The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

Fight Against Cancer Quack Burzynski Goes to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 8, 2014

Last year I blogged about how this blog has joined a coalition of skeptical blogs titled the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).

The impetus for this is a particularly loathsome man - Stanislaw Burzynski – who is a quack that promises to cure people of their cancer, despite the fact that decades of research show that his claimed cancer cures don’t work.  Unfortunately, Burzynski has been able to skirt common decency, good medical science, and the FDA regulators and continue to practice his quackery, resulting in an unfortunate number of people going to him in the hopes that he can cure them.  A good rundown of Burzynski’s history of fraud can be found by listening to this recent podcast of Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the SPCP has decided to take down Burzynski due to the particularly flagrant manner in which he practices his dangerous pseudoscience; it will also serve as a message to all other medical quacks and charlatans to be on notice because we in the skeptical community are watching.

Burzynski SI Title

Well, now things are going to the next level – straight to Congress.  Burzynski has been able to get away with so much for so long because he has political allies in high places, so we’ve decided to fight fire with fire.  My skeptical colleagues at the SPCP have put together a petition asking Congress to step in and force the FDA to do its job and properly investigate, regulate, and (hopefully) put out of business Burzynski and his quack clinic.

Please consider signing and passing along this petition; the text of the petition follows – click here to sign:

Protect Desperate Patients from the Houston Cancer Quack

Petition by Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients

We are writing to request your urgent attention to a matter that involves the exploitation of cancer patients, their families, and their communities.

For nearly 40 years, Houston cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski has been treating cancer patients with an unproven chemotherapy he calls “antineoplastons.” Following an agreement in the 1990s with the FDA, he has recently only been able to administer the drug under the auspices of clinical trials. For this questionable treatment, he charges patients exorbitant fees (often hundreds of thousands of dollars) to participate in a trial, and he claims to cure the most difficult, almost uniformly fatal pediatric brain cancers. His claims are not supported by science and evidence; despite opening more than 60 trials in the last 15 years, he has not published the results of a single completed clinical trial.

On Friday, November 15, 2013, many concerning issues about Dr. Burzynski were detailed in a front-page exposé in USA Today, including his past use of antineoplastons as an AIDS and Parkinson’s treatment. Sickeningly, critics of the Clinic have found a pattern going back 20 years of patients publicly celebrating unambiguous signs of disease progression as signs that antineoplastons were working.

The FDA recently released site inspection notes about Stanislaw Burzynski’s clinic. Their findings were horrific:

– Burzynski “failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care.”
– “Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses“
– Burzysnki allowed overdoses continue: “Overdose incidents have been reported to you [....] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.”
– All baseline tumor measurements were destroyed: “Your [...] tumor measurements initially recorded on worksheets at baseline and on-study treatment [...] studies for all study subjects were destroyed and are not available for FDA inspectional review.” Without any measurement there is no way to determine any actual efficacy of the treatment, making Burzynski’s claims unsupported and unpublishable.
– Burzynski’s reported success rates are inflated: He “failed to comply with protocol requirements related to the primary outcome, therapeutic response [...] for 67% of study subjects reviewed during the inspection.” Nonetheless, these inaccurate outcomes are used to convince dying patients antineoplastons can save them.

Other issues cited by the FDA included:

– Paying patients who failed to meet the inclusion criteria for the study were admitted to Burynski’s trials;
– Burzynski did not report all adverse events as required by his study protocols, and many exhibiting toxic effects were not removed from treatment;
– Adverse events were not reported in a timely fashion (in one case 7 years);
– The FDA received two different versions of a pediatric patient’s records during an inspection, especially significant because the child apparently died of a known side effect of antineoplastons.

Shockingly, these observations were made after a decade of abysmal site reviews by the FDA. Currently, Burzynski’s trials are subject to a partial clinical hold, which means Burzynski is still treating patients already on his protocol.

We are asking that you:

– Encourage the FDA to dissolve the Burzynski Research Institute’s clearly deficient Institutional Review [ethical oversight] Board and toplace a permanent hold on any more cancer patients receiving antineoplastons;
– Investigate how Burzynski has been allowed to conduct experiments on pediatric cancer patients while repeatedly cited for violating rules designed to prevent uncontrolled human experimentation.
– Investigate why the FDA allowed this abysmal researcher to advance to phase 3 clinical trials without publishing a single phase 2 trial;
– Protect cancer patients from abuse through legislation and FDA oversight reform.

Please help end a medical ethics scandal that involves eight times as many patients as the Tuskegee Experiment. I look forward to your response on this important matter.

Click here to Sign the Petition!

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Charlatan Kevin Trudeau Goes to Prison

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 22, 2014

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about that most infamous of anti-medical charlatans, Kevin Trudeau, and how he was doing all that he could to dodge both common decency and the law by continuing to push his “Natural Cures” nonsense…

Many times you’ll hear skeptics venting their spleens about this huckster or that charlatan and “How is it possible they’re allowed to get away with this crap?!”  One of the worst such pseudoscientific offenders in recent years has been “natural cures” quack Kevin Trudeau, who has used his infomercial sales pitches to convince countless people that he has a cure for cancer (he doesn’t) and that they shouldn’t trust modern, science-based medicine because “‘They’ don’t want you to know the truth”.  I think it would be reasonable to say that Trudeau has not only bilked people out of millions of dollars with his bogus “cures”, but in addition that his nonsensical anti-scientific conspiracy mongering has even gotten some people who believed him killed. …

… Well, I think this is one case in which the charlatan is getting his just-desserts.  Of course, to Trudeau’s followers, this will likely be interpreted as more evidence of their “Big Pharma/Big Medicine/Big Government” conspiracy theory, and they will paint Trudeau as a martyr for the alt-med cause. Which is fine with me, so long as Trudeau is a martyr in jail. [emphasis added]

Well, today I am happy to report that, while the wheels of justice do indeed grind slowly, Kevin Trudeau has finally gotten what he deserves: a long stay in prison :)

TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau gets 10-year sentence

Best-selling author Kevin Trudeau, whose name became synonymous with late-night TV pitches, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday for bilking consumers through ubiquitous infomercials for his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

As he imposed the sentence prosecutors had requested, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman portrayed the 50-year-old Trudeau as a habitual fraudster going back to his early adulthood. So brazen was Trudeau, the judge said, he once even used his own mother’s Social Security number in a scheme.

“Since his 20s, he has steadfastly attempted to cheat others for his own gain,” Guzman said, adding that Trudeau is “deceitful to the very core.” …

I could go on, but suffice it to say that despite Trudeau’s lame attempts to defend himself and his actions, the judge was having none of it.  Too often hucksters and liars like Trudeau play upon the fears and ignorance of science and critical thinking among the general population in order to line their own pockets or push an agenda (other notable examples include the late Sylvia Browne and creationist Ken Ham).

What is so satisfying about this outcome is the fact that, when the chips are down and someone like Trudeau and his ilk wind up in court, what really matters isn’t talking points, it’s all about evidence and logical arguments.  That’s why creationists have consistently lost in the courts, and that’s also why Trudeau is now going to prison… because they have no evidence to back up their baseless claims.

Personally, I’d like to see more of this kind of thing; hopefully, it will send a message to those pseudoscientists who want to play doctor but not actually be responsible for what they say.  But for now, I shall bask in the afterglow of Trudeau’s epic pwning…

pwned-facekick

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Doctor” Oz Fails at Medicine AND Physics as He Pushes Cell Phone Fear-Mongering

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2013

This recent silliness by “Doctor” Oz came to my attention: apparently, during a recent show he took seriously the notion that women shouldn’t carry cell phones in their bras because it could give them breast cancer.  My skeptical colleague Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine summarizes Oz’s idiocy and fear-mongering here…

… The story aired on December 6 and was entitled Why You Should Keep Your Cell Phone Out of Your Bra. The entire segment, lasting ten minutes or so, is one blatant piece of fear mongering. Even by the usual low standards of a typical Dr. Oz segment, this one was bad. How bad? I’ll give you a taste. Let me start just by asking what you might expect in a segment claiming a link between an environmental exposure of some sort and a specific cancer? You’d expect some actual scientific evidence, wouldn’t you? Some epidemiology, perhaps, showing that women who hold their cell phones in their bras have a higher risk of breast cancer, perhaps with some relative risks that were at least statistically significant. You might expect some scientific evidence suggesting why the proposed mechanism is plausible. You might even expect that there would be convincing (or at least suggestive) evidence that women who put their cell phones in their bras, when they develop breast cancer, develop it more frequently on the side where they stick their cell phone. These would be reasonable things to expect that, even though they wouldn’t be convincing proof, would at least raise concerns.

There was none of that at all. Zero. Nada. Zip. In fact, I was shocked at how evidence-free this whole segment was. Usually Oz at least tries to slather a patina of scientific evidence on his pseudoscience. OK, maybe not usually, but he does at least sometimes try when he’s not doing a story on alternative medicine, “complementary and alternative medicine,” or “integrative medicine,” anyway. Not here. It’s as if Dr. Oz’s producers weren’t even trying for this one. …

If you want a good analysis that thrashes the hell out of Oz’s claims from a medical perspective, definitely read through all of Dr. Gorski’s blog post.  Seeing as how I’m not a medical doctor, I won’t rehash his analysis here; but I am a physics professor, so what I can do is go through the basic physics of why it is implausible that cell phones are even physically capable of causing cancer.  In fact, I’ve written numerous posts on this topic already…

Electromagnetic Fields & Cancer Myths

This first post is probably the most thorough on the fundamental physics of how electromagnetic radiation/waves (also known as light) are generated and propagate; also included is a basic primer on the different kinds of EM waves, the EM spectrum, what role frequency and energy of light play in these issues, and the all important difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.  Here’s the upshot: cell phones emit non-ionizing (i.e. non-cancer causing) radiation.

Maine Legislator Pushes Cell Phone-Cancer Woo

This article about a hysterical politician in Maine points out the implications of allowing basic scientific literacy to be trumped by the kind of psuedoscience and fear-mongering propagated by “Doctor” Oz and his ilk.

Cell Phones STILL Don’t Cause Cancer

Just a more up-to-date article outlining some more research from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark after it looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.  Conclusion: even while looking for supposed long-term negative effects, none were found.

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

SHARE Relief Effort for Victims of Typhoon Haiyan

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 12, 2013

In an effort to continue lighting candles in the darkness, I wanted to pass along the following announcement from SHARE, the Skeptics and Humanist Aid and Relief Effort – please consider helping out…

Please Donate Now for Philippines Typhoon Relief

SHARE Phillipine Typhoon ReliefTyphoon Haiyan has killed thousands of people in the Philippines, and the toll is rising. Of those who have thus far survived, 4 million people are estimated to be directly affected, right now. They need clean water, food, and shelter, right now.

We at the Center for Inquiry are asking you to help by donating to the S.H.A.R.E. (Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Efforts) program to assist secular aid organizations to provide immediate and desperately needed relief and services. 100% of money raised goes directly to the relief efforts of Oxfam.

Click here to donate.

At CFI, all of our work is grounded in the values of secular humanism, values that consider every human life equal in dignity and respect. In the aftermath of this typhoon, there are millions of human beings in danger, millions in need. We’re asking you to please put your values into action, and help those affected by one of the most devastating storms in recent history, right now.

Thank you.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skeptical Teacher Interviewed on The Pink Atheist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2013

This past Sunday evening, I was interviewed on The Pink Atheist podcast/radio show.  The topics of discussion were the vaccine survey research I was involved with and the importance of promoting a good pro-vaccine message, as well as talking about some of the physics behind various crazy demonstrations I perform both in and out of the classroom.

Click the link below for the full audio of my interview, which starts at the 20:25 mark.  Enjoy! :)

The Pink Atheist

pink atheist

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Opinion Survey on Vaccines Published by JREF and WT,Inc

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that a ground-breaking survey conducted on the issue of people’s opinions regarding vaccines and vaccination has been published; the work was a joint project of the James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. and it gets to the heart of how those of us who support good science-based medicine can communicate a more positive message on vaccines.

In addition, I am happy to say that I took a personal role in this research during my time with the Women Thinking, Inc. organization :)

[**Addendum: My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, wrote a wonderful piece on this survey research over at Skepchick, and she outlines there just how many people were involved in this process over the last few years.  Check it out!]

So, without further ado, I would like to link to the JREF’s press-release on the survey; please note that you can download the full paper at this link, so please share it!

Opinion Survey by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Supports Childhood Immunization

The James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. have come together for an opinion survey aimed at better understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children. The project, Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation, explores better ways to communicate a “vaccine-positive” message.

“Vaccine misconceptions have been running rampant, which should not only be concerning to science advocates but to parents and the greater public,” said WTinc President Louise Kellar. “Previously it had been unclear which misconceptions had been taking a toll on parents. Through this survey that the JREF funded, we hope that that science advocates and educators will be able to focus their outreach efforts, thereby helping children have the best start in life and hopefully saving some lives in the process.”

The joint project is an opinion survey that includes data from hundreds of parents of young children. The survey data was collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to “anti-vaccine” messages. The JREF and Women Thinking, Inc. is happy to make the results freely available to public health and science advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“There are some provocative conclusions that may be drawn from the survey data,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, the survey data suggests that most parents do understand the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ but just consider this a greater risk than possible harm to their children coming from vaccination. We hope the information from the survey will help science educators and activists better understand parents’ concerns in order to help them make the healthiest choices regarding childhood immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTinc survey, conducted over the last two years and released to the public today, aims to help science advocates fill gaps in the public’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asked specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. From the report: “The most effective anti-vaccination arguments are those that induce fear in parents by naming frightening ingredients and by greatly exaggerating the risks of vaccinations. The best pro-vaccination arguments were those that focused on a good-parenting message, such as suggesting that not immunizing your child is equivalent to putting them in a car without a car seat.”

You may download a copy of Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation here.

Click here to read the rest of the press-release

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

When Faith Fails: Vaccine-Denial Gets Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2013

Many times we think of vaccine deniers and picture Jenny McCarthy as the spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement.  She goes on and on about how her “mommy instinct” trumps all of modern medicine and insists it’s acceptable to prevent them from getting vaccinated; this despite the fact that kids can die without their vaccines.

Well, there is a disturbing new trend in the anti-vaccine movement: some parts of it have gotten religion… literally.  Apparently there is now a confluence of faith-healing with anti-vaccine sentiment, and it has gotten popular enough in some circles that it is – surprise – causing the outbreak of diseases such as the measles which were once thought to be practically wiped out.

Read on for more information:

There’s a Measles Outbreak at Vaccine-Denying Pastor Kenneth Copeland’s Fort Worth Church

KennethGloriaCopeland-thumb-565x376

Image source

For several days now, state health officials have been sounding the alarm about a nascent measles outbreak in North Texas. As of Friday, there had been nine confirmed cases, a number that will grow as new reports from local health agencies filter up to the state.

The epicenter of the outbreak is Tarrant County, which has now confirmed 10 cases, and the epicenter of cases in Tarrant County seems to be at Eagle Mountain International Church.

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivered the news in a sermon last Wednesday:

“There has been a … confirmed case of the measles from the Tarrant County Public Health Department. And that is a really big deal in that America, the United States has been essentially measles free for I think it’s 10 years. And so when measles pops up anywhere else in the United States, the health department — well, you know, it excites them. You know what I mean I don’t mean. I don’t mean they’re happy about it, but they get very excited and respond to it because it doesn’t take much for things like that to spread.”

The sermon was awkward, to say the least. Pearsons is the eldest daughter of megapastor Kenneth Copeland, and her church is one of the cornerstones of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, his sprawling evangelical empire. He’s far from the most vocal proponent of the discredited theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism, but, between his advocacy of faith healing and his promotion of the vaccine-autism link on his online talk show, he’s not exactly urging his flock to get their recommended shots. …

Hmm… a plague has struck these supposed chosen people.  The way I see it, you can have all the faith you want, but the infectious diseases out there don’t give a crap how devoted you are to your particular religion and/or god; it’s that simple.

In closing, if you’ll permit me a snarky comment directed towards the faith-healing crowd: perhaps this plague a sign from God, people… that you should vaccinate yourselves and your children!!!

Posted in medical woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients: Battling Burzynski’s Dangerous BS

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2013

Sometimes pseudoscience is stupid, sometimes it is annoying, sometimes it hurts our educational institutions… and sometimes it is outright frakking deadly.  Case in point, medical frauds who perpetuate nonsense to vulnerable, desperate people; such as when quacks push supposed “cures for cancer” which are anything but or have yet to be proven, such as in the case of Stanislaw Burzynski and his “cancer clinic”.  In such situations, it is literally a matter of life and death because when cancer patients delay reliable medical treatments in favor of pseudoscientific B.S. the delay can cost them their lives.  Skeptic James Randi helps to break it down in more detail here:

The Randi Show – The Burzynski Clinic and Cancer Quacks

But rather than curse the darkness, let us instead light a candle… :)

I am happy to announce that the Skeptical Teacher will be joining a coalition of skeptical activists called the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).  The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients is a grassroots group devoted to the promotion of promising, ethical, and transparent cancer research. For more about this project and the group sponsoring it, visit thehoustoncancerquack.com or visit their Facebook page.  Also, please consider donating either some of your time  by promoting the cause (if you have a blog or media contacts) and/or your money to the legitimate scientific research of cancer.

Some more background and info on Burzynski:

*Dr. David Gorski has a new Science-Based Medicine post out as of this past Monday on Burzynski’s antineoplastons treatment. Science-Based Medicine » Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s antineoplastons versus patients.

*Burzynski gets warning from FDA: Stop promoting your treatment as “safe” and “effective”

The U.S. FDA has sent a letter to the Burzynski Research Institute to cease claiming that their brain tumor treatment, antineoplastons, are safe and/or effective for the purposed for which they are being investigated. In other words, Burzynski’s claims on websites and promotional materials that this treatment WORKS is a violation because supposed to be testing that!

* Supporters often use patient anecdotes to sell his unproven treatments at the Burzynski Patient Group. We have started curating a collection of patient stories at The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group, the ones Burzynski would rather you not hear. Also, these stories can be exported to your own website IN THEIR ENTIRETY via the storify site they were created on. Free content, people. Just sayin’.

*Orac, an oncologist, cancer researcher, and patient advocate, has written extensively about Burzynski at Respectful Insolence.

*Learn the whole story at Josephine Jones’s Blog. She has kept a comprehensive list of content about Burzynski, his clinic, and his chemotherapy on the web. An invaluable resource!

*You might be interested that the EMPLOYER of one of our members (of SPCP) was recently contacted by one of Burzynski’s misguided supporters.

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated” Clinic a Success at TAM2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 21, 2012

One of the most rewarding things I did at TAM2012, which was full of rewarding things, was to help run and staff the Hug Me! vaccination clinic.  Hug Me! is a campaign by the Women Thinking, Inc to educate women and parents (and pretty much anyone else) on the importance of vaccinating their children and themselves.  While at TAM2012, we gave 161 free TDaP – that’s Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis (whooping cough) – booster shots to attendees of the conference.  If you are interested in learning more and possibly supporting our work, by donating or buying a Hug Me! shirt, click here :)

**Update: if you want to buy a Hug Me! shirt (as pictured below) send an email to marsmattus [at] yahoo [dot] com

The volunteers from the Women Thinking, Inc posing with James “The Amazing One” Randi (note our mascot, the sloth)

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

XKCD Nails It on Homeopathy

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 2, 2011

In the way that only XKCD can, a very cogent point is made regarding homeopathy.  Recall the specific claim that homeopathy proponents make regarding their “solutions” basically containing no active ingredients, then read this comic…

In case you don’t click the link, mousing-over the XKCD graphic on their page reveals the following text:

“I just noticed CVS has started stocking homeopathic pills on the same shelves with–and labeled similarly to–their actual medicine. Telling someone who trusts you that you’re giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying–it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.”

Well said, XKCD.  Bravo :)

Posted in humor, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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