The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘complementary medicine’

Vote for Dr. Rachie & Science-Based Medicine on Twitter!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2010

With the advent of new technologies such as the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter, the skeptical movement has been able to make great strides in connecting, networking, and growing over the years.  Unfortunately, various woo-based anti-science groups are doing likewise, often clogging up the ol’ Intertubes with all manner of nonsense.

In a recent example of this tension on the new media, Twitter is holding a contest called the Shorty Awards, where Twitter users can vote for their favorite Twitter users in a variety of categories.  Right now there is intense competition for the top spot on the Shorty Award health category between Dr. Rachel Dunlop and alt-med woo-meister Dr. Mercola.

Dr. Dunlop, or DrRachie as she likes to be called, is a great advocate for skepticism and science-based medicine, and it would be a shame to see her lose out to the likes of Dr. Mercola, who dismisses much of modern medicine as part of a conspiracy by Big Pharma to cover up “the truth” of various “natural cures” via his website Mercola.com.

The vote is pretty close now – with DrRachie ahead by about 100 votes – and it closes today.  So if you’re on Twitter, take a moment to go vote for DrRachie!

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129th Skeptic’s Circle @ SkepVet

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 28, 2010

The Skeptic’s Circle comes rolling along for another round of skeptical goodness from all corners of the Interwebs – this round is being hosted by the SkepVet Blog, a place where “A Vet Takes a Science-Based Look at Complementary and Alternative Medicine”.  Read on to soak up the awesomeness 🙂

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Suicide by Homeopathy?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2010

If you’ve been running around in skeptical circles for any amount of time, then you’ve no doubt heard of the quackery called homeopathy. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on homeopathy…

Classical homeopathy originated in the 19th century with Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843) as an alternative to the standard medical practices of the day, such as phlebotomy or bloodletting. Opening veins to bleed patients, force disease out of the body, and restore the humors to a proper balance was a popular medical practice until the late19th century (Williams 2000: 265). Hahnemann rejected the notion that disease should be treated by letting out the offensive matter causing the illness. In this, he was right. On the other hand, he argued that disease should be treated by helping the vital force restore the body to harmony and balance. In this, he was wrong. He rejected other common medical practices of his day such as purgatives and emetics “with opium and mercury-based calomel” (ibid.: 145). He was right to do so. Hahnemann’s alternative medicine was more humane and less likely to cause harm than many of the conventional practices of his day. …

Homeopaths refer to “the Law of Infinitesimals” and the “Law of Similars” as grounds for using minute substances and for believing that like heals like, but these are not natural laws of science. If they are laws at all, they are metaphysical laws, i.e., beliefs about the nature of reality that would be impossible to test by empirical means. Hahnemann’s ideas did originate in experience. That he drew metaphysical conclusions from empirical events does not, however, make his ideas empirically testable. The law of infinitesimals seems to have been partly derived from his notion that any remedy would cause the patient to get worse before getting better and that one could minimize this negative effect by significantly reducing the size of the dose. Most critics of homeopathy balk at this “law” because it leads to remedies that have been so diluted as to have nary a single molecule of the substance one starts with.

And this is the real rub with a notion as loony as homeopathy.  We already know from modern science-based medicine that, in the case of drugs, there must be a certain amount of active ingredient in the drug in order for it to have the desired effect.  Of course, there are dangers from using medical drugs: one of the most common is that of over-dosing.  If someone takes too much of a certain active ingredient, it can be harmful or – in the worst case – fatal.  For example, we all know about stories of people committing suicide by over-dosing on sleeping pills.

However, with homeopathy, this is all turned completely on its head.  Homeopaths, invoking their magical “law of infinitesimals”, insist that by diluting the active ingredient to the most ludicrous extreme (i.e., imagine diluting a solution so much that only one molecule of active ingredient remains in it) this will somehow transfer the healing power of the ingredient to the patient and actually make the solution more potent.

A classic example of debunking this particular woo-woo claim has been performed numerous times by James Randi as he lectures on the topic of homeopathy & other quackery.  As he lectures, usually for roughly an hour, Randi will consume an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills that he’d purchased earlier from a nearby pharmacy.  Needless to say, despite performing this feat numerous times, James Randi has yet to die from such an “over-dose”.

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Good News – Alt-Med Gets Whacked in 2009

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2010

It looks like, upon looking back at the year 2009, that in many ways it was a good one for science & skepticism – at least, it was good for medical science.  That’s because, according to a breakdown by LiveScience.com, various forms of alt-med woo woo got a well-deserved smackdown.  That’s because a number of popular alt-med ideas were – gasp!actually tested out under controlled conditions to see if they actually do what their practitioners claim.  Let’s look at the results…

Reiki

Reiki is a spiritual practice developed in Japan in the early 20th century that, in the hands of Westerners, has evolved into a new-age healing practice. Popular in Hawaii and California by the 1970s, reiki has since become a staple at health spas and in granola-loving cities across the United States.

Reiki involves a practitioner (that is, someone who has taken a couple days of training) who places her hands on or just above a patient’s body to transmit healing energy — the “ki” or reiki, better known as qi in Chinese traditional medicine. Reiki has all the trappings of new-age healing: restoring balance and instilling life energy through mysticism and/or vibrational energy. Akin to a hands-off massage, reiki is said to relieve stress, fatigue and depression and promote self-healing for just about any disease, including cancer.

The two largest scientific reviews of reiki, published last year in International Journal of Clinical PracticeJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reveal that reiki is not an effective treatment for any condition. and in November 2009 in the Also in 2009, the U.S. Catholic Church weighed in, stating at a March meeting of bishops that, “since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for… Catholic health care facilities… to provide support for Reiki therapy.”

Reiki is not an outright scam; the practitioners seem to believe in what they are doing. In the end the soft music and whispery speech of the practitioners during the reiki sessions merely helps one relax.

Well, regardless of the Catholic Church’s theological opinion on reiki, one thing is clear: the science shows that, despite the fervent belief held by its practitioners, reiki doesn’t work. I can wave my hands in the air just as well as a “qualified” reiki practitioner and achieve exactly the same results… nothing at all. What’s next?

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Update on the “Sense About Science” Campaign

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 14, 2009

As some of the regular readers of this blog may recall, there is currently a case pending in the United Kingdom which could have potentially far-reaching consequences regarding issues of free speech & skepticism.  Of course, I’m referring to the now-famous case of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association and the associated grass-roots effort by our friends over at Sense About Science to reform the libel laws in the UK.  Since I last blogged about it, there have been some interesting developments.  I wanted to pass along the latest update I’ve received on this issue, so here goes…

Dear Friends

A message from Simon Singh:

“It has been 18 months since I was sued for libel after publishing my article on chiropractic. I am continuing to fight my case and am prepared to defend my article for another 18 months or more if necessary. The ongoing libel case has been distracting, draining and frustrating, but it has always been heartening to receive so much support, particularly from people who realise that English libel laws need to be reformed in order to allow robust discussion of matters of public interest. Over twenty thousand people signed the statement to Keep Libel Laws out of Science, but now we need you to sign up again and add your name to the new statement.

The new statement is necessary because the campaign for libel reform is stepping up a gear and will be working on much broader base. Sense About Science has joined forces with Index on Censorship and English PEN and their goal is to reach 100,000 or more signatories in order to help politicians appreciate the level of public support for libel reform. We have already met several leading figures from all three main parties and they have all showed signs of interest. Now, however, we need a final push in order to persuade them to commit to libel reform.

Finally, I would like to make three points. First, I will stress again – please take the time to reinforce your support for libel reform by signing up at www.libelreform.org. Second, please spread the word by blogging, twittering, Facebooking and emailing in order to encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Third, for those supporters who live overseas, please also add your name to the petition and encourage others to do the same; unfortunately and embarrassingly, English libel laws impact writers in the rest of the world, but now you can help change those laws by showing your support for libel reform. While I fight in my own libel battle, I hope that you will fight the bigger battle of libel reform.”

And from me, Síle:

The campaign for libel reform was launched by Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN on Wednesday 9th December. You can read about it in the following articles:

BBC NEWS Comic Dara O Briain says libel laws ‘quash dissent’

The Times Scientists urge reform of ‘lethal’ libel law

The Independent Comic Dara O Briain lambasts ‘bully’ libel law

The Mirror Dara O Briain wants libel reform

THE UCL provost: libel law is stifling academic freedoms

New Scientist blog Campaign to reform English libel law launched

Press Gazette‘Libel can kill – reform it now’

The Press AssociationDara O Briain wants libel reform

To read the background of this campaign see www.senseaboutscience.org/freedebate. We still need your support. Add your voice at www.libelreform.org and help us reach our fundraising target at www.justgiving.com/bookfund.

Best

Síle

Síle Lane
Public Liaison
Sense About Science
25 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 7EG
Reg. Charity No. 1101114
Tel: +44 (0)20 7478 4380
www.senseaboutscience.org

Sense About Science is a small charity that equips people to make sense of science and evidence. We depend on donations, large and small, from people who support our work. You can donate, or find out more, at www.senseaboutscience.org/donate

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

Update on Simon Singh vs. British Chiropractic Association: Singh Wins Leave to Appeal

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 15, 2009

Good news!  🙂 Here’s a quick update of the situation in the ongoing trial of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association.  It seems that Singh has been granted a leave to appeal the court’s earlier decision against him…

*Note: for some background on this issue, see my earlier blog post – Silencing Skepticism: The Case of Simon Singh

Simon Singh wins leave to appeal in BCA libel case

14 Oct 2009

singhA court ruling today affirmed science writer Simon Singh’s right to free expression. It grants him leave to appeal Mr Justice Eady’s ruling against him in a libel action brought by the British Chiropractic Association, reports Padraig Reidy

Popular science writer Simon Singh has been granted leave to appeal in the libel action brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association.

In a scathing rebuttal of Mr Justice Eady’s previous judgement in the case, Lord Justice Laws said Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression. Lord Justice Laws described Eady’s judgement, centred on Singh’s use of the word “bogus” in an article published by the Guardian newspaper, as “legally erroneous”.

Laws also pointed out that Eady’s judgement had conflated two issues — the meaning of the phrases complained of, and the issue of whether the article was presented as fact or fair comment.

Laws said there was “no question” of the “good faith” of Singh in writing the article, as the matter was “clearly in the public interest”.

Speaking after the judgement, Singh told Index on Censorship this was the “best possible result”.

“But I try not to get my hopes up,” he continued. “We have only won leave to appeal. Now we must convince the court of appeal on the issue of meaning. There is a long battle ahead. Reform of English libel laws, particularly the right to a public interest defence and a fairer costs structure, are vital.”

The BCA was not represented at this morning’s hearing.

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

Boycott the Huffington Post: They’ve Tumbled Down the Rabbit Hole of Anti-Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2009

Many months back, I made a post concerning the anti-scientific quackery being dished out over at the Huffington Post website. At the time, it seems that the HuffPo was receiving a storm of criticism from bloggers for their irresponsible promotion of various forms of alt-med woo & quackery, ranging from touchy-feely “energy healing” nonsense to outright dangerous anti-vaccination rants.

And, for a brief period of time, it seemed as if the folks over at HuffPo were backing away from the rabbit hole.  Sadly, the turn towards sanity& rationality didn’t last long, as outlined in a variety of blogs recently…

Science-Based Medicine: The Huffington Post is at it again

As many of our readers know, there are plenty of websites devoted entirely to fake medicine. Sites such as whale.to and NatrualNews are repositories of paranoid, unscientific thinking and promotion of dangerous health practices. Thankfully, they are rather fringe (but not fringe enough). More mainstream outlets print some pretty bad stuff, but it’s usually just lazy reporting and not a concerted, organized effort to promote implausible medical claims. As many of us have written, both hear and at our other blogs, the Huffington Post is the exception. It actively and in an organized way promotes dangerous, implausible pseudo-medicine.

NeuroLogica Blog: Science Bloggers Pigpile on HuffPo

And with good reason.

I am a bit late to the latest round of this party, but as I have previously pointed out, The Huffington Post has been since its inception a bastion of pseudoscience, especially in the medical field. Like distressingly many news outlets, it has decided to abandon all pretense of being “fair and balanced” in its actual content when it comes to its ideological stance.

Arianna Huffington clearly is enamored of anti-scientific pseudomedical nonsense. Earlier in her career she wrote for and frequently appeared on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher – another quack-friendly media personality.

The Bad Astronomy Blog: HuffPo still pushing antivax nonsense

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.

It indeed seems that the misguided & ideologically-driven folks over at HuffPo have tumbled uncontrollably down the rabbit hole, as attested to these scathing reviews.  But perhaps the most interesting, direct, and pithy post I’ve seen on this most recent expression of anti-science from HuffPo is from blogger PZ Myers…

Pharyngula: Die, HuffPo, DIE!

The HuffPo is once again a source of gross misinformation. Don’t worry about swine flu — it’s benign. If you really must protect yourself, take vitamins, eat garlic, get herbal supplements, and trust in homeopathy.

It’s patent quackery.

Really, people: boycott the HuffPo. I never read that slurry of watery dog crap anymore unless you cruel readers send me a link — it’s not worth it.

I couldn’t agree with PZ more.  Despite my admittedly left-of-center political leanings, I’ll not be visiting them any longer.  We should all just boycott HuffPo, folks… just don’t go there anymore, for anything.

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

“Natural Cures” Douchebags Use Patrick Swayze’s Death to Push Their Woo

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2009

Like many of you, I was saddened to read the news of Patrick Swayze’s untimely death – Roadhouse will forever be one of my most favorite movies.  Unfortunately, there are those who will look to take advantage of any opportunity to push their pseudoscientific nonsense, just as the douchebags over at NaturalNews.com have done regarding Swayze’s death.

Swayze died of pancreatic cancer, and he fought the disease as best he could using science-based medicine.  But in an article apparently based in an alternate reality, these anti-science-based medicine folks state that it is precisely because he relied on science-based medicine that he died.  You’ve that right, folks: according to these deluded people, science killed Patrick Swayze!  *facepalm*

Patrick Swayze dead at 57 after chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Beloved actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday evening after a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Having put his faith in conventional chemotherapy, he largely dismissed ideas that nutrition, superfoods or “alternative medicine” might save him, instead betting his life on the chemotherapy approach which seeks to poison the body into a state of remission instead of nourishing it into a state of health.

Okay, so these morons start pushing the “chemotherapy = poison” line right off the bat.  This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to scare people about a useful & serious method for combating cancer.  By equating it with poison, they try to leave the reader with the impression that nothing good comes out of chemotherapy, despite the fact that it is one of the most reliable methods of treating cancer available.  Which leads to the next part of the article…

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

World Health Organization Slams Homeopathy

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 25, 2009

In a PR win for medical science, the World Health Organization recently slammed the alt-med pseudoscience of homeopathy!  The main problem is, that when you get down to it, homeopathy is indistinguishable from magic. And the WHO knows this: in a scathing critique, the WHO stated, among other things…

Dr Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB department at the WHO, said: “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care do not recommend use of homeopathy.”

This is just another poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy
Paula Ross, Society of Homeopaths

The doctors had also complained that homeopathy was being promoted as a treatment for diarrhoea in children.

But a spokesman for the WHO department of child and adolescent health and development said: “We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit.

“Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration – in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”

Dr Nick Beeching, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said: “Infections such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis all have a high mortality rate but can usually be controlled or cured by a variety of proven treatments, for which there is ample experience and scientific trial data.

“There is no objective evidence that homeopathy has any effect on these infections, and I think it is irresponsible for a healthcare worker to promote the use of homeopathy in place of proven treatment for any life-threatening illness.”

Notice the interesting response by the homeopaths…

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“Beware the Spinal Trap” by Simon Singh

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2009

In the ongoing campaign to hold the British Chiropractic Association accountable for their attempts to shut down criticism by skeptics, I want to share the following with you all.  This article is copied in its entirety from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s (CSI) website, with the following explanation:

On 29th July a number of magazines and websites are going to be publishing Simon Singh’s Guardian article on chiropractic from April 2008, with the part the BCA sued him for removed.

They are reprinting it, following the lead of Wilson da Silva at COSMOS magazine, because they think the public should have access to the evidence and the arguments in it that were lost when the Guardian withdrew the article after the British Chiropractic Association sued for libel.

We want as many people as possible around the world to print it or put it live on the internet at the same time to make an interesting story and prove that threatening libel or bringing a libel case against a science writer won’t necessarily shut down the debate.

Beware the Spinal Trap
by Simon Singh

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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