“In like a lion, out like a lamb.”
This old adage about March is so commonplace I must have heard it a hundred times last week. It got me thinking, is there really any truth to it?
I couldn’t find any actual data to support or debunk the saying, but it did occur to me (and a lot of other writers) that it’s probably a pretty safe bet. In the northern hemisphere, March is generally a month of transition from winter to spring. It’s bound to be nicer at the end than at the beginning.
Or is it?
There are all kinds of problems with this axiom. For example, the expression comes from Great Britain. Does it hold for places outside Britain. Even within the kingdom, in Wales, it is usually used when referring to April rather than March. In Saskatchewan, I posit, April is probably more appropriate than March since our winter tends to be longer and March is highly unpredictable.
Another problem is how you define lion and lamb. Is it temperature? Precipitation? Wind? A combination thereof?
Personally, I feel like March came in like a lamb this year because the first and second were gorgeous, but does the storm Sunday and Monday count? Is it just the first couple of days or the first half of the month that counts?
And what about geographic area? It was lion-like out east and in Alberta, do we take an average for the whole country or region? Would a person from Florida agree with me that sub-zero temperatures constituted “in like a lamb?”
Does the opposite hold true? If it comes in like a lamb, does it go out like a lion? People say that as well, but it seems unlikely.
The Farmer’s Almanac, an arguably reliable source, doesn’t put much faith in the expression.
“We can only hope that if March starts off cold and stormy it will end warm and sunny, but the key word is hope. However, this saying seems be to more of a rhyme rather than a true weather predictor,” the website states.
Nevertheless, whether it is true or not, people believe it and that got me thinking about confirmation bias. We believe these things because they are familiar and because we want them to be true.
It’s the same reason why people get taken in by psychics, mediums, astrologists and tarot readers just to name a few of the con artists who take advantage of this wishful thinking aspect of human nature.
When it comes to March lions, April showers and February groundhogs, of course, the danger of putting stock in them is benign, less so for the aforementioned con artists.
Where it really gets dangerous, however, is when we apply this kind of thinking to medical decisions.
I happened to overhear a conversation the other day about people in Saskatchewan taking chelation therapy. I was shocked. Surely this couldn’t be happening here?
Chelation therapy is, in fact, a legitimate treatment for lead poisoning. The chemical used in the procedure, ethylenediamine tetra-acetate, or EDTA, has been proven to reduce levels of lead in the blood.
There is, however, no evidence that it is effective in treating atherosclerosis, other circulatory illnesses or autism, all of which have been proposed and debunked.
I found out the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan in 1996 bowed to public demand and the spectre of legislation following a similar private member’s bill in Alberta and agreed to allow physicians to administer the bogus treatment despite doctors’ reservations about its efficacy.
Shame on the dog for allowing itself to be wagged by the tail.
In the college’s defence, I understand the public safety rationale that if people are bound and determined to have a treatment, it behooves regulating bodies to make sure it is done by licenced professionals; better to have it regulated than have people travelling out of country or going to illegal clinics.
The college was careful to indicate in its decision that allowing doctors to administer the treatment was not equivalent to approving of the treatment. Nevertheless, the decision still lends legitimacy to something undeserving.
So, why are Saskatchewanians flocking to get chelation?
Anecdotal stories abound about people who were suffering, but after having the therapy started feeling better. I’ve written before that anecdotal evidence is just one small step above no evidence at all. Without properly blinded, controlled research, there is no way of telling if there is an actual causal correlation between the treatment and the reported benefit. There is no way of telling whether those taking the therapy are doing any better (or worse) than their peers who are not. There is no way of knowing if other factors—diet, exercise, other medication or treatment etc.—are the real reason for improvement.
Invariably, at this point, people bring up the old standard, “well, you can’t prove it doesn’t work.”
Actually, yes, we can. Several randomized, controlled, double-blind clinical trials have been conducted that indicate there is no benefit to chelation in the treatment of atherosclerosis.
Furthermore, every mechanism that has been proposed for why it might work has been thoroughly repudiated.
A question was posed to me: “But if you were suffering wouldn’t you be willing to try almost anything?”
The answer is absolutely not. There are risks, side effects, financial loss.
At the end of March, we will know whether the month went out like a lion or a lamb and it won’t matter because it’s just an old saying people bandy about in casual conversation.
We will also still know there are all kinds of people out there getting unnecessary treatments with the tacit approval of the medical establishment and that does matter. Regulation of medical services should be based on evidence, not wishful thinking and popular demand.