The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘natural cures’

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

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

“Natural Cures” Quack Kevin Trudeau in Big Court Trouble

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 13, 2010

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, now it seems that Trudeau has finally gone too far.  Recently he was in an Illinois federal court as the latest chapter in his long-running battle with the Federal Trade Commission, and he messed up, BIG time when he encouraged his followers to send emails to the judge.  Here’s the Chicago Tribune article on the matter…

Best-selling author and infomercial pitchman Kevin Trudeau was held in criminal contempt Thursday and threatened with jail after he urged visitors to his Web site to unleash a massive barrage of e-mails that crashed a federal judge’s computer in Chicago.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman’s computer became hopelessly clogged with e-mails from admirers of Trudeau’s diet book and other volumes, the judge told a hearing. Court technicians had to be called in to make his inbox usable again. Something similar happened to his BlackBerry, Gettleman said.

Gettleman has overseen Trudeau’s long-running legal battle with the Federal Trade Commission, which claims ads for Trudeau’s books offering cures for dozens of ailments — from faltering memory to hair loss — misrepresent the facts.

The judge said Trudeau urging the deluge of e-mails was harassment.

“The penalty I will impose will probably include some custody and a fine,” the calm, soft-spoken Gettleman said after holding Trudeau in direct criminal contempt. He ordered Trudeau to post a $50,000 bond and surrender his passport.

Gettleman said the glut of e-mails delayed court business and will force the U.S. Marshals Service to do a threat assessment.

Trudeau arrived in court voluntarily after Gettleman threatened to send marshals to bring him in. He sat silently through the hearing before being led away for fingerprinting and a mug shot.

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.

Posted in medical woo, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Amazing Skeptical Smackdown of Homeopathy!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 8, 2010

(Hat tip to Phil over at Skeptic Money for passing this little gem along 🙂 )

Below is some footage from a BBC show called Dragon’s Den, where would-be entrepreneurs make a sales pitch to the assembled judges about why their idea is worth funding.  In this case, a homeopathic doofus pitches his “miracle water” to them using the standard alt-med, “natural is good” woo-woo, with disastrous results.  What follows is, to me, an excellent example of in-your-face skepticism in action – with the perfect combination of hard questioning, demands for evidence & research, and moral outrage.  Take a look…

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

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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

$2.5 Billion Spent, No Alternative Cures Found

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 11, 2009

Well, since I’ve been bagging on the alt-med nonsense lately, I simply couldn’t pass up this headline.  And folks… the headline says it all… “No Alternative Cures Found”… Zilch… Nada… Zip… Zero!  Despite their inability to understand the most basic aspects of science and the associated math, I think that zero is a number that even alt-med woo-meisters can grasp 🙂

$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

Big, government-funded studies show most work no better than placebos

Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.

Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

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

Alternative “Medicine” Quackery Goes Mainstream

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 10, 2009

Since I’m on a kick about alt-med lately, let me just throw one more thing into the mix… a recent news story about how alt-med quackery has gone mainstream:

AP IMPACT: Alternative medicine goes mainstream

The news article is very revealing in its analysis of how pseudoscientific nonsense such as reiki, touch therapy, and “natural” herbal supplements have wormed their way into the medical profession over the years.  One of the big reasons is due to a political push…

Fifteen years ago, Congress decided to allow dietary and herbal supplements to be sold without federal Food and Drug Administration approval. The number of products soared, from about 4,000 then to well over 40,000 now.

Ten years ago, Congress created a new federal agency to study supplements and unconventional therapies. But more than $2.5 billion of tax-financed research has not found any cures or major treatment advances, aside from certain uses for acupuncture and ginger for chemotherapy-related nausea. If anything, evidence has mounted that many of these pills and therapies lack value.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Judging Science & Faith

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 16, 2009

So here’s a tough question for you… in a nation where we respect religious liberty, how does the state handle situations where those religious beliefs are in direct conflict with established medical science?  I’m specifically referring to a situation in Minnesota where a judge has ordered that a boy receive chemotherapy for his cancer despite the parents’ religious objections.

Judge rules family can’t refuse chemo for boy

A Minnesota judge ruled Friday that a 13-year-old cancer patient must be evaluated by a doctor to determine if the boy would benefit from restarting chemotherapy over his parents’ objections.

In a 58-page ruling, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser has been “medically neglected” by his parents, Colleen and Anthony Hauser, and was in need of child protection services.

While he allowed Daniel to stay with his parents, the judge gave the Hausers until Tuesday to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.

If the evaluation shows the cancer had advanced to a point where chemotherapy and radiation would no longer help, the judge said, he would not order the boy to undergo treatment.

However, he said, if chemotherapy is ordered and the family still refuses, Daniel will be placed in temporary custody.

I posted about something similar in my entry titled “What’s the Limit on ‘Respecting Beliefs’?” but this is a far more serious situation – in fact, it is one of life & death.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

What is the Limit on “Respecting Beliefs”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 31, 2009

I saw a recent post on another skeptical blog – PodBlack Cat – which mentioned a news story about a girl in Mississippi who claimed to be possessed in her high school classroom (read the news story here). Apparently, this young woman began to “speak in tongues” and began making predictions, some of which included predictions of other students’ deaths. Upon witnessing this event, some students got in touch with a local TV station, and now the whole thing has a kind of surrealistic feel to it.

I see three things with this story that are just plain silly. One, the claim by the girl that she was possessed (according to her, by God); two, the claims on the part of other students that she was possessed not by God but the Devil; and three, perhaps most importantly, the fact that a local news station actually treated this whole fiasco seriously. A modern 21st-century television station doing a news story on a kid who claims to have been possessed? Are you kidding me?! That must have been one slow news day.

Let me take each of these points on, one-by-one…

#1. The girl claims that she was transmitting the voice of God because, according to her mother:

… she believes God is using her daughter to touch students at Pelahatchie High School.

The supposed process by which “God’s voice” was transmitted was something known as “speaking in tongues.” According to some charismatic/evangelical Christian sects, this is a mark of being in direct touch with the divine, but scholars of anthropology & linguistics refer to such phenomena as glossolalia. From the Skeptic’s Dictionary, the entry on glossolalia states

When spoken by schizophrenics, glossolalia are recognized as gibberish. In charismatic Christian communities glossolalia is sacred and referred to as “speaking in tongues” or having “the gift of tongues.”

and…

Glossolalics behave in various ways, depending on the social expectations of their community. Some go into convulsions or lose consciousness; others are less dramatic. Some seem to go into a trance; some claim to have amnesia of their speaking in tongues. All believe they are possessed by the Holy Spirit and the gibberish they utter is meaningful. However, only one with faith and the gift of interpretation is capable of figuring out the meaning of the meaningless utterances. Of course, this belief gives the interpreter unchecked leeway in “translating” the meaningless utterances. Nicholas Spanos notes: “Typically, the interpretation supports the central tenets of the religious community”.

So it seems that “speaking in tongues” and the subsequent translation of this supposed divine language is dependent solely upon being a member of a specific religious sect which is privy to the Godly message. As a young man, I attended a church for a time that was into this sort of thing, and I have to tell you that not once did any bit of it make any sense to me. I had the distinct impression that whenever someone in that church either spoke in or translated the “divine language” that they were basically making it up in their heads in an effort to reinforce their belief system.

It is also interesting to note that it is very difficult to distinguish such behavior from that exhibited by some who are mentally ill. Ironically, many other Christians are very suspicious of those who “speak in tongues”, but not because they are concerned about mental illness.

#2. This brings me to my second point – the reaction from the other students, who were presumably also Christian, was universally negative. In fact, rather than believing the message from the “possessed” girl was from God, most thought it was Satanic in nature. In fact, some students reacted (or over-reacted) so strongly that, as the news article states

“It made some students cry and leave school,” Sparks [a student] said. “Some have not returned yet.”

Sparks and his classmates said they think an evil spirit possessed the girl. They were so convinced that Sparks and his friends brought Bibles to school and had a devotional.

possessed

So now we have a very interesting situation set up in that school. At least one student, the girl in question, seems to believe that she is a vessel for the “voice of God” while a number of other students believe that she is being possessed by Satan or demons of some sort. Note the dichotomous thinking here: the students (and presumably their parents) assumed that the voices were coming from either God or Satan. No one ever seemed to consider that perhaps these voices had another, less supernatural, source (e.g., the entire thing could just be made up). Why not?

#3. Which brings me to the third point – how the media used this non-story as a way to “fill the news hole.” This is one of my biggest problems with much of the media in the United States – rather than present news that has been responsibly vetted with the purpose of informing, too many in the media nowadays seem to be only interested in getting ratings. And that means taking non-stories and inflating them to over-sensationalize them. And what better way to get ratings in the buckle of the Bible Belt than to smear a story about kids & their parents squabbling over which supernatural entity supposedly possessed a girl in her high school classroom? And by covering the story in such a sloppy manner, the media lend an air of validity to it, reinforcing the nonsense.

The appalling lack of responsible reporting on the part of this TV station is so thick you could cut it with a knife (sadly, this isn’t the only example). First, they actually treated the story with a certain degree of seriousness; second, notice that nowhere in the coverage of this entire sordid affair is there any evidence that the journalists (if you can call them that) in question actually attempted to find a scientific/skeptical point-of-view on the whole question of glossolalia or demonic possession.

This kind of behavior on the part of the media only serves to perpetuate ignorance, because much of the time it is justified under the guise of “respecting the beliefs” of those people involved in the story. But at what point does “respecting beliefs” become silly, or perpetuate ignorance & lack of critical thinking, or even become outright dangerous?

For example, consider how some in the media give a platform to morons like Jenny McCarthy to rant on and on about how vaccines cause autism (they don’t – period). Or how the media allow douchebags like Kevin Trudeau to peddle their snake-oil “natural cures” while convincing the gullible to avoid scientific medicine for treatment of cancer? Or what about “respecting the beliefs” of those who would, rather than take their sick children to the hospital, pray for a miraculous healing – even if it results in the child’s death?

There is a fine line here that the media must walk. However, too many in the media have gone too far in one direction: “respecting beliefs” at the expense of an accurate & responsible portrayal of reality. There are good examples of the media covering a story on the paranormal responsibly, such as Anderson Cooper’s coverage of one of Sylvia Browne’s most high-profile blunders, but sadly that sort of good reporting is all too uncommon.

However, skeptics should not withdraw into frustration & cynicism and give up hope. Rather, we should get out there – through meetings, face to face discussion, blogs (like this one), media events, etc – and educate people and the media. If all we do is complain, then we can only blame ourselves for the inevitable spread of nonsense.

Posted in media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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