Dr Caroline Leaf – The mystery of he said/she said is no longer a mystery

This weeks edition of New Scientist magazine carried an article entitled “Scans prove there’s no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain” [1].  The article was inspired by a journal article published in the PNAS last month [2], which reviewed the scans of 1400 different people to see if there were specific differences in the neuroanatomy of the brains of men and women (i.e., are there ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains, or are the commonly accepted male/female differences just a myth, or a cultural, not biological phenomenon?)

According to the article, there is an “extensive overlap between the distributions of females and males for all gray matter, white matter, and connections assessed. Moreover, analyses of internal consistency reveal that brains with features that are consistently at one end of the ‘maleness-femaleness’ continuum are rare. Rather, most brains are comprised of unique ‘mosaics’ of features.” [2]

So essentially, there’s no strong biological basis for gender differences after all.  “This means that, averaged across many people, sex differences in brain structure do exist, but an individual brain is likely to be just that: individual, with a mix of features. ‘There are not two types of brain,’ says Joel.” [1]

This news is a blow to one of Dr Leaf’s less renowned books, “Who switched off your brain? Solving the mystery of he said/she said” [3].

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and a self-titled cognitive neuroscientist.  Her ‘he said/she said’ book is based on the idea that there are definitive characteristics of the male and female brain which define each gender.  From her conclusion on page 211,

“Men and women are different.  Both the physical anatomy and functional strategy of our brains are different.  We can’t attribute this to social engineering, cultural norms or our up-bringing.  We’ve been created different – it’s in our fundamental design.  Our parents, our communities, and the cultural context of our childhood and adolescence certainly have a prominent developmental role in each of our lives.  But your brain has been fashioned in a specific way that shapes your ‘true you’ long before any of these other factors have had the opportunity to exercise their influence on you.”

As a quick aside, this quote shows the confusion in Dr Leaf’s teaching.  As I’ve discussed before in other blogs, Dr Leaf contradicts herself by claiming that our brain determines our gifts and our behaviours in some books (like ‘He said/she said’ and ‘The gift in you’) but then claims that our thought life controls our brains and our physical reality in the rest of her teaching.  So which is it?

But this quote also sounds the death knell for her book, in light of the recent scientific evidence to the contrary.  Which is a shame, since out of all of her books, this one initially seemed the most scientifically robust.

Even though the book is based on a now defunct theory, I wonder if the thrust of her book still holds true to a point.  We’ve all been created to be different, and we should celebrate those differences and how they complement other people around us.  It just so happens that those differences aren’t inherent to our gender, but to us as individuals, uniquely designed by God “for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

So, yes, the mystery of he said/she said has been solved, but not quite as Dr Leaf envisaged.

References

[1]        Hamzelou J. Scans prove there’s no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain. New Scientist. 2015 Dec 5.
[2]        Joel D, Berman Z, Tavor I, et al. Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2015 Nov 30.
[3]        Leaf CM. Who swithced off your brain: Solving the mystery of he said/she said. Texas, USA: Inprov, Ltd, 2011.

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Needles of Death

Acupuncture caused womans heart to implode.

A woman in the prime of her adult life had that life ripped away by acupuncture, a known deadly complementary therapy.  Worse, though, is that acupuncture therapists don’t warn of these potentially fatal outcomes or actively hide them.

Ernst(1) documents two cases of healthy women who have had their lives torn away from them as murderous acupuncture needles were inserted into their vital chest organs causing them to instantly fail.  Each woman would have died in agony as their heart and lungs were unable to get blood to their body’s vital organs.

One woman, a forty-four year old lady, had an acupuncture needle pushed into her heart, causing severe pain and breathlessness.  When she alerted the acupuncturist to her peril, his “cure” was to insert another needle, causing a full-blown cardiac arrest.

Another woman, twenty-six years old, died after an acupuncture needle was inserted into one of her lungs causing the lung to collapse.  She eventually died from a tension pneumothorax, in which the punctured lung leaks air into the chest cavity with every breath, compressing the other chest organs like a Boa Constrictor.  A tension pneumothorax is one of the most terrifying ways to die.

Acupuncture is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Despite its potentially fatal consequences, it goes on, unabated and unregulated.  People need to be warned before more lives are lost to the needles of death.”

Do you feel scared of acupuncture after reading this?  Should you believe it?

These sort of beat up articles occur all the time.  A case report which links a vaccine or drug to an adverse outcome is exaggerated with highly emotional language and posted on conspiracy-driven anti-vaccination blog or site.  Then it gets sent around on Facebook or Twitter like an intellectual virus, taken as evidence of the evils of corporate western medicine by people who take the information on face value.

The latest that came across my Facebook page was of a claim that a 16 year old girls ovaries shrivelled after being exposed to the Gardasil vaccine for the Human Papilloma Virus/cervical cancer.(4)

The problem that these anti-vaccine activists have is that case studies, while interesting, have no evidentiary weight behind them.  Trying to make a case study out to be definitive proof for anything is like putting a grain of salt into a swimming pool and suggesting that you have salt-water.  How many cases of premature ovarian failure have been reported as a direct result of the Gardasil vaccine? I don’t know the exact answer to that, but I’d be surprised if I couldn’t count them on one hand.  Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of women vaccinated with the Gardasil vaccine.

One of the respondents to the anti-Gardasil blog(4) said, “This vaccine has never prevented a single case of oral, cervical, or anal cancer …”  Actually, it has likely prevented thousands.(2)  Case studies can’t see the bigger picture.

And for every case study against western medicine, there are just as many against complementary medicines and practices.  (There would be more, except that the dearth of regulation of the alternative and complementary therapy industry means that most of the adverse outcomes of alternative treatments go unreported).

Braun et al(3) report the case of a twenty-nine year old woman discovered to have an entirely treatable early form of cervical cancer on a pap smear, who died in agony from widespread metastatic cancer of the cervix, despite thirteen years of various complementary medicines (a homeopathic therapy consisting of a vitamin C-containing regimen and subcutaneous administration of mistletoe lectins, “regional hyperthermia”, Horvi-Reintoxin enzyme therapy, and pyrogenic lysates of bacteria combined application of Carnivora-Mistletoe-Ukrain).  This woman’s cancer was caused by HPV-18, which would have been prevented by Gardasil (if it was available to her.)

The point of the story is this: All treatments have side effects or complications.  If you look hard enough, you will find case reports of direct or associated illness from just about any traditional or complementary therapy.  But case studies are not good evidence.  They do not see the bigger picture.  They can not be generalised.

In trained hands, and for the right uses, acupuncture can be a very powerful therapeutic tool.  Acupuncture still does more good than harm.

In trained hands, and for the right uses, Gardasil and vaccines in general are very powerful preventative tools.  Vaccines still do more good than harm.

Neither are “needles of death”.

References

1. Ernst E. Acupuncture – a treatment to die for? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2010 Oct;103(10):384-5. PubMed PMID: 20929887.

2. Jin XW, Lipold L, Sikon A, Rome E. Human papillomavirus vaccine: safe, effective, underused. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine. 2013 Jan;80(1):49-60. PubMed PMID: 23288945.

3. Braun S, Reimer D, Strobl I, Wieland U, Wiesbauer P, Muller-Holzner E, et al. Fatal invasive cervical cancer secondary to untreated cervical dysplasia: a case report. Journal of medical case reports. 2011;5:316. PubMed PMID: 21767367. Pubmed Central PMCID: 3156764.

4. http://www.thelibertybeacon.com/2013/07/22/gardasil-destroys-girls-ovaries-research-on-ovaries-never-considered-10497/