The Skeptical Teacher

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

Swine Flu Quackery

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 3, 2009

If you read this blog regularly, you recently saw where I predicted in an earlier post – Swine Flu Conspiracy Hogwash – that pretty soon some pseudoscientific woo-monger out there would be prescribing nonsense as a “cure” for the swine (or H1N1)  flu. Well, I was right; maybe I’m psychic? – nah, more likely it’s that the woo-mongers are all too predictable in their parasitic opportunism to push their idiocy when people are scared.

It ends up that a writer over at the increasingly nutty Huffington Post, Matthew Stein, wrote an article titled When a Superbug Strikes Close to Home, How Can You Deal With it? Essentially, this article is a simultaneous attack on science-based medicine, through the all-too-familiar conspiracy theory about Big Pharma & the medical/scientific establishment, while promoting a wide variety of non-scientific quackery which I like to collectively refer to as sCAM.


**Aside: if you want to see a more detailed debunking of this HuffPo balderdash, I highly recommend Orac’s post over at Respectful Insolence 🙂

Here are some excerpts from Matthew Stein’s article which illustrate my point…

Additionally, a significant and growing threat is cultivated right here in the United States, as a result of our modern factory farm methods for growing livestock. Some bright researchers figured out that farm animals fed sub-clinical doses of antibiotics grow faster than animals that eat regular feed, get sick less often, and fewer animals are lost to disease. This has been a boon to the pharmaceutical industry (40 percent of U.S.-made antibiotics are fed to animals), but it is also contributing to the end of “The Age of Wonder Drugs.” Since bacteria reproduce at 500,000 times the rate of humans, natural genetic selection has made antibiotic-fed farm animals (and our own bodies after we ingest the antibiotics contained within the flesh of these farm animals) into perfect breeding grounds for growing super-microbes that are resistant to modern medicines. When Jim Hensen, the beloved inventor of The Muppets, succumbed to a pneumonia-like infection from an antibiotic resistant form of strep (Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci), the best doctors and antibiotics that money could buy were unable to save his life.

And here comes the promotion of the nonsense, mixed in with that conspiracy-mongering just for good measure…

The good news is that there are many alternative medicines, herbs, and treatments that can be quite effective in the fight against a wide variety of viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to which mainstream high-tech Western medicine has little or nothing to offer. The bad news is that 99 percent of the doctors in our hospitals are not trained in these alternatives, and don’t have a clue about what to do when their pharmaceutical high-tech medicines fail to heal. If you wait until a pandemic starts, you will have only a slim chance for locating an available health practitioner familiar with alternative herbs, medicines, and methods. In the words of Robert Saum, PhD, the typical attitude amongst most of his medical colleagues in this country is, “If I didn’t learn it in medical school, it can’t be true.”

And if this isn’t bad enough, Mr. Stein believes that he suddenly has the authority to play doctor by giving some really, really bad advice…

When it comes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and deadly viruses, so-called “alternative medicine,” including herbs and a variety of other treatments, may well be your most effective form of treatment and prevention. A few years ago, my wife Josie suffered from an antibiotic-resistant urinary infection that was probably caused by the same strain of antibiotic-resistant E. coli that reportedly plagued women across the country (San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 14, 2001). We spent nearly $2,000 on doctors and multiple courses of three different antibiotics, including three full courses of the infamous Cipro, but the infection returned every time we tried to discontinue the Cipro, which was the only antibiotic that had any positive effect.

After nearly two months of unsuccessful medical treatment, Josie was finally able to kick the infection in less than one weeks time, once she resorted to self-treatment with a combination of grapefruit seed extract (from the health food store) and large quantities of homemade antibiotic colloidal silver solution (roughly one quart a day).

So, Stein is essentially telling his readers to ignore modern medicine when dealing with new & emerging diseases, such as the swine flu.  Instead of paying attention to those who are actually trained in science & medicine, such as the Centers for Disease Control, Stein and his moronic allies at the HuffPo feel that they have license to push non-scientific & non-tested “cures”.  Whiskey-tango-foxtrot?!

I also like how, in the last paragraph I quoted, Stein makes use of an all-too-common argument in pseudoscientific circles, especially among sCAM advocates – the argument by anecdote. When the best thing you’ve got is a personal anecdote as evidence for some kind of “natural cure”, then you’re on pretty thin ice, folks.  There is a really good reason why the medical & scientific community do not rely on anecdotal evidence for important research – case studies are much more reliable, mostly because they are subject to peer-review & scientific controls.  In many cases, anedotes are nothing more than a personal story, the veracity of which may be very dubious & the claims which are usually untestable.

As I close, I want to leave you with this thought.  If Matthew Stein of the HuffPo wants to act like a doctor & practice his brand of “medicine” by giving crappy advice, then is he willing to – quite literally – put his money where his mouth is and risk being sued for spreading misinformation and malpractice?  Is he willing to accept the responsibility that comes with being licensed as a practicing doctor?

Real doctors have malpractice insurance to cover themselves in such instances and answer to a medical board of their peers, but Stein isn’t a real doctor – he is just some idiot spouting nonsense over the Internet.  Unfortunately, someone might actually listen to him, take his claims seriously, and end up dead for their troubles.

2 Responses to “Swine Flu Quackery”

  1. […] Original post by mattusmaximus […]

  2. […] Paul Short placed an interesting blog post on Swine Flu QuackeryHere’s a brief overview…non-scientific quackery which I like to collectively refer to as sCAM. … is, “If I didn’t learn it in medical school, it can’t be… […]

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