Posts Tagged “pseudo-medicine”

Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFREven though the current anti-vax movement has been constructed upon a single demonstrably-fraudulent study (WebCite cached article) by Dr Andrew Wakefield — which he’d intended as the basis for a franchise selling “remedies” for something he called “austistic enterocolitis” (cached), it’s taken on a life of its own. It morphed originally from Wakefield’s (false) contention that the MMR vaccine causes autism, to the assumption that all vaccines, of any type, are toxic.

The mass media have done more than their share to perpetuate the lie that vaccines are dangerous, including this past December when Katie Couric spent an entire show parading sanctimonious mommies on her stage (cached) telling everyone that the HPV vaccine is lethal. Ms Couric later sort-of conceded she might have gone too far with that one (cached).

The truth of the anti-vax movement is much worse than just that it’s a big fat fucking lie with a fraudulent genesis; it’s actually hurting people in very real — and measurable — ways. The Council on Foreign Relations released a map showing the incidence of vaccine-preventable outbreaks around the world (cached). And the picture isn’t pretty:Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFROne expects to see such illnesses in developing countries, but as is evident in the map, even in highly industrialized nations, preventable childhood illnesses are also occurring in large numbers. Europe is plastered with measles, for instance, and the U.S. is spawning whooping cough from sea to sea.

I know I’ll be accused of having been paid by “Big Pharma” to point this out and condemn the anti-vax movement … but no matter how fervently the anti-vax crowd may believe otherwise, I haven’t. “Big Pharma” doesn’t even know who I am. I also don’t know anyone who works for, or who’s ever been paid any amount, by a “Big Pharma” firm. I’m just a guy who objects to irrationality and lies, and doesn’t think it’s a good idea for people to he harmed or killed by irrationality and lies. Call me crazy if you want — and many have! — but that’s just how I roll. <shrug>

Photo credit: CFR map screen-shot.

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NOVAMOXIN antibioticThere are lots of folks who think “conventional medicine” is evil, comprised of personnel who work to keep people sick rather than help them, and that pharmaceuticals are “poisons” which must be avoided at all cost. It’s easy to dismiss them as wingnuts and crackpots whose belief in herbal remedies, reiki, homeopathy, therapeutic touch, and other assorted forms of pseudomedicine isn’t all that bad … because, after all, most of these “treatments” don’t hurt them (except in their wallets).

The truth, however, is that a reliance on pseudomedicine can, in fact, lead to severe harm, up to and including needless death. A sterling example of this recently happened in Alberta. The Calgary Sun reports a mother in that city has been arrested for allowing her own son to die (WebCite cached article):

Police say a woman gave her bedridden seven-year-old son holistic treatment before he succumbed to what would have been a treatable illness.

Friday, 44-year-old Tamara Lovett was arrested, later charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life in connection with the death of Ryan Lovett.…

Police allege the Grade 2 student was at home, bedridden for 10 days prior to that with what was later identified as a strep infection.

Strep infections are often treatable with medication such as penicillin.

Although it was not only the single mother who saw him deteriorating, no one contacted authorities.

So, although only the mother was arrested, we had other adults, too, who stood by and watched a child die, all in the name of avoiding normal medical treatment … which would certainly have worked. I’m sure they’re just so proud of themselves for having taken this determined stand against the evils of “conventional medicine”!

The sad but unavoidable truth is that pseudomedicine definitely can be harmful. That doesn’t mean “conventional medicine” isn’t without its faults … but it’s much better than the alternative, which has potentially-deadly consequences.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Stay tuned ... for the next exciting episode of ... Jerks for Jesus! (PsiCop original graphic)A lot of the time, the things fervent Christianists say are merely amusing. Stupid, asinine, and irrational, yet entertaining nonetheless. Like when they tell people to beware of demons that might tag along with thrift-shop clothing. But other times they say things that are insulting, hurtful, and even counter-productive.

A prime example of the latter comes from the mouths of preacher Kenneth Copeland and Rightist-historian-who’s-no-historian David Barton, as reported by the Religion News Service (WebCite cached article):

On a Veterans Day broadcast program, televangelist Kenneth Copeland and controversial historian David Barton told listeners that soldiers should never experience guilt or post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from military service.

Reading from Numbers 32: 20-22, Copeland said, “So this is a promise — if you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before the Lord for the war … you shall return, you’re coming back, and be guiltless before the Lord and before the nation.”

“Any of you suffering from PTSD right now, you listen to me,” Copeland said as Barton affirmed him. ”You get rid of that right now. You don’t take drugs to get rid of it. It doesn’t take psychology. That promise right there will get rid of it.”

These two compound their “insulting morons for Jesus” talk by appealing to Old Testament-style language:

Barton added that many biblical warriors “took so many people out in battle,” but did so in the name of God.

“You’re on an elevated platform up here. You’re a hero, you’re put in the faith hall of fame,” Barton said. “… When you do it God’s way, not only are you guiltless for having done that, you’re esteemed.”

Yeah, that’s right guys, ramble on about the Lord of Hosts and all that ferocious drivel. That’s sure to clear up whatever ails returning soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines!

… Not!

The idea that mental illness doesn’t exist … or it does but is no big deal and can be overcome easily by a little appeal to God … is an old refrain among religionists, as I’ve commented previously. But just because people think these things, doesn’t make them so. Mental illness, which includes post-traumatic stress disorder, is very real and can’t just be waved off. It certainly can’t be cured by metaphysics, or by reveling in what a mighty warrior one’s deity is.

Video of this enlightening, pious exchange is available courtesy of Right Wing Watch, via Youtube:

The article quotes some other Christian experts who condemn what Barton and Copeland said, which I suppose is positive. And they’ve managed to stir up some outrage. Even so, Copeland’s television ministry remains on the air. If the majority of American Christians were truly angered by these dismissive, insulting remarks, his show would have been yanked already. But it hasn’t been. So pardon me while I point out that any Christian criticism of these two jerks for Jesus is — basically — non-existent, so long as these two vile creatures retain their voice and their influence.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic.

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E.W. Kemble's 'Deaths Laboratory' in Collier's Magazine in 1906, via Wikimedia Commons.A big component of the pseudomedicine movement is the belief that pharmaceuticals are “bad,” whereas “natural” remedies, including herbal supplements, are “good.” What a lot of folks don’t understand, is that it’s all relative. Some pharmaceuticals are extracted from natural sources, and some “natural” things can, indeed, be very harmful. So the whole “artificial=bad, natural=good” correlation is, quite simply, bullshit.

I’ve blogged a couple times before about toxic substances that are found in some alternative remedies, but as the New York Times reports, a recent review of some common herbal supplements, confirms there are problems in that industry (WebCite cached article):

Americans spend an estimated $5 billion a year on unproven herbal supplements that promise everything from fighting off colds to curbing hot flashes and boosting memory. But now there is a new reason for supplement buyers to beware: DNA tests show that many pills labeled as healing herbs are little more than powdered rice and weeds.

Using a test called DNA barcoding, a kind of genetic fingerprinting that has also been used to help uncover labeling fraud in the commercial seafood industry, Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of popular supplements sold by 12 companies. They found that many were not what they claimed to be, and that pills labeled as popular herbs were often diluted — or replaced entirely — by cheap fillers like soybean, wheat and rice.…

Among their findings were bottles of echinacea supplements, used by millions of Americans to prevent and treat colds, that contained ground up bitter weed, Parthenium hysterophorus, an invasive plant found in India and Australia that has been linked to rashes, nausea and flatulence.

Two bottles labeled as St. John’s wort, which studies have shown may treat mild depression, contained none of the medicinal herb. Instead, the pills in one bottle were made of nothing but rice, and another bottle contained only Alexandrian senna, an Egyptian yellow shrub that is a powerful laxative. Gingko biloba supplements, promoted as memory enhancers, were mixed with fillers and black walnut, a potentially deadly hazard for people with nut allergies.

Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place.

Many were adulterated with ingredients not listed on the label, like rice, soybean and wheat, which are used as fillers.

In some cases, these fillers were the only plant detected in the bottle — a health concern for people with allergies or those seeking gluten-free products, said the study’s lead author, Steven G. Newmaster, a biology professor and botanical director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph.

The full text of this study is available online (cached).

One might wonder how and why, in the 21st century, this sort of thing could be happening on such a scale. But there’s a very good reason for it: In the U.S. at least, the herbal supplement industry is more or less unregulated. Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (aka the DSHEA) enacted in 1994, as long as no explicit health claims are made about an herbal remedy, the FDA can do nothing at all about them. Not a damned thing. That’s right, it often is perfectly legal to sell “snake oil.”

Photo credit: Collier’s, via Wikimedia Commons.

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Smallpox vaccineStrangely, 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.

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Power BalanceMaybe 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.

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flu shot!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.

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