Posts Tagged “complementary medicine”

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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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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The mass media once again dutifully follow and relay, as if it were true, the “alternative medicine” narrative, trumpeting how often people resort to alternative or “complementary” remedies (I guess this was a slow news day, huh?):

Many Americans turning to unconventional medicine

About four in 10 U.S. adults and one in nine children are turning to unconventional medical approaches for chronic pain and other health problems, health officials said on Wednesday. …

About 38 percent of adults used some form of complementary and alternative medicine in 2007, compared to 36 percent in 2002, the last time the government tracked at the matter.

For the first time, the survey looked at use of such medicine by children under age 18, finding that about 12 percent used it, officials said. The reasons included back pain, colds, anxiety, stress and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the survey.

Folks, this is not proof that alternative or complementary medicine works. Just because people do something, or believe something is true, does not grant it veracity. To believe this is known in Latin as argumentum ad populum, and in English by various names, such as appeal to popularity, bandwagon fallacy, argument by consensus, or authority of the many. Whatever name you give it, it’s wrong. Once upon a time most of humanity believed the earth was the center of a cosmos only a few thousand miles in diameter, with the sun, moon, etc. revolving around it. All of those people turned out to have been wrong.

In a similar way, that lots of Americans resort to questionable remedies, does not mean they actually work. It just means that lots of people think they work. Big difference.

The Reuters story continues:

Overall, the most common category of complementary and alternative medicine used was natural products such as herbal medicines and certain other types of dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals.

The problem with this is that, it turns out a lot of these herbal remedies don’t work! The more studies are done on them, the more we find out out how useless they are. Here are some stories showing how this is the case:

Echinacea unproven to have value as cold treatment

Ginkgo Biloba Does Not Reduce Dementia Risk, Study Shows

Saw Palmetto No Better Than Placebo For Enlarged Prostate

… and many more, all available by Googling “<herb name> effectiveness

In fact, I will have more to say about the effectiveness of dietary supplements in my next blog entry

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