I wanted to take a moment to mention some interesting posts around Blogdom that readers may not have seen. In a response to the news on secretin for autism (see my post below), Dwight Meredith writes on what it was like at its peak of interest:
Human secretin, swine secretin, herbal secretin (which as far as I can tell is an oxymoron) and synthetic secretin were all hawked relentlessly to the parents of autistic children. The price of secretin skyrocketed. People were paying $2,000 for an amount of secretin that before the buzz had cost about $30. It is not an exaggeration to say that parents were mortgaging their homes to purchase secretin for their kids. We now know that a sugar pill would have been equally effective.
Please note that all of that buzz was generated by the fact that a few autistic children had improved after being given secretin for digestive problems. The autism community could not wait for double blind and placebo tested trials. We wanted our miracle and we wanted it now.
This is a man who writes from personal experience, I should note. And I can understand the desperation (well, as much as anyone in my position can - I have two small children, neither of whom have - thus far - shown any neurological abnormalities.) What I have trouble imagining, though, is what goes through the mind of someone who peddles "herbal secretin" to parents who are begging for something to help their autistic child.
Herbal secretin? They didn't even bother making it sound like anything but a heartless scam. Figured the customer base would be too desperate to care, I suppose. I'm ashamed to be in the same phylum with creatures who would do something like this.
There's a larger point about the wait for double-blinded trials, too, of course, which I should save for a longer post. The short form is that I can see the point that some people make, that it would be better to require safety (Phase I) trials, then stand back and let efficacy be sorted out in the marketplace. (SMU's Steve Postrel and I had a long e-mail exchange on that subject a year or so ago.) But then I hear about this sort of thing, and start to think that this is one of those sensible ideas that would only work on some other species than humans.
The other post I wanted to mention is over at Colby Cosh's site. Talking about medical progress, he hits on the idea of looking at the causes of death in the records of ballplayers from the old days, who were in their physical prime. It's an alarming list, and most of the things on it are, fortunately, in the process of disappearing from the world. And good riddance. As Cosh says: "I don't know how anybody kept from just going insane before antibiotics existed, with death lurking around every corner."
One final note - I've forgotten to mention that Charles Murtaugh is back blogging again. There's lots of good new stuff; just start at the top and work your way down.