Walking Out Of The Tunnel

After 13 years of repeatedly trying, and repeatedly failing, to make a career as an academic, I have walked away. My failures have not, by and large, been failures of ability. My first attempt at a Bachelor's was rocky, but most of that rockiness was the result of two major episodes of depression that interfered with my ability to get shit done.

When I returned to school for round 2 I did much better, graduating with a GPA of 3.94 and getting acceptances to 3.5 out of the 7 graduate schools I applied to. I won't say I was _happy_ during that time, but I was functional. I was managing. Being in a field I actually enjoyed certainly helped a lot.

Round 3 was grad school. I enrolled in a Master's program with the full intention of transferring to a Ph.D. by the end of the year, but after a scant five months I was once again miserable. Full on panic attacks, everything is horrible, I want to drop out right now miserable. I didn't drop out. I stuck it out and brute forced my way through the Master's, not even stopping to glance at the Ph.D. transfer requirements, but then I walked away. I had no plan for what came next, no inkling whatsoever of what I would do instead. I was daily, sometimes hourly, having to convince myself that this wouldn't all end in disaster and regret. I felt like a failure. Like my Master's wasn't an accomplishment I could be proud of, it was a symbol of me quitting.

I know that when I did that I disappointed a lot of people. My professors, colleagues, parents, and even some friends had all wanted and expected me to continue down that road. I was so smart, so insightful, so good at the kind of critical examination that science requires. I was such an asset to seminars and lab meetings, and people were convinced that I would go far. And to be honest, that was what scared me the most.

I never doubted that I _could_ do a Ph.D., if I chose to. If it was what I wanted, I could do really excellent Ph.D. work, move on to do post-docs all over the world, finally (hopefully) get a real, tenure-track job, get tenure, and be a grown up scientist. Forever. And ever. And ever.

Looking down that path felt like looking down a tunnel, with no windows, no exits, and the light at the end so far off it was barely visible. The air in that tunnel was thick with smoke, suffocating me, and the weird orange glow from those weird orange lamps was flickering and hard to see by.

With every glance down that tunnel the urge to flee grew stronger. For several months I wasn't ready to commit to leaving. I took no off-ramps. But at the same time, I stayed out of the express lane. Sticking to the collectors, hogging the right side of the lane.

Finally, at the last moment, I did it. Applied the brakes, jerked the wheel, blasted through some fallen branches on an underused exit and got the hell out of there. I kept driving. Straight off the road and onto the grass.

And then I stopped. Got out of the car. I played in the field for a while. Sometimes I skipped, sometimes I sat and examined the flowers. Sometimes I walked, staring at the sky. Sometimes I curled in a ball and sobbed. I had no direction and it felt like I was going nowhere. I did no visible work for a long time. But slowly, during that time, I explored. Here I found fertile soil, there some sturdy planks. Slowly, so slowly I almost didn't realize it was happening, my exploration of the soil became planting. My examination of the planks led to some building.

I didn't have that handy picture that comes on the side of my seed packets, and I don't have one of those helpful little diagrams that come with your Ikea furniture. To be honest, I have no idea what the garden will contain when it comes into bloom, or what this house will look like when it's built. But the sprouts and seedlings are plentiful and green, and the structure so far is strong and holds me, and is safe. Sometimes when it rains I get wet. Much wetter than I would in that tunnel. But from here I can see the sky and the grass. I can hear the birds and breathe the air. Feel the ground under my feet. I haven't finished building it yet, but I am home.


Do Something Real for #NotFunnyFacebook

When I heard about the Twitter campaign against Facebook's rape joke pages my first thought was, "come on, Internet, seriously? This is why we can't have nice things!". I mean, don't get me wrong, my generation is the Web 2.0 generation and most of the time I loves me the intertubes, but this is the kind of totally ineffective action that gets the whole internet generation dismissed as irrelevant. #notfunnyfacebook may raise awareness about Facebook's fucked up obscenity standards (rape jokes = hilarious, breastfeeding = BANNED!) in some places, but not among the people whose opinions matter to Facebook.

Because here's the thing. People expect a company to care how their customers feel about their service. But people need to realize that on Facebook we are not the customers, we are the product. And companies really don't care how their product feels about anything. What we need to do is hit Facebook where it hurts: in the advertisers. So here's what I recommend. It's more work than just tweeting a hashtag, but I think it's much more likely to be effective.

Step 1:
- Go to one of these pages of rape jokes. They can be hard to find because most articles about them decline (understandably) to link to them. I've so far found two, here and here. (It should go without saying, but trigger warning for sexual violence on those two pages.)

Step 2:
- Make sure you can see the ads. If you use AdBlocker Plus like I do, you need to set it to "disable everywhere" and reload the page.

Step 3:
- Hover your mouse over an ad and a little blue/grey x will appear in the top right corner. Click it.

Step 4:
- A drop down menu will appear with two options. Select "Hide all ads from [this provider]". Then Facebook will ask you why. Select "Other" and type "Supports a page that endorses rape".

Step 5:
- repeat steps 3 and 4 until all the ads on that page are hidden. Then reload the page and go back to step 3.

I don't know for sure if this will work. I don't know if anyone reads the comments when you block an ad for "Other" reasons. But I do know this: The only thing, and I mean ONLY thing, Facebook cares about is their advertisers. And if enough people start to do this, in a regular and sustained way, it should cause a blip in either Facebook's or the advertisers' analytics and someone might pay attention.

Tweeting a hashtag is great, but it's only ever step one. To be effective, we need to move on to step two.


The Danger of Smart Algorithms

The question came up today, why are marginal effects, in multi-variable statistics, called marginal? So I googled the phrase (without quotes) "etymology marginal effect regression".

The second hit, highlighting in the original result, was
constant forces the regression line to pass through the origin! ... linear specifications (of


Summer means time for a drink

Because this is Southern Ontario, and we can go from rainy and miserably cold to sunny and miserably hot in 48 hours, it's all of a sudden time for my awesome and refreshing ginger lemonade. It's so easy it's kind of silly:


Proportions are all approximate, as are cooking times. Feel free to tinker.

I took a 2" piece of ginger and grated it directly into a pot. It was a smallish saucepan, holding 2.5 quarts (or so it says on the bottom). Any stringy bits or chunks that got too small to grate just went straight into the pot too. Don't be picky. I filled the pot about 2/3 - 3/4 with water and let it boil, uncovered, for about half an hour or so. When I got tired of supervising it I turned it down to low, and eventually all the way off, but I let the ginger sit in the hot water for a total of about 1.5 - 2 hours while we had dinner and stuff.

Strain the ginger water into a jar or other good storage container. I did this by putting a coffee filter in a funnel, and then pouring the ginger water through it. It takes for fucking ever though, so you might want to use a tea strainer or something. Put the jar in the fridge for when you want to make ginger lemonade.

To actually make the drink, you basically make regular lemonade, but use the ginger water instead of plain water. For two people I use about 1.5 tsp sugar, the juice of one lemon, and enough ginger water to make up the volume of 1.5 cups. I take two smallish glasses, fill them with ice, and pour the stirred mixture over the ice. If you want to have booze in yours, pour it over the ice before adding the lemonade. Dave had his with a shot of Screech rum, which combination I can't recommend but he seemed to like it. I like mine with a half a shot of Bushmill's.

ginger lemonade


December 6, 1989

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Anne St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz


This is what I'm talking about

The Hyperbole and a Half girl is me. I mean, except for all the ways in which she is not me, she's totally me.


No Offense

Recently a girl in my new lab said to me, "you can tell me if you find my jokes offensive. I know I tend to joke about a lot of crazy stuff, so you should tell me if it bothers you." She had just made a slightly off-colour (and not very funny) joke. Doesn't matter what it was.

I smiled blandly at her and returned to the actual conversation. At the time I thought that I was deciding not to say anything about her somewhat offensive joke because I didn't want to take the time to explain that the reason I found the joke offensive was not the reason she thought someone might find it offensive. Like explaining to someone that when they call your shirt "gay" you aren't offended because they didn't like your shirt. It wasn't that, but it was somewhat analogous. And I just didn't want to get into it.

I mean, it's true. I didn't want to get into that with her. But as I let more and more stupid little things from her slide, and I had absolutely no interest in mentioning any of them, I realized there was more going on. So here's the thing.

It's not about my feelings. First of all, my feelings don't get particularly hurt when someone makes derogatory remarks about a group I'm a member of. It's pretty simple: if someone is that much of a bigot then their opinion doesn't matter to me, and if their opinion doesn't matter, then nothing they say can hurt me. Really. My primary emotional response is boredom. But that's an aside, and here's the more important point: when it comes to my relationships, I don't want someone to refrain from making certain jokes or using certain language because I find it offensive. I want them to refrain from doing those things because *they* find it offensive. I want them to have thought critically about the assumptions that underlie their jokes and about the effect their language has on others. And if they are someone who does not do that kind of thinking, well, I want them to wear that fact on their sleeve.

Just one thing I do have to get off my chest, though: If you want to have a career studying sexually transmitted infections, then by the time you're in grad school you should be able to talk about sex without needing to crack terrible jokes to assuage your discomfort. Seriously.


Porridge Breakfast

I've settled on a new breakfast. For a while I was sort of lost on the breakfast front, after musli got boring and I didn't want to go back to the very expensive smoothies. I started buying regular cereal, but that was insufficiently nutritious on the fat and protein front, and pretty boring besides. I'm not sure what else I did. Probably had eggs a little more often than I should have, occasional toast and peanut butter, although I don't really like those things. Anyway, inspired by my dad and sister, I've come up with an awesome new breakfast: Porridge with Treats and Goodness!

Porridge with Treats and Goodness is my delicious answer to the nastiness that is oatmeal. God, I've always hated oatmeal. Cooked with milk it's gluey and just way too milky, cooked with water it tastes like grass. There's just nothing good about oatmeal. You have to be careful when making this porridge that it doesn't end up tasting like oatmeal. Here's how you make Porridge with Treats and Goodness.

Start with a multigrain hot cereal. The grains should be rolled, not cut, but not quick-cooking either. This is important because cut grains give a gluey texture and quick-cooking oats just turn to mush. I generally buy either Country Choice Multigrain Hot Cereal or Bob's Red Mill 5 Grain Rolled Cereal. These cereals both have fairly thick-rolled grains, which will provide the proper texture.

The next vital thing is to undercook the porridge. If you use the amount of water and cooking time recommended on the box, you will end up with mush. You don't want mush. Or, at least, *I* don't want mush. So.

Pour a generous half cup of of dry cereal into a bowl and add just under a third of a cup of water. The water should just be visible peaking up around the edges of the cereal, but certainly not be covering it. This way you ensure that the individual grains will still be discrete objects after cooking, and the whole dish with have a nice, chewy, non-gooey texture. Now it's time for the Treats and Goodness.

Before cooking, add

  1. about a third of a cup of frozen blueberries.

    If you don't have frozen fruit you can skip this step, but then you might should add a little more water. Cover the bowl with a saucer and microwave for two minutes. Once the porridge is cooked,
  2. add a handful of walnuts
  3. and one sliced banana

Feel free to replace or supplement the above with other fruits, nuts, seeds, etc. as you desire, but keep in mind that acidic fruit like strawberries1 will curdle the milk you're adding later. Not necessarily the end of the world, but you should be aware.

Over the above, drizzle
  1. a couple teaspoons, maybe a tablespoon, of extra virgin olive oil and
  2. an equal amount of maple syrup.

    Cover the whole kit & caboodle with
  3. a small amount of milk (maybe a third of a cup)
and mix with your spoon. It will be delicious.

1. Not actually berries. Strawberries are technically swollen receptacles.


Should I start doing weeks in review again?

I was first doing weeks in review in order to go over my school work. It was effectively a study tool. Now that I'm finished all the requirements for my B.Sc. (hey, did I mention I'm FINISHED ALL THE REQUIREMENTS FOR MY B. SC.?), and I'm sort of taking the summer off before starting grad school next year, I'm thinking maybe I should review my weeks in order to make sure I do *something* this summer.

My first week after a semester ends is always a wash, and this one was no exception. Monday was my last day of school. I wrote an exam, had an extremely unpleasant conversation with my supervisor, where I told him I was too burned out to work on a research project this summer, and then had a nice dinner out with my family to celebrate having finished all the requirements for my B. Sc. (did I mention that?). Tuesday through Friday I mostly slept. I did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, did a bit of shopping, and updated and re-jailbroke an old iPhone so I could install my new alarm clock on it, but I didn't get out of bed before noon once. It's been nice, but I'm starting to get bored. Next week is shaping up to be a little more exciting, but I'll tell you about it then. For now I have to pack, buy bus tickets, and mail off my NSERC acceptance form.


Since it was almost midnight, and I had nothing better to do...

I mean, the bed was stripped anyway, from when I was doing laundry earlier, and I did have to fold all the dry clothes that were piled on top of it. So I decided to do all the stuff I had been putting off because it would have involved stripping the bed. First we finished folding all the dry laundry and putting it away. Then I picked up all the dirty clothes off the bedroom floor and put them in the hamper. Oh look, it's full again.

Then we stood the mattress and box spring on their ends. This is more complicated than it sounds, because the mattress and box spring are together encased in a single allergen-barrier mattress cover, so they have to be moved as a single unit, but you can't use the cover as a handle because it will probably rip. So. Stood the mattress cover and box spring on end to get them out from under the ceiling fan. Then, while Dave held them so they wouldn't tip over, I set up the ladder in the middle of the bed frame (on the floor) and got an old shirt out of the rag pile. I tore pieces off the shirt and used them to remove the truly astonishing caterpillars of dust from the ceiling fan. I may have sneezed a couple times. Got rid of the dirty rags, folded up the ladder, vacuumed under the bed (since I was there), and prepared to put the mattress/box spring back on the frame. Again complicated, this time also because we wanted to make sure the slack in the mattress cover (it's a big mattress cover) didn't end up all trapped on the underside of the box spring. We needed it available so we can tuck sheets under the mattress. Anyway, we got the bed put back together and tucked the cover slack between the mattress and box spring. Then I vacuumed the top of the mattress to get rid of any bits of whatever it may have picked up in its travels. Then we put fitted sheet and top sheet on the bed, vacuumed the pillows and blanket and finished making the bed. To look around my bedroom, you would never guess two people just spent two hours cleaning in it: there's still crap everywhere and the rest of the floor is decidedly unvacuumed, but I'm going to sleep a little more comfortably now that I'm on clean sheets and not worrying that enormous, nasty, dust-worms are going to fall of the fan and rain down upon my head as I sleep.

So that's good.


Damn Buggers

Spent less than two hours at the Centre for Vector Biology yesterday, so of course I now have a mosquito bite in the middle of February.


New Template

A bunch of stuff is missing from the sidebar now, and I don't know if/when I'll have time to fix it, but at least commenting is enabled again. Unfortunately I don't have time to figure out how to import the old haloscan comments. I still have them all in a file on my hard drive, so if anyone knows a quick and easy way, please let me know, but for now we're starting from scratch.


My time is measured in assignments

For all that I've been in school basically my whole life, I've never really measured time like this. Certainly for the past three years of doing this biology degree I measured my time in the normal units: days, weeks, months, occasionally semesters. But now that I'm in my last semester I find my time is measured in assignments:

Am I done being an undergrad yet? No, I still have that presentation for Maydianne's class.

Will I be done after that? No, then I have two presentations for Mark's class.

So, if I do that can I stop? No, then I have to write a paper for the Plagues course.

And then will I be done? Uh uh, then I have to write mock grant proposals for both Maydianne and Mark.

Oh, well will I be done after that? Nope, I have to write up my research project.

And then I'll be done? Well, no I still have to present my research project.

And then? Well, then I'll be done with classes, but don't get too excited because I still have to spend four months hauling ass out to my stupid horrible no good very bad suburban campus for a research project. Pretend it's still undergrad or I won't be able to make myself do it.

And then? And then I'm done.


I have no idea what week it is

Seriously. Between funding applications, grad school applications, actual school work, and stressing about the fact that I'm not doing anything to prepare for the GRE's (yes, plural, general and subject), blogging just isn't happening. Maybe next semester. Or next summer. Or once I've finished my Ph.D., found a job, got tenure, and am nearing retirement. Bah.


Fall '09: Week 1 in Review

Week 1 was a short week. Technically classes started on Thursday, but I went in Wednesday to talk to my new supervisor about what my research project was going to be about, and do various other administrative things.

So, here's the review:

Supervised study

  • Read the grant proposal for the project I'll be working on (invasion mechanisms of Salmonella
  • Found out which aspect I'll be working on
  • Signed and turned in all necessary forms and got approved for the course
  • Got a look at the confocal microscope I'll be working on. Confocal microscopes are really cool. You take a cell that has some proteins that have been marked with fluorescent markers, and it uses a laser to excite the markers in thin slices covering the whole cell, and then it uses the slices to build a 3-D image that you can then look at. *Very* exciting.
  • Was given two papers to read. Read the first and most of the second.

Animal Development
  • Going to be looking at morphological and molecular aspects of development
  • Prof acts like a teenybopper, anthropomorphises and makes cutesy statements about how chicks are easy model organisms for developments, "but I hope there aren't too many 'easy chicks' in here!"
  • Some history of the field
  • 250 people in this class, taught in one of the less comfortable auditoriums
  • Pretty sure I'm going to drop this one

Molecular Aspects of Plant Development
  • Prof is actually a grown-up, and expects us to be
  • About 30 people in the class
  • Learned about tools to track molecular events in cell at three levels:
    • Gene expression: take the promoter for the gene of interest, put a marker after it instead of the gene, put that complex in a vector and transfect the cell, scan for the marker. Marker is something that will fluoresce, like GFP, or GUS, which has an easy histochemical assay. Need to find out what "histochemical" means.
    • mRNA localization: take tissue, fix it in an RNA-preserving fixative, make labeled probes for the mRNA in question, marinate, wash, scan. Probes show up where the mRNA is.
    • Protein localization: There are two ways to do this.
      1. Immunolocalization: Fix tissue, make antibodies for the protein in question, marinate, wash. Then take other antibodies that bind to the conserved section of teh first antibodies and are tagged. Marinate, wash, scan. The tagged antibodies will show up where the protein is.
      2. Tagging: take the promoter/gene complex for the gene in question, stick the gene for a marker like GFP or GUS after it. Transfect the cell, scan for the marker. The marker will be attached to the protein and will show you where the protein is (unless the marker has interfered with folding or function of the protein).
  • Was assigned two papers for next class. Total of 33 pages of reading. Yeep!

And that's all the classes for this week. Because it was a short week I didn't have any classes for Community Ecology and Evolutionary Biology or Intro to Health Studies: Plagues and Peoples. I'll tell you all about it next week.

I'm also devising some good systems for organizing my life. I started a new major knitting project to bring to class with me, and I've realized that I'm going to be doing a buttload of article-reading this semester, and that's just as easy to do on a treadmill as at a desk, so maybe I'll spend less time sitting. We'll see.


No helicopters in my stomach

Just inflammation. Losec 20mg od for 45 days.


Something You Can Do

Via Bitch, PhD, we see that anti-choice organization Operation Rescue will holding protests outside abortion clinics all over the US and in a few Canadian cities for 40 days starting /september 23rd. You can check their website to see if a clinic in your area is being targeted, and if so, get in touch with them and ask how you can help.

Please do contact the clinic first, and don't just show up to yell at the protesters. The point here is to help protect the clinic's staff and patients from harassment, not to make life just outside their doors even more noisy and tense.


Four Months and Two Days Early, the Message is the Same

George Sodini was certainly disturbed. Healthy, well-adjusted people don't go into fitness clubs and shoot up aerobics classes. Nor do they enter universities and shoot students sitting in class and walking in the halls. Marc Lépine was also crazy. But to therefore conclude that nothing about society can be learned from their actions, that nothing can be generalized from their self-stated motivations, is preposterous.

It is possible, even likely, that in a society free of patriarchy, Sodini and Lépine would still have gone on murderous rampages. These two men both felt they had failed in some aspect of their lives. For Sodini it was sex and romance, for Lépine the failure was more general, I think. He was rejected by the army, had difficulty making friends, and generally wasn't happy with his life. It seems likely to me that these failures would still have happened in a patriarchy-free society. Sodini and Lépine both blamed others for their failures, not taking any responsibility on themselves. This strikes me as equally likely to have been true even in a patriarchy-free society.

What strikes me as considerably less likely is that in an egalitarian society, they would have chosen to blame for their failures, and therefore kill, the same groups of people they did.

Even lunatics need context from which to draw their ideas. Sodini didn't shoot up an aerobics class, he shot up a women's aerobics class. Lépine didn't kill students, he killed female students. And the stories they told are familiar as hell. Any woman trying to make headway in a male-dominated field, hell, anyone with regular social contact with a large number of men has heard these stories before. Amanda Marcotte gets it exactly right when she says that women are put down, beaten, or killed for being insufficiently compliant. From refusing to be sexually available to a man to daring to succeed where a man has failed, the crime for which women are continually punished is that of acting like competent, self-reliant, independent adults, and it is exactly this behaviour that George Sodini and Marc Lépine blamed their failures on. It is for these reasons that Sodini and Lépine killed women and not some other group.

Contrary to what Naomi Lakritz seems to think in the above-linked article, I am not blaming men (all men or any particular men, or men as a group) for Sodini and Lépine's behaviour. I don't believe that all men have a little Marc Lépine in them, or that men as a class can be hanged on George Sodini's actions. What I do believe is that the choices these men made were not conceived in a vacuum. Like the choices many other men make, to beat or rape their wives and girlfriends, to mistreat the women in their office, to pass over their female employees for promotion, and to dismiss their female friends in conversation, Sodini and Lépine's choices of who to kill are symptoms of a common cause. Of attitudes prevalent in our society, and many other societies, about how women are or should be versus how men are or should be. These attitudes are held and perpetuated by both men and women and it's less a question of blame than it is one of effect and remedy.

In effect, if not intention, these massacres are acts of terrorism against women. That they were killing women because they were women means that I, and all the other women who weren't in those rooms, am still alive only by an accident of time and place. That knowledge breeds fear. It disinclines women to do things, go places, participate fully in society.

So what's the remedy? I'm not sure. But I would say that, contrary to what Ms. Lakritz would like, the first step is talking about it.


Beware the Spinal Trap

Via Pharyngula, Simon Singh's original supposedly-libelous article:

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results - and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that "99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae". In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer's first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying - even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: "Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck."

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.


Since Facebook is a Little Confused about Privacy

You need to opt out of them using your picture in ads. Carl Zimmer explains how:

Facebook lets 3rd party advertisers use your posted photos without your permission. To opt out: Click on SETTINGS (located on top of page in blue bar, next to logout); Select PRIVACY SETTINGS; Select NEWS FEEDS and WALL; Select the TAB that reads Facebook Ads. There will be a drop down box; Select NO ONE. Save your changes & then pass this on. [Thanks to Virginia Postrel]

NB: I use AdBlock Plus and I needed to temporarily disable it in order to see the drop-down menu.

Via Greg Laden