Monthly Archive for May, 2010

Coping with Large Oil Spills

Fabius Maximus | May 17, 2010

This blog post,  About the long term effect of giant oil spills, says that past large oil spill have had few long-term effects. It provides a bit of  history about  oil spills saying, “Hundreds of tankers and oilers were sunk during WWII — 333 identified in the Pacific.  Many burned or spilled their oil when sunk.  Many remain on the seabed still loaded with crude oil or oil products.”

Also discussed is IXTOC I, a well blowout that  occured in 1979,  which spilled between 139 to 428 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The blog provides links  to several documents about  IXTOC I  including a 1990 OTA background paper, Coping with an Oiled Sea, which lists  it as the largest oil spill since 1967.

OTA had been asked to study the issue in response to the 1989 Exon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.  In the foreword of the 1990 paper OTA Director, John H. Gibbons, says:

Cleaning up a discharge of millions of gallons of oil at sea under even moderate environmental conditions is an extraordinary problem. Current national capabilities to respond effectively to such an accident are marginal at best. OTA’s analysis shows that improvements could be made, and that those offering the greatest benefits would not require technological breakthroughs –just good engineering design and testing, skilled maintenance and training, timely access to and availability of the most appropriate and substantial systems, and the means to make rapid, informed decisions. One must understand, however, that even the best national response system will have inherent practical limitations that will hinder spill response efforts for catastrophic events– sometimes to a major extent. For that reason it is important to pay at least equal attention to preventive measures as to response systems. In this area, the proverbial ounce of prevention is worth many, many pounds of cure.

How Scientific is Modern Medicine?

Dana Ullman | Huffington Post | April 20, 2010

Scientific justification for medical treatments  is an ideal, or perhaps a marketing tool,  not a reality, according to this blog:

Doctors like to point to the “impressive” efficacy of their treatments in real serious diseases, like cancer, and doctors (and drug companies) are emphatic about asserting that anyone or any company that says (or even suggests) that they have a treatment that might help people with cancer are “quacks.” However, do they maintain this same standard when evaluating their own treatments?

The British Medical Journal and a report by OTA found little evidence to support common medical treatments, according to the blog.

The OTA report referred to was “Assessing the Efficacy and Safety of Medical Technologies” (1978). One  statement from that report has been quoted in many publications:  “It has been estimated that only 10 to 20 percent of all procedures currently used in medical practice have been shown to be efficacious by controlled trial”.  However, the last few words of that quote are often omitted.

In the report OTA points out that modern methods complement the older techniques of evaluating  medical technologies:

Traditionally, clinical experience, based on informal estimation techniques, has been the most important. Other techniques, such as epidemiological studies, formal consensus development,and randomized controlled clinical trials, however, are being used increasingly. The last technique, especially, has gained prominence (in the past 20 years) as a tool for assessing efficacy and safety.

OTA wasn’t asking  that treatments by “quacks”  be held to the same low standard as more traditional doctoring.  Their emphasis was on getting better data overall.  In the report, OTA says:

Given the shortcomings in current assessment systems, the examples of technologies that entered widespread use and were shown later to be inefficacious or unsafe, and the large numbers of inadequately assessed current and emerging technologies, improvements are critically needed in the information base regarding safety and efficacy and the processes for its generation.