Posts Tagged “alt med”

Dr. Mehmet Oz was a regular guest on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' before launching his own show, which averages 3.7 million viewers daily. (George Burns, Harpo Productions, Inc)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)

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Kevin Trudeau has made himself famous in infomercials … and also made himself infamous by running afoul of the law: He’s been convicted of fraud and other felonies; has been sued by partners and investors; has been fined by the FTC and had his activities proscribed by that agency; has been held in contempt of court; has been targeted by multiple states including New York and Michigan (and he can no longer do business in the latter) … and that’s just part of his story. Along the way he managed — successfully for a while — to sell a book of phony alternative-medical “cures” despite having absolutely no medical training whatever and having conducted no research at all. Yet time and again, he persists in returning to sell yet another swindle.

Well, this longtime promoter of woo and kerfluffle has once again run afoul of the legal system; this time, he may not squirm out of it as easily as he has in the past. The Chicago Sun-Times reports on his latest example of legal defiance (WebCite cached article):

Kevin Trudeau held in criminal contempt, facing jail time

Kevin Trudeau, the slick, silver-tongued infomercial king and best-selling author amassed a fortune over years of persistent, late-night hawking.

This week, he made the wrong sales pitch.

Trudeau was found in criminal contempt of court Thursday and nearly had handcuffs slapped on him after he asked his supporters to email the federal judge overseeing a pending civil case brought against him by the Federal Trade Commission.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said he was flooded with hundreds of “harassing, threatening and interfering” emails, locking up the judge’s email system and shutting down his Blackberry for part of the day.

“This is direct contempt — that’s how I view it,” Gettleman said. “He interfered with the direct process of the court.”

Gettleman hauled Trudeau into court a day after he posted a message on his Web site with his appeal. Gettleman ordered Trudeau to turn over his passport, pay $50,000 bond and warned he could face future prison time.

I’m not sure what’s worse … that Trudeau would consider himself so impervious to the legal system that he would take it on directly, by siccing people on the court … or that there were enough people who actually obeyed him, to cause a problem with the court’s email system.

People, get this: Trudeau is a convicted felon. He doesn’t deserve your support. You need to stop doing what he tells you to do, even if you think his “cures” work.

Americans are, sadly, vulnerable to Trudeau’s claim, which is the title of his book, that there are natural cures that “they” (whoever that might be) don’t want you to know about. Unfortunately this is absurd on its face. Any “cure” for any significant ailment, is worth tons of money to whoever knows about it and can show it works. No one has any financial incentive so sit on one and never allow it to be disclosed.

Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.

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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!)

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On the heels of my post yesterday about the anti-vaccine movement raging in New York state, I thought I should remark on Phil Plait (of the excellent Bad Astronomy blog) deciding to take a stand against the anti-vaccine movement in his own way:

I used to write for the Huffington Post, an online news and blog collective. It was started by Arianna Huffington during the Bush Era as a response to all the far-right online media. I didn’t agree with a lot of what was on there — I am more centrist — but at the time I thought it was necessary.

Then they started to promote far-left New Age nonsense, and when it came to vaccinations, HuffPo started posting all kinds of opinions that amounted to nothing more than out-and-out health threats. While they do sometimes post a counter-argument, it’s still almost all alt-med, all the time.

Here’s the latest: a doctor named Frank Lipman is telling people not to get vaccinated against Swine Flu. Instead he says you should wash your hands a lot, eat well, and take homeopathic medicine.

I’m sure the folks at Huff feel they’re doing the right thing, but when you’re talking medicine, feelings do not matter … science and, more specifically, evidence do. At any rate, Plait is done with Huff:

It’s the peddling of antivax rhetoric like this that drove me from HuffPo, and I’ve let them know why. I was a minor cog there, so I know it made no difference… and the proof is that they still post articles promoting procedures known to be useless. In fact, it’s worse than that, since someone might try the homeopathic water rather than get actual treatment.

So, as always, don’t listen to people like Lipman, or even to me when it comes to this stuff. Instead, go to your doctor, a board-certified and science-based doctor, and ask them about the H1N1 swine flu, and see if they recommend getting the shot.

That’s good advice … go to a bona fide evidence-based doctor, and follow his/her instructions. Plait’s exit from the circus of children that is Huff may not alleviate that blog’s fuzzy thinking, but even symbolic stands can carry some weight. Good for you, Dr Plait!

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