Wednesday 9 January 2013

Certainty: win one - lose one

I had a great day yesterday meeting my two lecture classes.  First classes was Human Physiology for 1st Year Diploma for Pharamacy Technician N=30.   Pharmacy Tech is sometimes what you do if you don't get enough points on leaving school to train to be a pharmacist.  Sometimes it's years since you left school but this might be a way of securing employment.  Drugs (both illegal and legal) is a growth industry in our country but formal quals are often required to sell the latter. 
I thought I'd pep up the pharmacists with some stories about alert medicos seeing connexions and improving the human condition.  Pharmacists get to see a substantive chunk of their community, some sick, some buying sun-screen or condoms. The explicit lesson in the stories was that while dispensing drugs and cosmetics they might notice that the people who bought iron supplements also seemed disproportionately to need anti-biotics (or Lem-sip or Beecham's Powder). 
The best story was about William McBride who noticed that the mothers of children with dysmelia (wrong limbs) seemed to have consumed more Thalidomide than the mothers of normally-developed kids.  Widukind Lenz in Germany was similarly alert but us Anglophones haven't heard of him.  So McBride was hailed as a saviour.  You need a rather well-developed sense of inner certainty - and good statistics - to push a project through from anecdote to data, to analysis, to publication.  20 years later, in 1981, he turned this certainty on another anti-nausea drug Debendox claiming that it too caused birth defects.  Unfortunately, he fabricated part of his data to support the inner certainty and was struck off the Register - although re-instated in 1998.

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