The Hidden Truth

The feature article on breast cancer by Ophira Ginsburg and Raywat Deonandan (India Currents, October 2012, Breast Cancer—The Hidden Epidemic) uses a host of statistics, but these statistics hide more than they reveal. For example, the article suggests that the survival rate—presumably referring to the commonly cited five-year survival rate (FSR)—for screened women is much higher than that for unscreened women. However, FSR is a flawed and misleading statistic.

Imagine a group of 100 women who are diagnosed with cancer because they feel a breast lump at age 60. With treatment, all of them live until 64. The FSR for this unscreened group is 0%. Now imagine that these women are screened and diagnosed with breast cancer at age 55. With early treatment, they live nine more years. The FSR for this group is 100% even though the women don’t live any longer. Moreover, the screened women end up spending five extra years suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

No controlled study has shown that mammography screening increases the life expectancy of women significantly. A meta-analysis by the Cochrane group (that combines data from several studies) has estimated that such screening extends their life expectancy by about one day. However, the screening process itself takes longer than one day.

Screening also leads to a 30% overdiagnosis because of false positive results. This may largely explain the higher rates of breast cancer observed among the heavily screened white women compared to those in the lightly screened Asian-American women. Such overdiagnosis also inflates the overall survival statistics.

Finally, cancer treatments offered by modern medicine indiscriminately kill both the cancerous and the healthy cells thereby causing serious side effects while failing to address the root causes of cancer. Therefore, early detection and treatment offer no insurance against recurrence of cancer. Alternative medical systems, such as Ayurveda and Naturopathy, focus instead on preventing cancer through a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Because when it comes to cancer, prevention is clearly the best cure.

Vijay Gupta, Cupertino, CA

Rules of Discouragement

Dilnavaz Bamboat’s article against intermarriage related restrictions for women,  (India Currents, October 2012, Embracing Freedom), points out the different criteria applied to Parsi men and women regarding entry to consecrated temples in India, but it would help us to understand some of the reasons behind this.

Parsis (followers of Prophet Zarathustra of Iran) are a very tiny community and intermarriages in general pose a grave danger to preserving their ethnic and religious identity, so community leaders with advice from their scholar-priests try to frame rules to discourage such marriages. Although orthodox Parsis would like to apply the restrictions equally to men and women, some of the mainstream leaders have accepted a compromise that considers the mostly male oriented society in India in which wives and children usually adopt the last name and religion of the husband/ father.

Entry to some Hindu temples in India is also prohibited to Hindus who have married non-Hindus. For example, Indira Gandhi, the late Prime Minister of India, who married a Parsi freedom fighter, Feroze Gandhi, who adopted her husband’s last name (she was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter and not related to Mahatma Gandhi as some may think), was not allowed entry to a Hindu temple in South India because of her intermarriage. Non-Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and non-Mormons are not allowed in the inner sanctum of the Mormon (LDS) church.

In western countries, Zarathustrian (Zoroastrian) temples are not consecrated with ritual prayers and ceremonies like they are in India, and are more like simple prayer halls with a fire burning in the inner room, and western societies have different customs that allow more freedom not only to women but also to children (who sometimes even sue their parents).

Maneck Bhujwala, Huntington Beach, CA

Curious about Boson?

In the the article on Nobel history (India Currents, August 2012, Nobel Trivia) Mahadevan describes how the Indian scientist Satyendra Nath Bose was instrumental in working out the theoretical model for the existence of the Higgs Boson particles, and was ignored by the Nobel selection committee. This is not the only time Satyendra Nath Bose was ignored or forgotten by the West. Let me explain.

Since last July 2012 many news releases and articles have appeared in the media all around the world on the existence of the subatomic particle, also known as the “God particle” since it is fundamental to the origin of the universe and explains the mystery of mass in the cosmos. The motion and movement (dance?) of these particles are believed to have led to the creation of the universe and hence its name.

Most of these science writers outside India did not bother to include an explanation for the term “boson” in the Higgs Boson discovery which helps to unravel the origin of universe. For all the story-reporting in the west on such a huge discovery, the absence of a definition for Boson has been a glaring and common omission.

The Higgs part everyone seems to know about. The first thing that we are told about the Higgs boson is that it’s named after Peter Higgs, a physicist at Edinburgh University who made the theoretical discovery. Should not one be curious enough to ask—what about Boson?—since Boson tends to follow as soon as the name Higgs shows up. Boson is, in fact, along with the Fermion (named after Enrico Fermi), one of the two fundamental classes of subatomic particles.

In fact, as the article states, “Boson” is named after Satyendra Nath Bose, who formulated the statistical method to analyze the thermal behavior of gases and sent his paper on quantum statistics to Albert Einstein.  Bose’s formulation came to be known as the Bose-Einstein statistics, and became the basis of quantum mechanics. Einstein saw that Bose’s theory had profound implications for physics and believed that it opened the way for the existence of a class of subatomic particle, which he named, “Boson,” after his Indian collaborator. Thus we have the “Higgs boson.”

Now, let me give you another interesting angle to the experimental discovery of this “God Particle.” Here I transcribe the article written by S. Gurumurthi in the Tamil magazine, Thuglak.

On June 18, 2004, at the CERN Laboratory entrance grounds in Switzerland, the authorities unveiled a six foot statue of the Hindu God Lord Nataraja in recognition of the belief that the tandava of Shiva created the universe with a “big bang,” which is akin to the scientific theory based on the “dance” of the Higgs Boson particle.

The commemorative plate at the foot of the statue includes a selected passage from the book, The Tao of Physics, by the well known American physicist and UC Berkeley professor Fritjof Capra. The displayed passage essentially describes how many thousands of years ago Hindu wisdom talked about Lord Shiva’s dance in the creation of the Universe and is essentially the same as the “dance” of the subatomic particle as modeled by science.

Thiagas S. Sankar, Montreal, Canada

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