Thursday, March 24, 2005

Science + Politics = Nonsense

The Instapundit has put together an impressive compendium of articles regarding the science of the Terri Schiavo case. I use the term "science" here reservedly. Science is the process of finding out the truth, while what we have here is a bunch of people using selective facts to justify their positions. I think that is referred to as sophistry, but it doesn't quite seem to fit. Case in point of sophistry is the email Prof. Reynolds received from a former nurse:

UPDATE: Reader Jean Tuttle emails: "Mr. Reynolds, I worked as a nurse in ICUs and ERs. I have no idea what kind of brain damage Mrs. Schiavo has ,but I find it hard to believe her EEG is flat.The patients I saw with flat EEGs couldn't breathe on their own, couldn't move or make any sound. As I said before I don't have any idea the amount of brain damage Mrs. Schiavo has, but I would bet the EEG isn"t flat. I think there is so much disinformation coming out of both sides of this ,that it is impossible to know what the facts are."

This strikes me like an English major making a big point in ridiculing someone's grammar. An EEG uses several leads, recording the readings in a polygraphic form. The multiple lines of output allow for the simultaneous analysis of different structures of the brain. While obviously Terri's EEG would not be completely flat as the brain stem would still generate waves as it regulated heart rate and respiration, I think that most people would be satisfied to say that Terri's EEG is flat when it comes to the important structures that made Terri, Terri.

Getting back to the Instapundit compendium, the first article the professor links to is a statement from the American Council on Science and Health.
While the organization tried to stay out of the debate, it felt it necessary to refute several points made by scientists claiming that Terri might just recover:

Yesterday, there was another public challenge to Ms. Schiavo's well-established diagnosis: Florida governor Jeb Bush announced that a "very renowned neurologist," Dr. William Cheshire, had concluded that Terri had been misdiagnosed and that she was really only in a state of "minimal consciousness" rather than a persistent vegetative state. He used this "new diagnosis" to argue that "this new information raises serious concerns and warrants immediate action."

As it turns out, Dr. Cheshire is not "renowned" as a neurologist -- his limited publications focus on areas including headache pain and his opposition to stem cell research. Dr. Cheshire never conducted a physical examination of Ms. Schiavo, nor did he do neurological tests. Dr. Cheshire is director of biotech ethics at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a nonprofit group founded by "more than a dozen leading Christian bioethicists." Everyone is free to be guided by a personal agenda -- and it is clear that Dr. Cheshire has his.

Interesting coming from the side that claims that Terri's due process has been violated by not performing every test under the sun, to have a doctor make a diagnosis without actually dealing with the patient. Ideology is not information, one can not make scientific statements upon it.

Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, author of the piece, pulls no punches in the final paragraph:

Let's call tripe when tripe is served. All of us are entitled to our own personal views on the Schiavo case, what her fate should be, and who should make decisions for her. But all of us should be united in rejecting politically-generated junk science.

Tripe marinated in snake oil.

1 comment:

jinnderella said...

Gamer, what a good post! I am completely amazed at the urban legendry that has sprung up about poor terri.
And it is amazing that board certified neurologists opinions can be turned to "unsubstantiated tripe" and "junk science" by their underlying affiliations. I had a terri supporter tell me Dr. Quill's piece in the New England Journal of Medicine was worthless because Quill is a "right-to-die" advocate. We just saw Dr. Cheshire get pilloried by the other side. I've seen neurologists that terri has lost anything from 35% to 80% of her cortex, it is incomprehensible.

Maybe if terri cannot be preserved legally, or out of compassion and loving-kindness (i love that word!) she could be preserved for science-- maybe there is enough cortical rind left for therapy to benefit her-- maybe the fMRI will show areas of her remaining brain light up like birthday candles-- i want to know! What if there is still a person in there, someone that could come back and tell us tales, not by speaking but by living.