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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Medical Hypotheses's far-out ideas

The journal (right) is almost certainly the strangest, most unpredictable medical journal in existence. (Closely followed by the ever-fascinating .)

Their recently published January-February 2008 contains some real bafflers.

The issue's , "Crick’s gossip test and Watson’s boredom principle: A pseudo-mathematical analysis of effort in scientific research," by editor-in-chief Bruce G Charlton, reports a
"bogus, but superficially-impressive" equation composed of "phony-variables":

Percentage likelihood of career success CS=(CP/G)–BQ×PoS×PS

where CP is the time spent gossiping about current project; G is the time spent gossiping about favourite topic; BQ is percentage of boring activities in CP; PoS is probability of solution of the problem; and PS is the percentage professional status of that branch of science as reflected in the proportionate funding, journal impact factors, number of jobs compared with the trendiest area.
And if that's not crazy enough for you, two Spanish researchers the correlation between the rates of mental illness and sunspots, based on data collected from Canada, the US and the UK.
In a hand, one can appreciate that the partial trends for insane person rate of Canada, USA and Ireland and the partial trend for group sunspot number are very similar during the period 1910–1960. However, the partial trend for insane person rate of England and Wales during the same period is very different (and it is decreasing in fact although we must point out a jump in the series around 1915). On the other hand, the partial trend for the group sunspot number during the period 1837–1910 was decreasing while the partial trend for insane person rate in all geographical sites was increasing.
Seems to me their hypothesis was wrong. But their assessment is more equivocal:
This result suggests that the mechanism that could relates [sic] the solar activity with mental illness is very complex and non-linear in the physical sense.
Another compelling paper was recently published online ahead of print. The abstract of "," by an American molecular radiobiologist, is worth reading in full:
Depression is a debilitating mood disorder that is among the top causes of disability worldwide. It can be characterized by a set of somatic, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, one of which is a high risk of suicide. This work presents a hypothesis that depression may be caused by the convergence of two factors: (A) A lifestyle that lacks certain physiological stressors that have been experienced by primates through millions of years of evolution, such as brief changes in body temperature (e.g. cold swim), and this lack of “thermal exercise” may cause inadequate functioning of the brain. (B) Genetic makeup that predisposes an individual to be affected by the above condition more seriously than other people.

To test the hypothesis, an approach to treating depression is proposed that consists of adapted cold showers (20 °C, 2–3 min, preceded by a 5-min gradual adaptation to make the procedure less shocking) performed once or twice daily. The proposed duration of treatment is several weeks to several months.

The following evidence appears to support the hypothesis: Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect. Practical testing by a statistically insignificant number of people, who did not have sufficient symptoms to be diagnosed with depression, showed that the cold hydrotherapy can relieve depressive symptoms rather effectively. The therapy was also found to have a significant analgesic effect and it does not appear to have noticeable side effects or cause dependence. In conclusion, wider and more rigorous studies would be needed to test the validity of the hypothesis.
Of course, these psuedo-studies aren't meant to be taken entirely seriously. But, as I wrote in early September, -- particularly when articles appear that purport to find links between Down syndrome patients and Asians.

Canada has some responsibility, for better or worse, for the genesis of Medical Hypotheses, as it turns out. The journal's founder, David F Horrobin, who is described as "an outspoken critic of the scientific process," began his crusade against the peer-review system in 1975 when he was a researcher and professor at the University of Montreal.

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