. Just follow along, and the portion-sizing is already done for me. Nutrisystem for the Christian intellectual? Thanks, professor.

This is true of any Christian research; studies in the New Testament, Old Testament, ANE culture, historical theology, and other cousin fields can all benefit from daily nibbling rather than gluttonous bingeing. Much can be learned in one day, but the Christian life is a call to fix our eyes upon Jesus — and then hold that pose for the long term.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas — including Chiropractic memes

Today I came across this in my Facebook newsfeed:

chiro1

This deserves a much closer look. To my knowledge, Chiropractic is just another snake oil elixir, delivering essentially no benefits beyond the alleviation of lower back pain. Here is the claim:

“A 7 year study showed that patients whose primary care physician was a Chiropractor experienced the following results:

  • 60% less hospital admissions
  • 59% less days in the hospital
  • 62% less outpatient surgeries
  • 85% less in pharmaceutical costs”

I am extremely skeptical. My poorly-constructed-study radar is hitting 11 on this one. 85% less in pharmaceutical costs! That should be putting the entire industry out of business! What an incredible claim. But instead of outright dismissing these findings, let’s check out the study.

The fine print cites this:

chiro3

Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy, May 20017, 30(4). 263-269. Richard L. Sarnat, MD, James Winterstein, DC, Jerrilyn A. Cambron, DC, PhD

Here are some things I’ve found:

  1. There is no journal that exists called the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy.” There is one with Therapeutics as the last word, so I’ll assume these are supposed to be the same. This is the journal’s website.
  2. The journal cited is May 20017. I will give the benefit of the doubt as say they meant 2017, because 20017 is still roughly eighteen thousand years away. Nonetheless, how does this person have access to the journal for six months from now?
  3. Since the date is clearly unusable, here is the search results for “Sarnat” in the journal’s database.chiro4The meme claims to cite volume 30, issue 4, pages 263-269. So the second result is the target here. Sadly, both are paywalled, and I can’t view them unless pdf copies are floating around elsewhere online.
  4. This is everything I can get from the website:Abstract
    Our initial report analyzed clinical and cost utilization data from the years 1999 to 2002 for an integrative medicine independent physician association (IPA) whose primary care physicians (PCPs) were exclusively doctors of chiropractic. This report updates the subsequent utilization data from the IPA for the years 2003 to 2005 and includes first-time comparisons in data points among PCPs of different licensures who were oriented toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

    Methods
    Independent physician association–incurred claims and stratified random patient surveys were descriptively analyzed for clinical utilization, cost offsets, and member satisfaction compared with conventional medical IPA normative values. Comparisons to our original publication’s comparative blinded data, using nonrandom matched comparison groups, were descriptively analyzed for differences in age/sex demographics and disease profiles to examine sample bias.

    Results
    Clinical and cost utilization based on 70274 member-months over a 7-year period demonstrated decreases of 60.2% in-hospital admissions, 59.0% hospital days, 62.0% outpatient surgeries and procedures, and 85% pharmaceutical costs when compared with conventional medicine IPA performance for the same health maintenance organization product in the same geography and time frame.

    Conclusion
    During the past 7 years, and with a larger population than originally reported, the CAM-oriented PCPs using a nonsurgical/nonpharmaceutical approach demonstrated reductions in both clinical and cost utilization when compared with PCPs using conventional medicine alone. Decreased utilization was uniformly achieved by all CAM-oriented PCPs, regardless of their licensure. The validity and generalizability of this observation are guarded given the lack of randomization, lack of statistical analysis possible, and potentially biased data in this population.

  5. The references page (link) includes citations to these journals:J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2004 (their own research)
    Ann Intern Med. 1999
    J Clin Oncol. 2000
    Arch Intern Med. 2002
    JAMA. 1999
    N Engl J Med. 1993
    Am J Manag Care. 2006
    Health Care Financ Rev Annu Suppl. 1991
    CBO; US Government Printing Office, Washington (DC); 1993.
    Harv Bus Rev. 1994
    Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore; 1990.
    Health Care Financ Rev. 1992
    Manag Care. 2001
    Altern Ther Health Med 2002
    National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed September 15, 2006. (link included)
    Cancer. 2004

    Two things to note here: most of these are just cost-assessment studies, so it doesn’t matter how legitimate their scientific journal is; also, several of these are other alternative medicine journals, so take that with measured caution.

  6. Hooray! I found the study! Here is the pdf link.
  7. From the study: “In this article, we are not taking a position on the efficacy of any CAM treatment. Rather, we are interested in the current use of CAM modalities and cost effects of such use, regardless of treatment outcome.”
  8. The study is based on 7 doctors of osteopathy and 14 doctors of chiropractic. Osteopathic doctors are basically defined as non-chiropractic doctors of natural medicine, which does exclude pharmaceuticals and surgeries. This is a total of 21 doctors.
  9. This should be an enormous red flag: “The HMO’s quality control division, independent of the privately run IPA, distributed an annual survey to more than 45 000 members who were older than 18 years old and who had been enrolled in the HMO and IPA for at least 1 year. Stratified random patient surveys were used to analyze AMI’s lifestyle demographics and member satisfaction. Although the HMO’s quality control division provided these data, the details of the stratified random selection process were not available. Member satisfaction was measured within the survey by asking patients, “are you satisfied overall with your IPA’s performance? ” (emphasis added).
  10. Here we find an even larger, more enormous red flag: “Our initial report demonstrated a skewed enrollment population, with fewer children and more adults than the 2 matched control groups. For the years 1999 through 2002 we averaged 12% childhood enrollment vs the 2 control groups, whose childhood enrollment averaged 33% and 19%, respectively. We attributed this population age disparity to a deliberate IPA medical management policy of discouraging childhood enrollment. This management decision was put in place because of the limitations in the scope of practice our DCs and their inability to perform certain requirements, such as immunizations. Our PCPs licensed as medical doctors/DOs have no such limitations in their scope of practice. Accordingly, we have seen our enrollee demographics quickly change and even exceed the childhood enrollment percentages of the 2 matched control populations. In calendar year 2003, the IPA’s childhood enrollment increased to 31%; and by calendar year 2005, it had peaked at 56%. We attribute this demographic shift, above the 2 matched control groups’ childhood enrollment, to the unique group practice of our newly contracted medical doctors /DOs. Before their involvement with AMI’s integrative medicine IPA, they specialized exclusively in the 2 arenas of home birth and ‘natural medical’ childcare” (emphasis added).Later on, the study mentions this: “we were not able to control for differences in baseline characteristics between the integrative medicine group and the conventional IPA. If the baseline demographic or clinical factors differed between the groups, the data may be seriously biased in either direction.”
  11. Red flag number three: “The AMI’s enrolled population continues to demonstrate a smaller percentage of ‘well’ members (23.4% in Table 2) vs the 2 matched conventional medical IPA control groups (34.7% and 42%, respectively), as cited in our initial report. This gives continued credence to the premise that patients who go to CAM practitioners are not necessarily the ‘worried well’ and may actually represent an adverse selection of patients who are ‘medical failures’ in the traditional medical system.”
  12. Table 4 and its corresponding paragraph (Cost of Utilization) are surprising. Why is the company actuarially predicting 670.0 target units, when by the end of the year only 125 units were used? Either the actuaries are terrible at their jobs, or something is very wrong with the reporting mechanism for units used. This can be viewed as 19.0% of total costs used, which sounds great if you are a budget slasher or are trying to produce a study showing lower costs for Chiropractic. Or, it can be viewed as gross overestimation from the beginning. When all 6 years overpredicted by more than double the ultimate value, the process is broken.
  13. Then this appears: “As the necessary data for traditional statistical methods were unavailable to us, we attempted to assess possible population bias via other strategies. We acknowledge that the lack of statistical analysis may have led to a serious bias. However, even without the ability to complete a statistical analysis and with the potential for bias, these preliminary data are important to present within the medical community.” Actually, no. If there is the potential for serious bias, maybe it is better to not report the study’s findings in such plain terms, as if they can be taken at face value.

 

At this point I’ll put forward some possible explanations for what has happened here:

First, this is a single study. Ask a researcher who complies meta-analysis studies about the legitimacy of individual studies. This is why we reproduce studies several times. 10 researchers will conduct the same experiment, and 3 will find negative correlation, 4 will find no correlation, and 3 will find positive correlation. You would never know this if you looked just at one study. So, these authors are very correct in saying that this study “warrants larger independent third-party funding for multicenter, randomized controlled trials.” All studies do.

Second, the shift in population to a younger group undermines essentially all of the findings in this study. For one, why did the group become younger? The group became younger because in the 2003 iteration of the study, the researches decided to include the extra 7 osteopathy doctors, who had largely specialized in home, family and natural medicine. Now, this shouldn’t have had an impact unless these doctors were carrying over old clients from before the study began. So it looks like either that happened, or that they continued to advertise themselves in a way that would lead to more children than normal being consulted.

Third, and directly related to the previous point, if they inadvertently shifted the demographics of the population in this way, maybe they also shifted the demographics of the population in a less clear, less measurable way. The key variable in my mind is likeliness to reject pharmaceuticals, and that would obvious have a large impact on the total amount and therefore cost of pharmaceuticals distributed. I’d be willing to speculate, and this is very logically founded speculation, that people whose primary care physician is a Chiropractor are probably significantly more likely to also believe in alternative medicine, to use homeopathic cures, to reject established scientific literature and studies, and to be “educated beyond their own good,” meaning that they have done “their own research” which actually just amounts to googling something until confirmation bias is satisfied. The authors admit this with their caveat about the ‘worried well’ and the ‘medical failures.’ Each of these types of people would not register on a simple yes-no questionnaire about patient satisfaction, and I would be willing to bet that this category is much more skewed compared to the general population than the age category.

Fourth, the authors of this study did not have access to enough data to conclude that they have found anything of notable significance. What if, when controlled for any of the variables in the study, the correlation drops to 0.00? They do not have access to this data because of HIPPA laws, but usually accredited researchers have access to patient profiles without identifiable characteristics. So I’m not sure what the hassle was beyond bureaucratic red tape. But in any case, these descriptive statistics like “85% less in pharmaceutical costs” are uncontrolled variables relative to the real general population, to the best of my and the researchers’ knowledge.

Fifth, the solution could also be that Chiropractic doctors are not able to prescribe medicine. The osteopathic doctors can. But those were only 7 of the 21. The 14 Chiropractic doctors would likely have had to refer patients to a state-licensed medical doctor for that doctor to write the prescription. So then, you can see that prescriptions will not be written for things that either have no cure (the giant category of ‘wellness’ being at the top of this list) or things that are not very severe.

 

Finally, and this is only tangentially related to the actual study, someone on Facebook commented below the original shared article and wrote this:

chiro2

Chiropractics are constrained to the same free market effects of supply and demand and regular doctors (although perhaps more so because most insurance companies do not cover Chiropractic costs). Here is an example of the owner of a Chiropractic clinic using exactly this study to promote his business interests. It should not come as surprising that the Chiropractic industry, which in the United State is huge and growing, also are “people, and people are motivated by the love of money… not all [chiropractors], but many will follow the [alternative medicine] industry’s talking points by telling their patients things that are designed to promote the [alternative] medical “industry.”” The argument from greed and deception goes both ways.

Globalization research project

Today I start a research project on Globalization that I’ve been procrastinating for at least a few months now.


I bought five books from the nearest HPB and checked out two from my university library.

They are:

  • Malcom Waters — Globalization
  • Magdish Bhagwati — In Defense of Globalization
  • Mangers B. Steger — Globalisms, 3rd edition
  • George Soros — On Globalization
  • Koichi Iwabuchi — Recentering Globalization
  • Tang Suit Chee and Allong Wong, ed. — The Challenge and Impact of Globalization- Towards a Biblical Response
  • Stephen Kinzer — Overthrow

My goals for this project are:

  1. Read all seven books
  2. Write summaries of all seven books
  3. Write a 17,000 word minimum research essay
  4. Discover five new things in favor of globalization and five new things against
  5. Convert the research essay into a series of bit-sized, easily digestible blog posts
  6. From the book bibliographies identify fifteen new books for further study

I plan to do all this, limiting myself to eight hours a day, before I leave for a missions trip on January 3rd. I also will be gone a few days here and there, notably Christmas but also some other events as well.

Whyte on Forgiveness

A teaser to David Whyte’s book Consolations, currently siting on my shelf, begging for my attention. Quote from Brain Pickings here.

Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity,extend our understanding to one who first delivered it.

Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.

Breathtaking.

A line to echo: To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt.

I have a large research project on Globalism coming up over the Christmas and inter-term break that will eat my time. Once I finish that, this book is coming next.