Years ago, when I was less flexible, I took up Pilates. My instructor, Jim, a charming chap with an infectious laughter, was a 9/11 truther. I’d egg him on to hear about his conspiracy theories. Jim believed that 9/11 was concocted by Bush and Halliburton so that the U.S. could invade Iraq to capture their oil. He thought that United Flight 93 never took off. Whatever happened after 9/11 became ...

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Halfway through the “Bell Curve,” which is an analysis of differences in intelligence between races, I realized what had been bothering me about Charles Murray’s thesis. It wasn’t the accuracy of his analysis, which concerned me too. It was what he analyzed. The truth, I used to believe, was always beautiful, whether it was what happened in the multiverse at T equals zero or the historical counterfactual if ...

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In 2014, a jury in Massachusetts awarded $16.7 million in damages to the daughter of a Bostonian lady who died from lung cancer at 47 for a missed cancer on a chest X-ray. The verdict reminds me of the words of John Bradford, a heretic who was burned at the stake: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Many radiologists will sympathize with both the patient ...

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If you’re going to indulge in anticipatory medicine, it is best to anticipate those at highest risk. An elegant study by Wald et al in the NEJM shows how precision primary prevention can be done. The researchers screened toddlers, who presented routinely to their general practitioners for vaccinations, for an uncommon, but not rare, familial predisposition to high cholesterol known as heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), in which premature ...

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A popular meme is that the U.S. spends more on health care than other developed nations but has nothing to show for that spending. This is different from saying that the U.S. spends more, but achieves something, but the something it achieves is so little that it isn’t worth the public purse. The latter is difficult to assert because the asserter must then say how little is too little in ...

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Ben Stiller—one of the few comedians on this side of the pond who can make me laugh—said prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing saved his life. I suspect he wasn’t being funny. Stiller had Gleason Grade 7 localized prostate cancer. Is he right? The honest answer is that we don’t know for certain. Before I get granular, we must visit proof, level of proof and burden of proof. The statement, “there’s no ...

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Publishing in the BMJ, Vinay Prasad, an oncologist and health care’s leading evidence-based iconoclast, found that over half of medical reviewers who leave the FDA work for device and pharmaceutical industries. Prasad’s findings created disquiet amongst purists of various stripes. The media was shocked and tried shocking people by showing how shocked it was. The Lown Institute, which has been fighting physician conflict-of-interest ...

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It is the beauty of evidence-based medicine (EBM) that a scientist can at once be a Pope and a Galileo. His transmutation is as effortless as it is discretionary. If you think you’ve met Galileo -- a rebel, a free thinker, a rocker of the establishment -- the following week he is a Pope, castigating detractors, censoring critics, and celebrating uniformity. He changes by a roll of the dice. His ...

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It is selfish of a leader of a nation to drop dead during office. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, died suddenly at 74, apparently from a ruptured aneurysm. His aneurysm, allegedly, had something to do with Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. Shortly after Nehru’s death, Pakistan attacked India. Nehru’s replacement, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died mysteriously in Tashkent two years after Nehru’s death, ...

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To paraphrase Tolstoy, all competence is alike, but every incompetence is incompetence in its own way. Every time I think I’ve seen the horizon of incompetence, I’m dealt a surprise. The sun never sets on incompetence. In health care, incompetence can be found in odd places, such as three recent examples I encountered with third-party payers. Case 1: Downgrading caviar to boiled salmon A patient was referred for a CT angiogram run ...

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