Friday, December 5, 2003
1. PUBLIC TELEVISION FUND RAISING: OPERATORS ARE STANDING BY.
To raise the money it takes to bring us intelligent, commercial-free programs, PBS stations resort to Pledge Week. It works like this: the quality programs we normally enjoy are replaced with sleazy infomercials delivered by unscrupulous "operators" like health guru Deepak Chopra, M.D. (WN
9 Oct 98). Chopra promotes a brand of spiritual healing that he says is confirmed by modern quantum theory. His 1993 book, "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old" topped the best-seller lists for weeks. His medical advice, however, comes straight out of ayurveda, ancient Hindu medicine that is 3,000 years older than quantum mechanics. On Monday, Chopra had a two-hour PBS special, "The Soul of Healing," in which he explained how you can "invoke your inner pharmacy." Does it work? Trust me, after just a few minutes of Chopra, your inner pharmacy will deliver a massive dose of road-rage hormones. It's really a cunning Pledge Week message: See how bad television would be if there was no PBS?
2. SPACED OUT: IS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION MOONING THE CHINESE?
There has been a rumor circulating for several weeks that a White House directive is being prepared that will launch NASA back to the Moon. Why now? Does the world's dominant space power feel it must keep up with China? (WN
17 Oct 03) According to a front-page story in today's Washington Post, a return of astronauts to the Moon is just one of the "big ideas" being considered by the Bush administration to capture public imagination in 2004. You recall that in 1989, on the 20th anniversary of the Moon landing, another Bush stood on the steps of the Air and Space Museum and called for a return to the Moon as part of a mission to Mars. But while scientists eagerly await results from two robots on their way to Mars, the Moon arouses little scientific interest.
3. ECHINACEA: IT FLUNKS AMID INDICATIONS OF A BAD FLU SEASON.
The most important of all medical discoveries is not antibiotics, or immunization; it is the randomized double-blind test, by means of which we find out what works and what doesn't. Among the many alternative therapies, herbal medications would seem to be the most promising. Until about 50 years ago, pharmacology depended almost entirely on the empiricism of the herbalist. Angiosperms in particular, contain bio-active chemicals in their leaves, bark and flowers. The task has been to identify the active substance, purify it, synthesize it, and then test it. Herbal therapists, however, believe this process weakens the effect. Echinacea is the most popular herbal for colds and flu, with annual sales of more than $300M. But in a study at the University of Washington, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Echinacea extract was no more effective than a placebo.
Some scientists regard herbs as simply dilute drugs, but so far, controlled studies of herbal therapies have been disappointing.