Faith and science, with credibility

Francis Collins, former Director of the Human Genome Project, has a new project: the BioLogos Foundation.  It seeks to explore issues at the nexus of faith and science but from a positive standpoint.  While this endeavour will probably come under fire rather quickly from fundamentalists (both the religious and the atheist varieties), Collins speaks with a level of credibility that you don’t find with people like the young earthers or Richard Dawkins.

Go back to your homes, citizens

An Italian scientist predicted a major earthquake around L’Aquila weeks before disaster struck the city on Monday, killing dozens of people, but was reported to authorities for spreading panic among the population…

[T]he head of the National Geophysics Institute dismissed Giuliani’s predictions.”It is useful to underline that it is not in any way possible to predict an earthquake,” it said, adding that the agency saw no reason for alarm but was nonetheless effecting “continuous monitoring and attention”.

via Reuters AlertNet – Italy muzzled scientist who foresaw quake.

The relationship between definitive pronouncements and science has always been a rocky one, especially when the definitive pronouncements are made by scientists.

Which reminds me… Are eggs good for you or bad for you this week?  I can never keep that straight.

Dogmatism to be ratcheted up

Duncan told the National Science Teachers Association during a visit to New Orleans that the U.S. needs more science and math teachers, and — in a veiled criticism of the Bush administration — rejected political influence on scientific research.

via Secretary Duncan eyes ‘new era’ in science education – USATODAY.com.

Right.  Because the last eight years, schools have been teaching creationism and burning witches, right?  Of course not.  Even the most watered-down attempts to merely get kids to exercise critical thinking about the unscientific denial of a Creator (i.e. science abused in the service of ideology) have been slapped down in the courts.   Never mind that purely materialistic evolution has been the only position allowed in classrooms for decades!  There are still some recalcitrants out there who don’t buy it.  You know: those troglodytes who aren’t fooled by Eugenie Scott’s calm assurances that “religion and science are separate spheres of enquiry” when it is the current teaching in science classrooms that all life arose though purely accidental means, a de facto denial of a Creator.

Here’s a suggestion.  Rather than spending yet more money to cram philosophical materialism even more forcefully down kids’ throats, why not start modeling the sort of inquisitiveness and tolerance of dissent that is more approapriate to scientists than medieval Inquisitors?  It’s not the creationists  or IDers whose ideology is stunting scientific education; they aren’t even allowed in the door.  That’s mere blame-shifting by those who have long had a taxpayer-funded monopoly on the discussion.

Planned Parenthood statutory rape cover-ups continue

Planned Parenthood statutory rape cover-ups continue.

This isn’t the first time.

Seems to me this issue is not that dissimilar to the priest abuse scandals, since bishops have been raked over the coals for what they allegedly knew about but didn’t do anything.   But where the latter was front page news for months on end, this story is studiously ignored by most press.  The other day I even emailed the Wikipedia entry to a TV news station in Spokane while they were discussing controversy over parental notification in California.   They apparently didn’t pursue it.

Britain apologises for ‘Third World’ hospital

Receptionists with no medical training were left to to assess patients arriving at the hospital’s accident and emergency department, the report found…

“What we saw in those eight weeks will haunt us for the rest of our lives,” said the 47-year-old. “We saw patients drinking out of flower vases they were so thirsty.

“There were patients wandering around the hospital and patients fighting. It was continuous through the night. Patients were screaming out in pain because you just could not get pain relief.

via Britain apologises for ‘Third World’ hospital.

Perhaps Britain should consider bringing its spending on health care up to par with, say, America.  Oh, the irony.

In denial and on life support

Americans spend $2.4 trillion a year on health care. The Business Roundtable report says Americans in 2006 spent $1,928 per capita on health care, at least two-and-a-half times more per person than any other advanced country.

Medical costs…have long been a problem for U.S. auto companies. General Motors spends more per car on health care than it does on steel. But as more American companies face global competition, the “value gap” is being felt by more CEOs — and their hard pressed workers.

via Report: US on short end of health care ‘value gap’.

Free market competition encourages efficiency, but government bureucracies seek to grow themselves.  So you would expect Americans would get more bang for their health care buck than nations with nationalized health care.  But this isn’t the case.  Why is that?

As a 20+ veteran of health care, I have a few thoughts and observations.

The first is that health care cannot be separated from other factors at work in society.  America is a very litigious place.  Not just willful evildoing but even innocent mistakes with limited effects become excuses for people to seek bonanza legal settlements.  Think several million dollars to the person who spilled hot McDonalds coffee on themself.  When a corporation that provides goods or services to the community is sued for a large amount of money, it doesn’t take that money from the profits to rich fatcat investors; it passes on that cost to the consumer in the form of higher prices or fees.  So the plaintiff makes money, the lawyer gets a hefty cut, and the public pays.  (Funny how a system set up by trial lawyers ends up profiting trial lawyers.)

The cost doesn’t ends there, however.  Organizations that are sued and  even ones that aren’t take steps that decrease exposure to lawsuits but make their activities less efficient.  In hopsitals, staff spend quite a bit of their time doing things that have limited or no benefit to the quality of patient care but lessen legal liability.  Nurses have limited time to interact with patients because they are buried in an ever-increasing burden of paperwork.  Some of this paperwork improves patient care, but not all.  In my own field of clinical laboratory science, a lot of time is spent meeting regulations, documenting, and documenting that we’re documenting.  A former coworker of mine was a great proponent of documenting everything, because a doctor who had been sued for malpractice had tried to pin his mistake on supposedly erroneous lab results.  It was only because my coworker documented everything so meticulously that he was able to refute the doctor’s blame-shifting and keep his job and life savings.  But meanwhile hospitals have to hire more staff than patient needs require, because staff levels that would be sufficient for patient care are tied up in tasks that cover their backsides. Thsi in turn raises the hospital’s costs and thus the fees it charges patients.   Elimination of punitive-damage bonanza lawsuits would let health care workers get back to tending to patients and hospitals would have the option of passing that savings on to patients, insurance companies and government.

There is also a problem of price gouging.  We see this in the price of drugs costing significantly more in the U.S. than the same drugs do in Canada, where provincial governments decide how much they are willing to pay for them.  That pharmaceutical companies don’t stop supplying drugs to Canada suggests that they still make a profit at those significantly reduced prices.  In the lab, we use instruments that cost several hundred thousand dollars each.  Manufacturers must train lab staff how to use and maintain them.  The last such week-long training I attended, the manufacturer flew me to the East Coast, put me up in the Hilton and wined and dined us all week, hoping to establish goodwill that will remain the next time we have to choose a new instrument.  Guess who else was at the Hilton!  A gathering of sales reps for a major pharmaceutical company.  The cost from all that flying, wining and dining is built into the cost of the medical products hospitals and patients buy.

Even at the not-for-profit community hospital I work at, which lacks shareholders seeking profits, administration serves its own ends in ways that drive up costs.  At the beginning of the year employees were informed that due to the economic situation nobody was getting a raise.  Shortly after that, the CEO, the board members (who the CEO answers to) and their spouses all jetted off to a retreat in Hawaii.  That sort of thing doesn’t just happen at AIG.  And again, this “cost of doing business” is covered in the hospital’s fees.  The CEO has a personal friend who is a department manager at the hospital.  Consensus is that this department manager got, and keeps his position despite notorious laziness and incompetence, due to this personal relationship.  Because of his inability to do the job of his predecessor, the CEO gave him permission to hire an assistant manager.  Cronyism adds to costs as well.

So at least some of the inefficiency in American health care has the same causes as the current economic crisis: greed, corruption, and a refusal to acknowledge inconvenient realities.  Who is going to fix it?  The same Congress that accepts large campaign contributions from the very same entities (trial lawyers, pharmaceutical companies, physicians and investors) who have a vested interest in the status quo?  I’m not holding my breath.  I still see no evidence that the American public is as interested in the political forces that affect their day-to-day lives as they are in American Idol.  Sure, there will be a lot of talk and a big show of making changes, but the changes will be minor and end up benefiting (surprise!) those whose money politicians depend on for reelection.  Why do I expect that?  Because that’s what happens every time in recent years when a crisis, real or imagined, is addressed by Washington.  They will increase the spending of borrowed money, which ultimately ends up in the pockets of special interests, without addressing factors that drive up costs, because then they couldn’t justify spending quite as much.

I hope they prove me wrong, but it appears to me that corruption is no longer a part of politics in Washington but its very nature and essence.