"We're so used to getting a prescription that's it's surprising when we don't"

By Grant Jacobs 09/03/2012

Earlier in the year, in a discussion about those with illness that medicine cannot offer a treatment for, a commenter, Lynley Hood, offered the long and thoughtful comment copied below. I’m bringing it up as a guest post of sorts as I feel it deserves to be more widely read. You’ll want to read it to the end, it’s the final answer that I think raises something worth thinking about.

(Update: This is not about azoor. Replace azoor with any illness that has no accepted treatment. Consider a parent of a child being treating for cancer whose oncologist has told them they cannot do more for their child. Consider, even, something mild like a common cold.)

In an online discussion group I belong to the question of health supplements was raised by the sister of young woman recently diagnosed with the rare retinal disorder (azoor) for which there is no known effective treatment, and for which the outcome is uncertain (but it sometimes resolves spontaneously). Fear of blindness was the big underlying worry. This is how the discussion played out:

Q: Do you think she should start taking vitamins? I just bought her fish oil. Is that good for her, or will it harm her?

A: People on this group have different views on vitamins and other health supplements. There is no one answer, so it’s important that you and your sister make up your own minds and do what you both feel is best.

This is my view. I’m sure the fish oil is fine. It certainly won’t do any harm. But I think that the best anyone can do is eat a good healthy balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Including oily fish like salmon in your diet is good too. And don’t forget regular exercise and plenty of rest.

Mainstream medicine can be very frustrating when it doesn’t have all the answers. But that is usually because nobody has all the answers, and doctors have a duty not to promise more than conventional medicine can deliver.

Many people turn to health supplements and alternative remedies when they have health problems that mainstream medicine can’t fix because they want to take positive steps to help themselves or their loved ones. While the supplements won’t do any harm, I think they can sometimes make life more difficult. Firstly, because health supplements usually promise more than they can deliver, so you can end up spending a lot of money on something that makes no real difference in the long run. Secondly, worrying about whether the health supplements are working or not (am I better today than I was yesterday, or worse, or the same?) can make you more anxious and worried than you are already. Thirdly, in my experience, purveyors of alternative remedies start circling like vultures when they get the smell of human vulnerability in their nostrils — after talking to alternative practitioners you can end up worrying far more about your health than you need to, and feeling pressured into taking supplements that you don’t need and which won’t make any difference to your health.

In my view, those of us who don’t get on the health supplement treadmill probably do just as well as those who do and have more fun while we’re doing it.

That’s my view. But, as I said, others have different views. You and your sister need to make up your own minds.

Q: that makes a lot of sense. We’re working on not just her but the whole family eating healthier because of her condition. My family is all for it. Also the doctor didn’t tell her to do anything — just to let it go and see what happens. Is that normal? Shouldn’t she get meds or something?

A: The doctor is right — and wise. We’re so used to getting a prescription that it’s surprising when we don’t, but the reality is that there is no known effective treatment for azoor. Anti-virals and corticosteroids have been tried, but there’s no evidence that they work, and since they have side effects that nobody wants you’re better off without them and — as you say — eating a healthy diet and leaving the rest to mother nature. Good luck

Perhaps we have become too conditioned to there ’always’ being a remedy?

0 Responses to “"We're so used to getting a prescription that's it's surprising when we don't"”

  • I’ve seen some pretty amazing health improvements both in myself and other family members and clients – just using real food. Unfortunately for me – there isn’t much money in real food, but I feel rewarded none the less.

    I note that azoor is often linked with auto-immune disease. I found the auto-immune paleo diet made difference for me – all my joint inflammation (auto-immune related) has gone. I’d recommend trying it to anyone with degenerative / auto-immune disease.
    (Ha – I probably come accross as one of those circling vultures offering all kinds of wild promises! I’ve seen this diet work with many people in my life, and I have nothing to sell. All the info is available free)

  • Julianne, the article isn’t about azoor or diet, but when a patient has an illness that has no accepted (i.e. tested, demonstrated) treatment and is asking if people have become so used to there being a remedy that they’re surprised when there isn’t.

    Has the success of modern medicine in offering treatments for many conditions lead people to expect there will also (usually) be a treatment, when for a good number of illnesses there aren’t?

    As a result of this do people struggle to come to terms with that there is no accepted (tested, demonstrated) treatment for their illness when there isn’t a treatment?

  • Yes Julianne, you do come across as one of those circling vultures with the smell of human vulnerability in their nostrils. You have seized on a disease you know nothing about and are not qualified to comment on, and used it as an excuse to promote your favourite fad diet.
    And it’s a bit rich to claim you have no financial interest while advertising nutritional seminars and consultations on your website (one-on-one consultations $90/hour, initial 90 minute consultation $130). Could be a nice little earner,

  • Hi Lynley,

    Shame I missed her “one-on-one consultations $90/hour, initial 90 minute consultation $130” – I took her at her word that “I have nothing to sell. All the info is available free” meant that she didn’t have a financial/commercial interest.

    (Not about her particular comment, but a general observation while we’re on this subject – I don’t approve comments if they’re mainly about promoting someone’s business.)

  • Interesting article.. I do believe people tend to panic when there is no (known) remedy for an illness or disease. Western medicine has become so far advanced the expectation for answers has risen as well. People expect Doctors to have all the solutions when this not always the case. I don’t think it’s a problem for people to think about what they can do to help themselves. Getting a diagnosis does create more self awareness. And it is possible to at least alleviate some symptoms by changing your lifestyle and diet.

  • I am constantly dismayed by the staggering amounts time and money older folk spend on acquiring and taking pills and health supplements and sitting around in health practitioners’ waiting rooms. I suspect the unacknowledged sub-text to this dreary existence is “if I keep taking the pills/supplements I won’t have to die”. Well folks, the truth is we are going to die, and there are many more interesting, useful and enjoyable ways of spending whatever time we have left than in lining the pockets of quacks and charlatans and sitting around in doctors’ waiting rooms.

  • I’d second Lynleys’ comments. I also think that the media has to take some of the blame for the expectations of our society over healthcare.

    Series such as “House” have lead people to expect that symptoms are followed by investigations, diagnosis, treatment and cure of any illness or injury within a couple of hours (allowing for interruptions by adverts).

    Perhaps some of the trend toward unproven CAM can be attributed to the perceived failure of medicine when healing and cure of an illness fails to occur within the two hours suggested by these programs.

    When someone finds that there is no cure for their cold, or that their ankle fracture is going to need 6-8 weeks in a cast, they frequently seem surprised. “Why can’t you fix it?” is a not uncommon question. “Will xyz (insert CAM of the month) fix it faster?” is another.

    Unfortunately, time is needed for healing to occur, even when an illness has an effective treatment. Antibiotics need more than a couple of hours to cure an infection. Self limiting illnesses are going to get better in their own time. Broken bones will heal in a few weeks. And ultimately, as Lynley says, the final event of all our lives is going to be our death. No one will ever avoid that no matter the advances that are made by medical scientists (or unsubstantiated claims made by various CAM promoters).

    Medicine will advise you to exercise, keep fit, eat a varied healthy diet and not to excess, limit alcohol intake, etc. and this will help you enjoy a longer and more productive life. No special foods, no expensive supplements needed. The advice is free and readily available. No one needs to pay a fortune to anyone for this common sense.

    I think I drifted a bit…

    Radio New Zealand is saying that the influenza vaccination is available today and for the next couple of months for those who would like to do their best to avoid influenza this winter or would merely like to avoid passing on the illness to others. Just had mine.

  • Series such as “House” have lead people to expect that symptoms are followed by investigations, diagnosis, treatment and cure of any illness or injury within a couple of hours (allowing for interruptions by adverts).

    And it’s a fair bet that the CSI series did much the same for juries’ expectations around DNA & other forensic evidence.

  • I would have thought that anyone who took House seriously would be terrified of hospitals, given that they almost kill most patients at least 3 times each episode.

  • Yes, House’s very experimental approach to medicine does raise a few questions!

    OK, who’s for House and who’s for Doc Martin?

  • Good to see the blind rush to the Fluvax alter… you may not be aware that in the past 3 weeks in the USA the main H3N2 flu virus has changed from 95% being of the type found in the vax to 65% not being in the flu vax… and 56% pf the B virus is not in the flu vax… and the US has just decided to change those strains in their flu vax for next season…

    Some folk are so used to getting a prescription that it would be surprising if they didn’t.

  • I’d be interested to know how House’s approach could be described a ‘very experimental.’

    Not that it’s a must watch programme… he reminds me of too many doctors I used to work with… extremely rude and arrogant… when I have watched the programme it seems to be assumption based and if written up by a CAM practitioner would get binned as anecdote.

    Are you saying that if he had given experimental IV drug C to a patient written off as effectively dead with no chance of surviving, and that patient had made an unexplained recovery, that would be scientific evidence that IV Drug C was beneficial?

    If that is what you’re saying, I agree.

  • Lynley and others, it is amazing how people can be almost nasty when writing in comments sections of posts. You don’t know me – you don’t know where I am coming from. If you were to have this conversation with me face to face, I think you would honestly see me differently.
    Yes – I understand your point about the article. And yes I do not know about this specific illness, other than what I have read about it – however having researched it and seen its connection to auto-immune issues, I made my comment. Why? because someone 2 years ago pointed out to me the connection between grains and our agricultural diet and auto-immune disease, and I decided to research and read about it and do a self experiment.
    I am sharing about a way of eating that has made an extra-ordinary difference for myself and others with auto-immune issues. Don’t knock me for wanting to help others.
    If a person with auto-immune or any other chronic illness changes their diet for 2 months and gets benefits, and maybe it even changes their life, great. I will have contributed. If they try it and it makes no difference – well then no biggy either. I’m not promoting a fad diet – that is just nonsence – ancestral diets, whatever – were the way all humans ate for 2 million years during our evolution. The fad diet is the high grain diet we have eaten for a speck of history – the last 10K years. We have taken it for granted that it is healthy – IS IT?
    I recommend you take a little time and reasearch the downsides of grains and their connection with chronic health / auto-immune issues. Pub med is a good place to start.
    Or this article – google it “Cereal Grains:
    Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword” Professor Loren Cordain
    I read a book – “The Paleo Diet” Professor Loren Cordain (free – library) changed my diet. No more joint pain, no more knee swelling and inflammation. No more breast pain with pms, no more excruciating period pain. No more unsightly ganglion cysts on my wrist. no more constipation. No more difficulty in controlling my weight.
    What kind of person would I be if I kept that to myself? I shared it with my mum – now 80, with small airways disease – inflammation and mucous dramatically reduced in 3 weeks.
    Tell me what would you do if you were me?
    You are right – I earn money from a Nutrition practice. Feel free to remove links to my business. I became interested in nutrition after changing my diet from the currently taught food pyramid, and getting astounding health improvements. I am currently in a post grad nutrition programme. I do not ignore the science – yet at the same time I am aware that current mainstream nutrition science has little to offer someone like me.
    I hope to eventually do masters research in the connection between auto-immune and chronic disease and diet.
    A great text book on the subject should you be interested is “Food and Western Disease, health and nutrition from an evolutionary perspective” Staffan Lindeberg, (Wiley-Blackwell)

  • Hi Julianne,

    I see this blog is about “finger pointing” what a community of people think is wrong with the portion of society that does not always choose “medicine” as defined by western doctors. It’s actually sickening. Negativity breeds quickly doesn’t it.. well so does disease.

  • Camel,

    I see this blog is about “finger pointing” – while there are some blogs like that, that not what my blog does I’m afraid. I write about quite a wide range of things, for example: genomics, bioinformatics, careers in academia, how students are taught, some things that I just find fun or cool, media presentation of science. I’m in the middle of writing Structures in our genomes at the moment and I’d still like to look at Dravet Syndrome but have yet to find the time needed. Occasionally I have a look at something said by the ‘alternative’/‘natural remedy’ industry or anti-vaccine groups. When I do I’m usually looking at the science behind their claims (generally there proves to be little, or they have an inaccurate understanding of the relevant science) or sometimes the media presentation issues.

    This particular articles is simply raising the question “Perhaps we have become too conditioned to there “always” being a remedy?” via a comment that was written in another article on my blog.

  • HI Julianne – it’s good to hear that your health has come right. I hope, though, that we’d agree that your positive outcome gives us an anecdote, not data, because there are too many variables in play here (ie it’s not just the removal of grains that characterises the paleo diet, AFAIK). Hopefully Grant will forgive me for going off at a bit of a tangent in my reply, but I’d like to pick up on your comment regarding the time we’ve been eating a ‘high-grain’ diet 🙂

    From a scientific perspective, in order to demonstrate that the grain component really is the issue (& yes, I’m very much aware of things like coeliac disease as a close friend suffers from this), we’d need to be able to demonstrate that auto-immune problems had increased in frequency as a given population incorporated more grains into the diet. Even that would show only correlation, not causation.

    From an evolutionary perspective, there’s reason to expect an adaptive response to this problem. Humans have actually been processing & eating grains for at least 23,000 years (twice as long as there’s been settled agriculture), although way back then they certainly wouldn’t have been consuming the sort of quantities that farming made possible. Lacking any sort of medical care, there’d be negative selection pressure on people who couldn’t tolerate grains – & similarly positive pressure on those with alleles allowing proper digestion & absorption. (Our ability to diagnose & manage coeliac disease is very recent.) Lest you think that this time span is too short for selection to have such an impact, remember that the allele giving lactose tolerance to those possessing it has spread very rapidly from at least 3 different population loci in the last 6,000 years or so.

    So, I’m not convinced that there is an actual causal relationship of the sort you’ve described 🙂

    Carmel, I think if you read more widely on Sciblogs you’ll find that if there’s fingerpointing, it’s at ‘practitioners’ who offer ‘treatments’ that lack clinical evidence of their efficacy & that in some cases can do actual harm, & not at their clients. The claims made for the ‘mineral miracle supplement’ spring to mind here, & so do the activities of Stanislaw Burzynski & those who offer ‘homeopathic vaccines’ for things like malaria. The clients who take these things at face value need sympathy & empathy, not finger-pointing.

  • Carmel & Alison,

    Alison, thanks for filling in. You’re right; issues are with the practitioners not the clients. I should have mentioned that myself.

    Just to be clear: when I wrote “while there are some blogs like”, I meant some blogs elsewhere on the internet, not the blogs here at sciblogs.co.nz.

  • Alison, I agree, there is sure to be a level of adaptation, there are also HLA genotypes that predispose people to auto-immune issues. As far as I can see there are genotypes and environmental trigger/s. I read a fair bit on this topic. Grains seem to supply some triggers – through gut irritation then leaky gut and molecular mimicry. The texts / articles in my previous posts are a useful read. I suggest anyone interested do the research. Search also “Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases”.A Fasano. (pubmed) Lindeberg has a chapter (4.15) in his text book with numerous clinical references.
    From my perspective, I have seen many anecdotes. Prof Cordain is collating results from several hundred people who have had improvements in auto-immune disease using these principles. Another Doctor who treated people with an ancestral diet and collated results was a French Doctor Jean Seignalet.
    I agree ‘paleo’ involves many facets, but I changed every one bar the grains, and had reduction but not elimination of issues. Cutting grains (I’m assuming in my case the gluten grains were the issue) was the key.
    For those with auto-immune issues, there is enough evidence in my view to recommend trialling this diet.

  • Julianne, you need to understand that scientific medicine is a latecomer to understanding any relationship between food and disease (late 1960’s (Burkitt…)… My wife was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in the 1980’s… she was referred to specialist after specialist. I was a lecturer in clinical biochem at the time and spend a day a week in the medical library so I read up on it… Diet was starting to emerge as a form of treatment… I arranged for her to go to the only ‘naturopath’ either of us has consulted. Professor Cliff Tasman-Jones confirmed what I’d been reading and told W that the drugs she was on were the only thing scientific medicine had to offer and she’d either have to put up with the side effects (serious postural hypotension resulting in admission to hospital on several occasions) or she could try experimenting with her diet to try and increase her fibre intake.

    We worked through a whole raft of options one by one… what had near immediate effect were Magic Muesli Bars… one a day worked a treat… within weeks she was off her drugs… she stopped taken them for a while and her pain came back with vengeance… restarted and her problems went away. — After a few years she noticed when she didn’t eat them she had no problem… She has had no problems for over 20 years… Anecdote? Who cares… for my wife the advice Professor Tasman Jones was a[quality of life] saver…

  • Yes Julianne, my response to your earlier post was unsympathetic. Let me explain.
    My correspondence quoted in Grant’s blog concerned a young woman recently diagnosed with a rare visual disorder for which the cause is unknown and there is no known effective treatment. She was frightened, anxious, vulnerable and open to exploitation by the purveyors of alternative remedies.
    Your earlier post read like a promo for your business, and since you threw in the invitation “(Ha! – I probably come across as one of those circling vultures offering all kinds of wild promises..”) I affirmed that indeed you did.
    I said you knew nothing about azoor and were not qualified to comment on it because azoor is so rare that most NZ eye specialists have never seen a case. And, unlike you, real experts don’t offer unsought health advice on individual cases.
    I also realised that your claim of a link between azoor and auto-immune disease was what psychologists call “confirmation bias”. The medical literature shows that a few people with azoor have auto-immune diseases and some have viral or yeast infections, but no causal link between any of these diseases and azoor has been established. Besides, most people with azoor have nothing else wrong with them.
    Finally, the closing comment on my previous post deserves repeating: “it’s a bit rich to claim you have no financial interest while advertising nutritional seminars and consultations on your website (one-to-one consultations $90/hour, initial 90 minutes consultation $130). Could be a nice little earner.”

  • Fair point.
    My intention had nothing to do with money despite what you think. I just get a buzz from people finding something that improves their health. Lots of people write to me, via my blog / email – whom I don’t know from Adam and share their stories with me, how changing their diet has improved their health. I read a number of articles on azoor, and some authors wonder if there is an auto-immune component. My own experience led me to comment. That is all.
    Yes, my view is coloured by my own experience / bias. Apologies, I never meant to upset / offend.

  • Hi everyone,

    Taking nothing away from your interests, personally I’d like to have seen discussion on the original topic – “Perhaps we have become too conditioned to there “always” being a remedy?” It’s write I presented this discussion, after all 😉

    Lynley – poking my nose into the literature out of curiosity, this review says that there have only been 131 cases of AZOOR reported in the English language literature. It’s pretty rare!

    Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21056448

  • Thanks Ron. Likewise – my uncle is a obstetritian / gynecologist. Had been for 30 years, when I told him my PMS went with a change in diet. He found it hard to get his head around it, suggested to me it was all in my head. Until one day he decided eat differently and his blood pressure went from high to normal if a few weeks.
    What can I say, it’s a new area, one with little clinical research so far.

  • julianne, it was in the 1970’s a woman I worked with had regular abdominal pain… as was often the case with women complaining of Ab pains she was sent to Tokonui mental hospital for assessment… those were the days. In the 80’s I had a student who was taking time off with lower ab pains… she’s been inspected by all and sundry medical expert and referred in the end to the psych unit. I’d been reading in the Med library regarding chlamydia and suggested she get a smear tested (she worked in the lab)… it was chlamydia positive… a 3 week course of antibiotics cured her… no more psycho stuff… medical “science” has come a long way in the past 3 decades, but it still knows very little… there’s a huge debate going on in the medical literature about the lack of science undergirding much of the prostate/breast/bowel cancer screening programmes… in many of them far more people get damaged than benefit… but the industry keeps on keeping on… I look forward to the day that scibloggers poke borax at woo medicine practiced by the so-called scientific medicine industry.

  • Sorry Grant for getting away from the topic.
    What you say is true for me – I expect I will find a solution to health problems somewhere. Diet, medicine, supplements, alternative treatment, what ever. To find there is no known solution – I cannot imagine what that would be like, as you say we are so used to modern medicine / science providing a solution.

  • I suspect the belief that there must be a cure for everything and the often irrational drive to find it is a modern secular manifestation of the elemental motivation that has driven so much of human conduct since the dawn of time: fear of death and the quest for eternal life.

  • Lynley, of course modern medicine wouldn’t be into that, now, would it? I mean, modern ‘scientific’ medicine doesn’t have a chest draw of pharmaceutical remedies looking for a disease to cure… even if it means creating diseases to legitimise the marketing of said remedies.

  • Lynley,

    I’d ignore Ron, he’s just trolling as he does.


    You do realise how ridiculous statements many of your statements appear to others, don’t you? Point being I don’t really have to say much because you’re making a fool of yourself without me pointing them out, e.g.

    “scientific medicine is a latecomer to understanding any relationship between food and disease” – there are very well-known studies from a long time ago that would be familiar most (i.e. even those without a medical background), e.g. for scurvy, goitre, etc. Aside from these classic cases there’s a wider range of efforts looking at diet/nutrition and health/illness and they’re been going on from before what we’d consider ‘modern’ medicine.

    “I mean, modern ’scientific’ medicine doesn’t have a chest draw of pharmaceutical remedies looking for a disease to cure” – actually, in a very real way they do. It’s routine for pharmaceutical companies to run compound screens and they’ve been doing this for years. (There’s also computational approaches, too – chemoinformatics, etc.) Similarly, existing treatments, including those that were found not to be useful for their original purpose, are examined for other applications they might be useful for.

  • modern ’scientific’ medicine doesn’t have a chest draw of pharmaceutical remedies looking for a disease to cure… even if it means creating diseases to legitimise the marketing of said remedies.
    Straw man argument (& a fairly poor attempt at sarcasm); it would also be useful to distinguish between the pharmaceutical companies & the actual practice of medicine.

  • “Ron,

    You do realise how ridiculous statements many of your statements appear to others, don’t you?”

    Grant, you put it so eloquently…

    [Ron, you have to stop this sort of childish thing; no more of this, please.]

  • Just getting back on topic 😉


    You wrote “I suspect the belief that there must be a cure for everything and the often irrational drive to find it is a modern secular manifestation of the elemental motivation that has driven so much of human conduct since the dawn of time: fear of death and the quest for eternal life.”

    It’s hard to ignore that as the elephant in the room, at least in the cases of the so-called ‘terminal’ illnesses.

    There’s a line to the effect that I see in some of these discussions that people should ‘keep trying’ to find a remedy, but it seems to me that there for many cases there would be a point where you’d be better to recognise honestly that there isn’t any established remedy and rushing around hopefully looking into this and that is most unlikely to be fruitful, given that there is already a large research community doing it’s own investigations and that were there promising lines of enquiry researchers (not to mention ‘conventional’ companies) would be following them.

    It reminds me that I feel the better place for people to turn if they do wish to push past the current established treatments are specialist medics who will be following what is happening in their area in the research community. (I’d also suggest the research community itself, but there‘s a good argument for them keeping a distance from direct involvement with patients [you can argue this one both ways, of course].)

  • Grant prattles on about how switched on to the link between food and disease our so-called scientific medicine is… so how does he explain that it is illegal to make truthful statements regarding the ability of foods to treat and prevent disease?

    How does he explain our 1960’s cold-war era laws which make it illegal to say that vitamin C in food and supplements prevents and treats scurvy?

    Why is it illega to claim that iodine supplements prevent and treat goitre?

    Why is it illegal to state that scientifically proven folic acid supplements prevent 75% of neural tube defects such as spina bifida?

    It’s simple… because in the mid 60’s when our current laws evolved the medical establishment did not recognise diet and a cause/treatment for disease… sure, classical vitamin/mineral deficiencies were recognised, but vitamins and minerals were not associated with disease until the 20th century, and even then treatment was at the hands of the regulatory gatekeepers…

    Until recently, medical practitioners had maybe an hour or two training on nutrition.

    Think about this…

    Vets have long known and recommended not to feed your nutrient deficient leftovers to your pets – they’ll get sick – so… all commercially prepared pet foods contain dietary supplements.

    Cattle, sheep, horses, goats, laboratory rabbits & rats etc need dietary supplements to remain healthy.

    We’ve long known that pastures and crops need dietary supplements (fertiliser) to grow well.

    Go to any plant ‘doctor’ regarding sick looking plants and the most likely cause is food imbalance treated by ‘dietary supplements’…

    Yet it is still denied by most so-called public health officials that humans need dietary supplements – despite the plethora of evidence and commonsense that says otherwise.

    Our regulators and their so-called science-based medical advisers are tying to convince us that despite the fact that our pets need supplements, our pets and farm animals need supplements, our plants and crops need supplements – humans don’t.

    How bizarre is that…? Go to most ‘science-based’ medical doctors with an illness and what’s the most likely remedy prescribed? A pharmaceutical drug.

    As Grant rightly says, “We’re so used to getting a prescription that’s it’s surprising when we don’t” And anyone who goes looking for prevention/cure in the hope of getting better is labelled as a fool by so-called sci-bloggers… How bizarre!

  • I read this discussion with interest but as a newcomer ,can you explain the ” £a ^TM s “, ( that’s as close as I can reproduce it )
    that replaces the apostrophe in your entries .
    It makes reading difficult .
    Many thanks


    • I’m sorry about this. It is quite a nuisance and, to be open about it, an annoying and embarrassing development from a system update that I can’t easily deal with myself because I don’t have access to the back-end to fix it.

      Some time ago, the sciblogs site was updated. When this update was done, my comments and blog posts were mangled with this error. I have manually edited most of the more recent posts, but I cannot fix the comments, at least not without a massive effort, as I don’t have access to the database that holds the comments.

      Basically what will have happened is that before updating the system, the developer will have saved the contents of the database that holds the comments and posts. However, they did not seem to realise that you must ensure that the disk files receiving the copy of the database must be able to contain 16-bit (Unicode) characters so that 16-bits characters used for characters with diacritics (e.g. accents) or ‘smart’ quotes (like those I just used) are preserved.

      It’s a nuisance and embarrassment to me, but not something I can do that much about myself. I have hoped to set up another site and syndicate my posts back to sciblogs, as others here do, and fix this there so that there is at least one copy with ‘clean’ comments for people to read. It would be good if the developers were able to put this right, but I have been told that it was low priority, which I read pragmatically as meaning it won’t get done in the way that things on the low end of to-do lists don’t.