Posts Tagged “pseudo-medicine”
Strangely, after the antivax movement has been demonstrated to be pseudomedicine, and after a number of outlets have formally retracted their prior involvement in it, CBS News has decided to weigh in on the putative link between childhood vaccinations and autism, and has gone over to the side of the quacks, cranks, pseudoscientists and sanctimonious mommies (WebCite cached article):
For all those who’ve declared the autism-vaccine debate over – a new scientific review begs to differ. It considers a host of peer-reviewed, published theories that show possible connections between vaccines and autism.
The article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology is entitled “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes–A review.”
CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson, this article’s author, uses a fallacious appeal to authority in order to grant this study greater weight and credibility:
The author is Helen Ratajczak, surprisingly herself a former senior scientist at a pharmaceutical firm.
Here, Atkisson implies that, since the author worked for a pharma company — thus, one would she’d support the use of vaccines — then if she’s decided otherwise, why, the evidence must be incredibly compelling, no? Unfortunately that’s not how these things work.
Attkisson further implies that no one has been scientifically reviewing the supposed link between vaccines and autism (“Ratajczak did what nobody else apparently has bothered to do …”) but that is absolutely not true. Of course other people have reviewed the matter! Atkisson also mischaracterizes the study as Ratajczak’s own original work, but it’s not … it’s merely her review of other people’s studies. (That, of course, does not in itself invalidate what she says, but it does mean that Atkisson is making the study seem to be something other than it truly is.)
Another way Atkisson tried to grant greater authority to this study, is by implying that the CDC … which has consistently said there is no connection between vaccines and autism … was stunned speechless by it:
We wanted to see if the CDC wished to challenge Ratajczak’s review, since many government officials and scientists have implied that theories linking vaccines to autism have been disproven, and Ratajczak states that research shows otherwise. CDC officials told us that “comprehensive review by CDC…would take quite a bit of time.”
All in all, I must give CBS News and Sharyl Attkisson credit. They certainly crafted a marvelous piece of yellow journalism. They must be so proud!
Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
, appeal to authority
, autism vaccine connection
, bad journalism
, cbs news
, childhood vaccinations
, childhood vaccines
, helen ratajczak
, journalism fail
, mass media
, sharyl atkisson
, vaccine autism connection
, yellow journalism
3 Comments »
Maybe you’ve heard of “Power Balance” bracelets … silicone bands with “hologram technology” that lots of prominent athletes have begun wearing. Advertising for the product claims “Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.” The problem is, there is no such thing as a “natural energy flow” within the body. No one has found it, no one has documented it, no one has measured it; it does not exist. These bracelets are, basically, bullshit.
Although the company has had little trouble selling its product in large numbers, based on celebrity examples and woo claims, officials in Australia investigated and ordered them off the market. In addition, the (New York) Daily News reports that, as part of its response to this injunction, the company has had to make a rather stunning, explicit admission (WebCite cached article):
Shaquille O’Neal and David Beckham may want their money back after the company behind the Power Balance bracelet admitted to an Australian court that there is no proof to back up its claims that it improves athletic performance.
“We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims,” Power Balance, LLC said in a statement.
Of course, even after having made this admission to an Australian court, the company insists the contrary, that its product works:
Taking to its Twitter account, Power Balance, LLC defended its product and posted tweets from customers who still believe in the bracelet’s abilities.
“don’t believe what u hear. We stand by our products. (our trainers did test on us and we saw a difference in wearing them),” the company tweeted.
They can get away with this disingenuousness, because the buying masses are stupid enough to fall for it.
Congratulations to Australia for taking on these insidious peddlers of woo and nonsense.
Photo credit: PoweredByLarios.
, hologram technology
, power balance
, power balance LLC
, woo woo
2 Comments »
I blogged just under a year ago that the prestigious Lancet retracted a study it had published in 1998, by Dr Andrew Wakefield, which laid the foundations for the anti-vaccine movement. CNN reports, though, that a BMJ investigation into that study has revealed it’s worse than being just bad science — it was an outright fraud (WebCite cached article):
A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.
An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.
The study’s investigators pulled no punches:
“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”
Wakefield, of course, isn’t having any of it, and is playing the martyr:
Speaking to CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Wakefield said his work has been “grossly distorted” and that he was the target of “a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns.”
My guess is that all the famous committed antivaxers — such as Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, Suzanne Somers, etc. — will side with Wakefield and his persecution complex. The evidence of Wakefield’s fraud that BMJ turned up, will mean nothing to any of them.
Photo credit: samantha celera, via Flickr.
, andrew wakefield
, austism vaccine study
, dr andrew wakefield
, lancet vaccine study
, mmr vaccine
, vaccine and autism
, vaccine study
, vaccines and autism
3 Comments »
Oprah Winfrey — that fountain of uncritical thinking, meaningless psychobabble and assorted mindless New Agery — is such an influential mass-media tycoon that merely being “a friend of Oprah” is a career unto itself. Her repeat guests all have little media empires of their own, built on the foundation of having gotten the Oprah Seal Of Approval. Some even have their own TV shows … e.g. Phil McGraw and, more recently, “Dr Oz” (aka Mehmet Oz, MD). As I’ve blogged before, Oprah and her frequent guests can — and sometimes do — offer advice that can actually be dangerous, if followed to the letter … and her audience is more than large enough to assume there are some out there who do exactly that. That said, of all the assorted fruit-loops, fuzzy thinkers, and wingnuts to whom Oprah grants airtime and endorsements, Dr Oz has not attracted the kind of criticism that other “Friends Of Oprah” have received (such as Suzanne Somers).
But now the Chicago Tribune raises serious questions about Dr Oz and his advice (WebCite cached article):
Dr. Mehmet Oz is known as “America’s Doctor,” and it’s not much of a stretch.
Though he is a medical specialist — an acclaimed cardiac surgeon — Oz offers health information on just about any topic, from diet to child care to sex, through a television show that averages 3.7 million viewers a day, six best-selling health guides, columns in Esquire and Time, and a Web site.
Millions turn to him for advice, looking for an authority figure to make sense of the flood of medical information available online and in the media.
Much of the material Oz provides is solid, but some medical experts express reservations about his approach, saying Oz’s ventures also offer advice unsupported by science.
Oz has called the rotavirus vaccine “optional” — a risky view, according to experts. He tells people to examine the shape and sound of their bowel movements closely — a silly idea, specialists say. He invited a doctor to his TV show who has helped spread the idea that cancer can be cured with baking soda. On his Web site, another doctor endorses a group that promotes unproven autism treatments.
Dr Oz’s production staff defends his non-discriminating approach toward medicine:
Oz declined to be interviewed, but his spokespeople say the doctor’s mission is to give his audience information from multiple perspectives. His “Ask Dr. Oz” feature offers answers not only from prestigious medical centers such as the Cleveland Clinic but also from alternative medicine practitioner Deepak Chopra and from Dove, maker of skin care and beauty products.
“The purpose of the site is to provide users with as much information as possible and allow the users to differentiate between what they find helpful and what they do not,” Oz’s spokespeople wrote in response to questions.
But more information is not necessarily better, as not all perspectives are equal in medicine.
Like many people, especially in the mass media, Dr Oz appears to think that if you throw enough information at people — good, bad, and in-between — they will all magically gravitate toward the good information, and the bad will fall into the gutter. Unfortunately, however, that’s not what happens in real life. People who are barraged with information will, in the majority of cases, gravitate toward the information that they find emotionally compelling … which often is not the valid, scientifically-sound information. Members of Dr Oz’s audience are not all well-schooled in medicine and capable of discerning the bad information and rejecting it. They depend on Dr Oz … who has learned medicine and ought to be capable of separating good medical information from the bad … to do that for them. (If they didn’t have this expectation, they’d have little reason to watch his show in the first place!)
Dr Oz and his staff do his viewers a disservice by blasting them with a mixture of good advice and pure bullshit, then expect them to tell the difference. They can’t — and they shouldn’t have to. Clearly what Dr Oz is doing, is subordinating the pursuit of science and good medicine, to the desire for ratings, which for him hinge on Oprah’s demographic: They much prefer “touchy-feely” notions that are emotionally satisfying, rather than valid and rational. In other words, they’re much more interested in “truthiness” than in truth.
I wonder what makes Dr Oz think that dispensing a mixture of valid advice with a whole lot of bullshit is a way for him to live up to the Hippocratic Oath?
Hat tip: Consumerist
Photo credit: George Burns, Harpo Productions, Inc (see Tribune article)
Tags: alt med
, alternative medicine
, america's doctor
, complementary medicine
, conventional medicine
, critical thinking
, deepak chopra
, dr mehmet oz
, dr oz
, friend of oprah
, friends of oprah
, harpo productions
, medical advice
, mehmet oz
, mehmet oz md
, new age
, new agey
, oprah winfrey
, talk show
, talk shows
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Robert T. Carroll of the excellent Skeptic’s Dictionary site offers some insight into why the forces of Antivax seem so prevalent in the media and have taken hold of the US in an unprecedented (and dangerous) way. (I’ve blogged many times on the Antivax movement.) You see, it’s all about presentation, and incompetence. I’ll let him tell the sad tale, which is sparked by one of Carroll’s correspondents named “Jan” on a related but different topic:
Of course, the news media whether it be Fox (that arm of the Republican party) or the liberal elite media (that arm of the Democratic party) report the anecdotes, not the RCTs [randomized controlled trials]. Two recent stories illustrate the kind of evidence Jan counts and the kind that the media thrive on.
One story involves a young woman who developed a weird neurological disorder (dystonia) ten days after getting a flu shot. The nature of the story makes it clear that there must be some connection between the young woman’s health problems and the flu shot. The reporters don’t have to come right out and say that the shot caused her problems. That’s clearly implied by having the report at all. Reporters aren’t paid to encourage viewers to think, however. So, don’t expect them to investigate other possible causes of the young woman’s problems. They won’t report that 9 days before her illness, she drank 20 shots of tequila. [For those of you who can't figure it out for yourselves, I'm making this stuff up about the nine days of Christmas for illustration purposes.] Eight days before her illness, someone spiked her drink with ecstasy. Seven days before her illness, she ate a hamburger at McDonalds. Six days before her illness, she spent time in a toxic building where the DMV is located. Five days before her illness, she fell out of bed. Four days before her illness, she drank some bottled water that a friend gave her. Three days before her illness she watched a whole movie in fast forward mode. Two days before her illness, she took a neuroleptic for facial pain. And the day before she got ill, she rode a roller coaster for three hours. Why didn’t the reporters note these things? Why didn’t they go back eleven days and beyond to see if there might not be something people might causally connect to the illness? Because the flu shot is the current bogeyman. Next year it could be ground beef.
The reason for this is all about drama, and using emotion to “hook” the reader/viewer/listener:
Obviously, an emotional anecdote will be more persuasive than a dry report on RCTs and statistical probabilities of being harmed versus being protected by a vaccination. Also, the fear of possible harm carries more weight that the hope of possible protection from harm. Further complicating the data is the values issue that’s involved here. Getting vaccinated or not affects the whole community, not just oneself. For most people, protecting themselves and their children is a higher priority than protecting strangers. By getting a vaccination and avoiding the flu I not only protect myself but prevent myself from infecting others who aren’t vaccinated and who might be greatly harmed by the flu.
Since this is not a tangible, observable benefit in people’s favor, they ignore the good that vaccines do. They concentrate, instead, on the harm it might do them … which if it came to pass, would be tangible and observable to individuals.
Anyway, the issue with the antivaxxers is more a matter of emotion than evidence. It doesn’t matter that 28 pregnant women in the US have already died from swine flu and no pregnant woman has been harmed by the vaccine. It doesn’t matter to antivax parents that the chance of their child being harmed by a vaccination is near zero. It doesn’t matter that there is an almost certain benefit to their child and the community at large by having the child vaccinated. It doesn’t matter that 43 children in the US have died recently from swine flu* and none have been harmed by the swine flu vaccination. They have an anecdote: an 8-year-old boy died a week after his swine flu vaccination. It must have been the vaccine that killed him even if health department officials deny it. Their denial is proof they’re covering up something. And so it goes.
The problem is not just that Americans lack critical-thinking skills. That’s true, and it’s quite bad enough. But even those who are capable of thinking critically, are denied access to information they could use, by a mass media which is hell-bent on playing up the drama behind everything and withholding information that runs contrary to the dramatic narrative, because it might tend to dilute the drama and thus fail to “hook” viewers/readers/listeners sufficiently.
This is insidious, folks, and it needs to stop. The mass media must begin to take responsibility for what they’ve done … not only in the case of building the Antivax movement, but in many other areas too. Journalism in almost any field is rife with misinformation and artificial drama, and too full of informational holes to be of any use to those not subject to being emotionally hooked. No one is served by this … no one … except maybe the media outlets themselves, in the form of higher ratings. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. And Americans should no longer tolerate it.
, appeal to emotion
, h1n1 vaccine
, mass media
, randomized controlled trials
, skeptic's dictionary
, swine flu
, swine flu vaccine
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Actor Peter Bergman was famous for his commercials in which he said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Say what you want about the commercial, but at least he was honest and up-front. Not so with Suzanne Somers, who recently published a book full of medical advice. Even though she’s no doctor, and hasn’t a minute of medical training, she nevertheless feels free to tell you how to treat cancer. It’s all about “alternative medicine,” you see, because to Ms Somers, “conventional medicine” is “destructive.” The Human Condition blog at Newsweek reports on this book:
The gist of Somers’s argument is that conventional cancer treatments—surgery, radiation, chemotherapy—take a destructive approach and that chemo, in particular, is overused. Long an advocate of alternative therapies, Somers argues that it makes more sense to build up the body to fight cancer than it does to tear it down through radiation and chemicals. She is particularly enamored of nutritional “cures.”
Even though Ms Somers has no medical credentials to speak of, she nevertheless claims to have them:
Of course, Somers has had no formal medical or scientific training, but considers herself an authority—in part because she’s survived breast cancer after choosing not to have chemotherapy, and because she’s a regular on the alternative-medicine circuit. This book, like her others, consists mainly of transcripts of her conversations with various alternative-medicine doctors, as well as lots of details about her own experiences and prevention regimen, which she has spelled out many times before, most notably on Oprah earlier this year. It’s noteworthy that her promotion of the book began by publicly blaming Patrick Swayze’s recent death on chemotherapy, rather than his pancreatic cancer. (She has since apologized to his family.)
How very nice of Ms Somers to take advantage of another person’s death, to promote her book. (Yes, she did apologize … but she knew what she was doing when she did it, and it was every bit as mercenary a decision as I just described it.)
Sprinkled into her anti-medicinal whiney tome is a bit of good advice and sound medical caveats, as Newsweek concedes:
Not all the recommendations Somers makes in the book raise eyebrows. She says eating healthy and exercising, reducing stress, and getting a good night’s sleep may reduce the risk of cancer. That’s true, but it’s not news. She’s right that not every woman with stage I breast cancer needs chemo. Few doctors would argue. In fact, they have the technology to calculate the size of the likely benefit, and agree that sometimes it’s quite small. Most doctors offer it as a choice to women who want to do everything possible to prevent cancer’s return.
But dropping a load of bullshit on people, doesn’t become any less bullshit, because she sprinkled a (metaphorical) cup of sugar over it. It remains predominantly bullshit.
The unconscionable part of this is that Newsweek had, earlier this year, exposed Somers’ questionable medicine in the course of its exposé of Oprah Winfrey’s pseudoscience promotion (as I blogged in June). Given this revelation, Somers has no viable excuse for having chosen to proceed with publishing a book full of assorted pseudomedicine and potentially-harmful medical instruction.
This whole episode just goes to show that Americans are a strange — and overly credulous — bunch. All someone has to do is become an actor or actress on a famous show, and people attribute all sorts of expertise to that person, which they do not actually possess. Ms Somers is irresponsible to assume the mantle of “physician” merely because she’s a celebrity and had cancer. Lots of celebrities have, unfortunately, had cancer … but few, if any, are credentialed to actually practice medicine or offer medical advice; and most are responsible enough not to “play doctor” by writing books on “medicine.” It’s time we realized that the cult of celebrity-worship — coupled with a vast lack of critical-thinking skills — that has consumed the US, is becoming dangerous.
Update: CNN has commentary by Dr Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Unlike Ms Somers, as a practicing oncologist, Dr Brawley actually does possess credentials in the treatment of cancer. However, I’m sure Ms Somers, her friend Oprah, and their
sheep followers will dismiss what he says, since he’s part of the Vast Conventional-Medical Conspiracy that works to destroy people and keep them sick, rather than cure them. (OK, folks, that was just a touch of sarcasm!)
Tags: alt med
, alternative medicine
, cancer treatment
, complimentary medicine
, critical thinking
, science-based medicine
, suzanne somers
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Last week I blogged about Bill Maher joining the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Arianna Huffington, and Jenny McCarthy by revealing himself to be an Antivaxer. I found it surprising that an established skeptic like Maher would turn out to be such a brainless loon when it comes to vaccines … and I wasn’t alone, judging by the reaction to his Antivaxism. Well, he responded to that reaction by claiming not to be “crazy” and by digging his heels in on the matter, as reported in the Mediaite blog:
Just as Beck has warned against the dangers of the vaccination, especially relating to Swine Flu, Maher continued his path of medical conspiracy theory, to the annoyance of his guests and confusion of his audience.
“They said I was crazy in the New York Times on Monday,” said Maher, mid-way through the show, referring to this from the Times (that didn’t exactly call him “crazy”).
He’s still in denial, as Mediaite goes on to explain:
Still, Maher felt he had to “clear up a few things that people have been writing about me that are not true.” Among them: “I’m not a germ theory denier” and “I do understand the theory of inoculation.”
But with the air cleared, Maher wasn’t going to leave it there. He continued rambling on, about mercury and teeth and H1N1 and polio.
Maher finished his remarks by citing the numbers of deaths from medical errors and thus implying that medicine cannot be trusted. This is, of course, bullshit. The principle of vaccination works, without regard to whether or not other types of medical errors hurt people. The two are not actually related — and a man like Maher who’s otherwise able to think critically, probably knows this. Which makes me wonder what Maher’s angle may be with his Antivaxism.
In case you wanted to see this segment of his show, here it is:
, bill maher
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It’s fashionable these days to knock conventional medicine (also known by the adjectives “western,” “occidental,” or “allopathic” — I think a better description is “evidence-based”). People love to spout tired canards like “it doesn’t treat the whole person,” as if that makes any sense … ever seen a conventional doctor cure a broken leg by amputating it, knitting the bone together, then reattaching it? “Alternative” medicine is supposed to be “better” because it’s “ancient,” as if age were a credential. It’s not … infections were deadly, even if treated with poultices, blood-letting, or other “ancient” remedies, for millennia until conventional medicine discovered antibiotics. And people love to whine about how toxic pharmaceuticals are, how the side-effects are so horrible, etc.
Well, I’ve got news for some of you. A lot of those “natural” medicines are just as dangerous, if not moreso! In particular, ayurvedic remedies have been found to be toxic:
Ayurvedic medicines — herbal mixtures dating back thousands of years in India and increasingly popular in the West — are frequently contaminated with lead, mercury or arsenic, according to a study published today.
A fifth of the nearly 200 concoctions tested contained levels of the toxic metals that, if taken at the maximum recommended doses, would surpass California’s safety guidelines.
Dr. Robert Saper, a Boston University professor of family medicine who led the study, said the findings should spur the Food and Drug Administration to start clamping down on the largely unregulated world of pills, herbs and powders classified as dietary supplements.
“It shouldn’t be me trying to figure this out,” Saper said.
Ayurveda is a traditional Indian practice that takes a holistic approach to wellness, employing herbal medicine, meditation and exercise to promote good health. It exists alongside modern medicine in India, with its own network of clinics, hospitals and colleges serving hundreds of millions of patients.
It has spread to the U.S. and Europe with the migration of South Asians around the world and been popularized by figures such as bestselling author Deepak Chopra.
Pardon me if I pass on these wonderfully natural, “holistic” medicines. And remember … poison ivy is “all natural” too, but I doubt you’d want to rub it on a wound.
Tags: alternative medicine
, ayurvedic medicine
1 Comment »