via Science-Based Medicine
Any sociological question is likely going to have a complex answer with many variables that are not easy to tease apart. We should therefore resist the temptation to make simplistic statements about X being the cause of Y. We can still, however, identify correlations that will at least inform our thinking. Sometimes correlations can be triangulated to fairly reliable conclusions.
When the data is complex and difficult to interpret, however, evidence tends to be overwhelmed by narrative. The recent Sandy Hook tragedy is an excellent example. No one knows exactly why the shooter did what he did, so it is easy to insert your own preferred narrative as the explanation.
Another example is the phenomenon of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Why has it been increasing in popularity (and is it, really?). Is it slick marketing, relaxed regulations, scientific illiteracy, a gullible media, or the failures of mainstream medicine? You can probably guess I think it’s all of these things to some degree. The most common narrative I hear by far, however, is the latter – if people are turning to CAM it must be because mainstream medicine has failed them. This version of reality is often promoted by CAM marketing.
The evidence that we have, however, simply does not support this narrative. Studies show that satisfaction with mainstream medicine is not an important factor in deciding to use CAM, that CAM users are generally satisfied with their mainstream care, and they use CAM because it aligns with their philosophy, and they simply want to expand their options.
None of this is to imply that mainstream medicine has no problems or failings – it does. We should, however, be working toward keeping and improving what works and fixing what doesn’t, not discarding science and reason to embrace fantasy as an alternative. This is often the false choice presented by CAM proponents, and is analogous to creationists pointing out alleged weaknesses in the theory of evolution as an argument for creationism as an alternative.
What are the principles behind Homeopathy and does it work?
Hollywood celebrities have a reputation for espousing a sort of prepackaged, fast-food version of politically correct “liberal” issues, as if they buy a kit of personal convictions off the shelf at Whole Foods. It includes environmental concerns, usually exaggerated and often wrong; rejection of “all things corporate” including pharmaceuticals and biotech, with a corresponding embrace of alternative medicine, organic agriculture, and “empowered individual” philosophies like home birth. Then there are the outliers who go the other way toward full alt-right with an imagined superior insight into world affairs. They tend to reject history and science in favor of conspiracy mongering and alternative science, be it the young Earth, the flat Earth, or calling us all sheeple for believing in the standard model of the universe.
Interestingly, anti-vaccination is found in both camps. Left-leaning antivaxxers tend to reject it because it’s not a natural healing method, and right-leaning antivaxxers think it’s an evil government program of enforced mercury poisoning. It increasingly seems that a rational, level-headed, science-literate Hollywood celebrity is as rare as a truly good movie.
So here my list of top 10 celebrities, 2017 edition, who contribute to the Endarkenment by abusing their notoriety to spread misinformation far and wide:
#10 – Shaq and the NBA Flat Earthers
Former player Shaquille O’Neal and current NBA basketball players Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, and Draymond Green have all expressed their belief that the Earth is flat, but I put them all the way down at #10 because it’s not clear that all four literally believe this. They may just be trolling. But whether they are or not, they do genuinely influence a huge number of young people, including some demographics where education is not necessarily a life priority. Guys, if you want to inspire kids to achieve and succeed, you’re doing it wrong.
#9 – Michael Phelps
I include him as a representative of the many athletes and celebrities who loudly and proudly promote cupping, the overtly pseudoscientific technique of suctioning great round hickeys into the skin by rupturing capillaries. A lot of trainers sell this because it costs nothing to administer, requires no training, and they can charge whatever they want for it; and since it’s unregulated, they make a vast array of claims for whatever workout benefits they say it confers. Usually, it just happens to solve whatever that athlete’s complaint of the day is. Phelps proudly shows off these ugly bruises, as do many other athletes and celebrities, and has even posted pictures of himself getting it done on his Instagram. Sellers have even come up with a sciencey-sounding name for it to impress the scientifically illiterate: “myofascial decompression”.
A friend of mine shared an eyebrow-raising article on Facebook. The linked story was along the lines of “private planes stolen by terrorists in the Middle East, and an attack is imminent”. The sensible people among his friends good-naturedly mocked him. They ribbed him about how ridiculous the prediction was. And all you had to do was consider the source.
My friend had shared the story from a notoriously crackpot Facebook page. The post lacked any merit, save a few tenuous and unrelated pieces of actual news. This behavior was typical of this particular page. Often, these types of pages hook you with a kernel of truth, and then wrap it in layers of idiocy.
When confronted, this friend said, “well, we’ll see who’s right in time.” The prediction by Natural News has failed to become reality almost a year later.
The Facebook fan pages below have a habit of spitting scientific inquiry and reason in the eye. They also have an unreasonably high number of fans who share their inanity. Shares from the following pages deserve a serious eye roll and shaking of one’s head.
#10 Alex Jones
Facebook fans: 856K
What He Says About Himself
“Documentary Filmmaker, Nationally Syndicated Radio Talkshow & Prisonplanet.tv Host – Free video/audio stream”
What He Really Does
Mr. Jones uses a ton of hyperbole, conspiracy theories, and a loose connection to reality, to whip up fear and loathing in his audience.
Whatever your feelings are on using legislation to increase vaccination rates, you won’t find any legitimate support for implications that vaccines contain toxic doses of chemical. Nor that there are aborted fetal cells in any of the shots we get.
Sample Fan Comment
#9 Food Babe
Facebook fans: 938K
What She Says About Herself
“Vani Hari started FoodBabe.com in April 2011 to spread information about what is really in the American food supply. She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth.”
What She Really Does
Ms. Hari, the “Food Babe”, parrots Dr. Mercola and cobbles together cherry-picked blurbs from questionable studies and Wikipedia. She uses the term “investigation” to excuse the fact that she often gives medical advice without having any education in the life sciences. She picks the weirdest ingredients to go after.
Sample Fan Comment
On Facebook, it’s only a matter of time before someone pulls out the EO sales kit.
Houston doctor Stanislaw Burzynski – a rock star in the alternative medicine world – has spent decades fighting state and federal regulators, who often have taken a dim view of his claims to be able to cure the terminally ill patients no one else can help, using unapproved medicines available only from him.
The Texas Medical Board has repeatedly tried and failed to shut Burzynski down, arguing that the pugnacious Polish immigrant puts patients in danger by marketing unapproved and potentially risky cancer drugs of his own invention.
Burzynski’s latest battle begins Thursday, at a disciplinary hearing in the state capital.
Yet that disdain hasn’t deterred patients from around the world from seeking care at his Houston clinic.
Now, Texas medical officials are trying a different tactic.
Questioning whether this new spa treatment provides all the medical benefits it claims.
One of our most abundant renewable resources is bogus medical therapies. About every day, someone thinks up a new one: sometimes invented from whole cloth, sometimes extrapolated from a real therapy, sometimes tweaked from an old tradition. Today we’re going to look closely at one such spin-the-wheel-and-create-an-alternate-therapy: cryotherapy.
Don’t confuse this with medical cryotherapy, the freezing off of tissue, usually called cryoablation. Alternative cryotherapy is a hijack of an actual medical term repurposed to refer to the use of what they call a cryosauna, the opposite of a regular sauna. Rather than applying ice to a specific body part, a cryosauna is used for what they call Whole Body Cryotherapy. It’s a small room for one or more people, cooled by liquid nitrogen to extreme temperatures, usually about -125°C/-200°F but sometimes advertised as low as -170°C/-275°F. You have to wear special slippers to protect your feet since you can’t touch anything in there, and you have to wear a mask to avoid frostbite to your pulmonary system. You stay in for no more than three minutes.
What is the medical claim? Unfortunately, as it is with so many alternative therapies, cryosaunas are claimed to cure just about anything the proprietor says, and they all have different spiels. Most all of them say it treats inflammation, skin conditions, and aids in workout recovery. There are several spas, plus chiropractors and other alternative practitioners near me who offer cryotherapy, according to Yelp.
Almost all of the customer reviews are raving. Here are some samples:
“My inflammation almost immediately decreased and I felt a huge wave of euphoria similar to a runner’s high.”
“Felt great afterwards. Will try again to see if I have any lasting effects.”
“I feel euphorically energized after each session and I have noticed that my tendinitis has gotten better after 2 sessions.”
“I feel so good afterwards. I can tell this cryotherapy is helping to heal my body!”
Why do these people feel so good unless there’s something to cryosauna therapy? Is it possible their reaction comes from something other than genuine treatment of some medical condition? The evidence shows that it probably is.
“Thanks for calling out the troll. I’ll make sure to get him”
–Vani Hari, when asked why she’s selling products containing the dyes Yellow 5 and Blue 1
I, Mark Alsip, am the troll referred to in Vani Hari’s quote (above). We had an interesting encounter yesterday on Periscope. After being encouraged to ask questions, I very politely and respectfully queried Hari on three products she’s selling. I wanted to know why certain of her wares contain nearly a dozen different chemicals she’s specifically called out as “toxic”.
If you’re already aware of Vani’s tactics, you probably won’t be surprised I was banned instantly. However, for those in the Food Babe Army (or the media) who don’t believe that Hari censors all dissenting comment and immediately bans those who point out her gaffes, presented below are video, screen captures, links to Food Babe’s product labels (with ingredient lists), and more…
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“Do you accept that you’re a pathological liar?”
Who is Belle Gibson? Via Wikipedia:
Annabelle Natalie “Belle” Gibson (born October 1991) is an Australian … alternative health advocate whose marketing platform was founded on her fraudulent claims of having … foregone conventional cancer treatments to positively self-manage multiple cancers through diet and controversial alternative therapies.
In early March 2015, after media reporting identified Gibson’s apparently fraudulent claims of charity fundraising and donation-making, further media investigation soon revealed that Gibson had also apparently fabricated her stories of cancer, and lied about her age as well as other details of her personal life and history.
via news.com.au (Australia)
BELLE Gibson’s interview with Tara Brown took a tense turn last night, as the hard-hitting reporter confronted the disgraced wellness blogger with fresh evidence suggesting she knew all along that she didn’t have a brain tumour.
Brown hammered shamed health guru, asking, “Do you accept that you’re a pathological liar?”
Gibson replied: “No.”
Gibson, who, in April, was forced to admit that she lied about having brain cancer and cured it through natural means, was offered no reprieve from Brown who was clearly fed up with her storytelling.
“You don’t have a good record on telling the truth, do you?” Brown put to her.
Sitting face-to-face with Brown, Gibson teared up as she told how she “lost everything” after her cancer confession came to light.
But Gibson maintained that she didn’t deceive her followers or the public. She argued that she had been deceived. Gibson said she was told by an immunologist and neurologist, ‘Mark Johns’, that she had terminal brain cancer after he diagnosed her using a ‘frequency’ machine in her home several years ago.
“He went to my home and did a series of tests. There was a machine with lights on the front. There are two metal pads, one below the chair and one behind your back, measuring frequencies and then he said to me that I had a stage four brain tumour and that I had four months to live.
“At the time, I believed I was having radio therapy. When he gave me medication, I was told it was oral chemotherapy and I believed it.”
As the hour-long interview continued, Gibson insisted she was telling the truth about “my reality”.
“I’ve not been intentionally untruthful. I’ve been completely open when speaking about what was my reality and what is my reality now,” she told Brown.
“It doesn’t match your normal or your reality.”
Gibson said she believed “Mark” for years that she was living with the burden of a terminal illness, however her evidence didn’t stack up with the evidence at all and 60 Minutes has not been able to find any record of a ‘Mark Johns’.
After the interview, Gibson handed over her medical records to 60 Minutes which showed that she had a brain scan at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne in 2011, two years before she started to market her sob story to the public for profit and adulation.
Gibson said that she had that brain scan because she started to doubt the diagnosis ‘Johns’ had given her but that the scans had been directly sent to ‘Johns’ from the hospital. Johns then showed her a scan with brain cancer.
However, her medical records from the Alfred stated that she had a 40-minute consultation with a neurologist there who told her that her brain scans were clear. But the reason she went to the Alfred for scans was . . .
Jeff Bradstreet, who has been described as a “controversial autism researcher,” has now become the center of conspiracy rumors after reports of his apparent suicide. His death is said to have followed on the heels of a raid by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of his Bradstreet Wellness Center in Buford, Georgia (update 27JUN2015: the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency is reported to have aided in the raid). A fisherman found Bradstreet’s body in a North Carolina river on Friday, June 19. Authorities in Rutherford County, North Carolina, state that he had a gunshot wound to the chest, “which appears to be self-inflicted,” according to the local newspaper, the Gwinnett Daily Post. The Post also reports that
“By Wednesday night, some of Bradstreet’s supporters were speculating that his death wasn’t a suicide, but a conspiracy.”
That speculation has spread like a virus through the community of people who are mourning the loss of a man whom they viewed as a courageous crusader against mainstream medicine and who believe, as Bradstreet argued, that the mercury in vaccines causes autism (the evidence emphatically indicates otherwise). According to his website, Bradstreet, whose own son is autistic, embraced a number of unproven or untested interventions for autism, including using stem cells in an overseas study he chronicles, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which the FDA cracked down on in 2013. He was known for his use of chelation therapy.
Several years ago, during a lecture on Science-Based Medicine, I noted that if there were one medical pseudoscience that was vulnerable to extinction it was homeopathy. Homeopathy is perhaps the most obviously absurd medical pseudoscience. It is also widely studied, and has been clearly shown to not work. Further, there is a huge gap in the public understanding of what homeopathy is; it therefore seems plausible that the popularity of homeopathy can take a huge hit just by telling the public what it actually is.
Further, homeopathy is in a precarious regulatory position. Homeopathic products are presented and regulated as drugs, but clearly they are not, and they are also not supplements, herbal drugs, nutrition-based, or natural products. They are simply fraudulent drugs riding a wave of ignorance.
In the last few years homeopathy has had a rough time. While the industry is still growing, there are signs of clear trouble on the horizon. Let’s review:
Homeopathy is a 200 year old pre-scientific system of medicine based upon magical thinking. It is mostly based on two notions, the first of which is that like cures like. In other words, a substance that causes a symptom can cure that symptom in extremely low doses. There is no scientific basis for this, despite the desperate attempts by homeopaths to invoke vaccine-like analogies, or their new favorite, hormesis.
The second notion is that you make a remedy more powerful by diluting it to extreme degrees. People have fun making comparisons, such as the need to drink a solar-system’s worth of water to have a 50% chance of getting a single molecule of active ingredient. No problem, say the homeopaths, homeopathic potions contain the magical “essence” of what was previously diluted in them. It’s turtles all the way down.
I just love when this kind of woo quackery gets totally exposed as a fraud. In this case it’s a bogus product called Sosatec Wellbalancer. This video features Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics.
Sosatec Bionics Ltd sell pendants and products (“Wellbalancers”) to protect against what they claim is harmful radiation emitted by mobile phones and WiFi – claims which are highly questionable. The scaremongering around mobile phone radiation provokes unfounded health fears in the general public. We witnessed David Bendall (CEO and founder of Sosatec) supposedly demonstrating the effects of his product, using physical demonstrations which we felt were, at best, misleading.
We have reported Sosatec’s claims to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Read Sosatec’s full response and find out more at http://goodthinkingsociety.org/good-t…
Regular readers of my not-so-super-secret other blog, where I write under my own name, know that last month Steve Novella and I published a rather nice (if I do say so myself) opinion piece in a peer-reviewed journal about what we called “clinical trials of magic.” In it, we argued that certain alternative medicine modalities are so incredibly implausible from a purely basic science viewpoint, on physics and chemistry considerations alone, that it is a waste of time and resources, not to mention unethical, to do clinical trials testing them. Two of the main examples we used were homeopathy (of course!) and reiki.
Reiki, as you recall, is a form of “energy healing” that I’ve discussed many times before. Its basic precept is that reiki healers, known as reiki masters, can, through a series of hand gestures that might or might not involve touching the patient and often involve symbols drawn in the air over the patient, tap into what they call the “universal source” and channel energy into the person being treated to heal them. You can probably see why I generally refer to reiki as faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for Christian beliefs. If you can’t see why, then simply substitute the word “God” or “Jesus” for the term “universal source,” and my meaning becomes obvious. Of course, reiki can get even more bizarre, particularly when it’s used in distant healing, which can only be likened (to me, at least) to intercessory prayer or when reiki masters claim to be able to send reiki energy into the past or the future. Yes, it does get even woo-ier than claiming to be able to channel healing energy.
Reiki is, without a doubt, far more a mystical belief system akin to religion than it is anything having to do with medicine. That much is obvious. That’s why I couldn’t resist a bit of amusement when I somehow (don’t ask how!) came across an article by someone named Tammy Hatherill, who runs Tammy’s Tarot and Healing entitled When Your Reiki Client Doesn’t Feel the ‘Energy’.
Wow. So reiki doesn’t always work? Who knew? Well, not exactly. Remember, reiki is a mystical magical belief system. Like a religion, it always works, and if it doesn’t it isn’t because the reiki has failed. You’ll see what I mean in a minute. First, savor the frustration of reiki masters who can’t get their clients to “feel it”:
It doesn’t happen to me very often, but on occasion it does. A client will say, “I don’t feel any different.” Or they may say, “In all honesty I didn’t feel the energy at all”.
What!!! How could the client not feel the wonderful and glorious energy that I felt and sensed whilst giving the treatment? How could they not ‘feel’ any different!!!
Please don’t despair, as the Reiki energy will still be working its magic and will still support the client on all the different levels (emotional/psychological/physical and spiritually.) Just because the client didn’t ‘feel’ anything doesn’t mean the Reiki wasn’t working.
See what I mean? If the patient doesn’t feel any different after the mystical magical glory that is reiki, it doesn’t mean anything at all. The reiki’s still working. How do you know? Well, you don’t. But if you’re a reiki master you do have a patter ready for your client before and after. Before, you basically tell the client that they will feel “something.” That something could range from tingles, colors, heat, cool, floating, heaviness, sleepiness, or peacefulness, to nothing at all. Convenient, isn’t it? I wonder what it would be like to be able to tell my patients that virtually any sensations they feel mean that the treatment worked—even if they feel nothing at all! Talk about a “can’t lose” setup. You really have to tip your hat to whoever thought of this scam.
Then, of course, there’s the after treatment patter for the mark client . . .
Is acupuncture really ancient Chinese medicine? Does it work? Is it safe?
This ancient Chinese medical tradition stretches back over 3,000 years, the wisdom of the ancients producing medically valid results even today. As in antiquity, slender needles are inserted at precise meridian points on the body and manipulated by a skilled practitioner. Each acupuncture point relates to a specific organ or function in the body, and the practice manipulates the body’s energy, or qi to manage pain and treat a host of conditions including allergies, asthma, headaches, sciatica, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, constipation, and even sexual dysfunction. Acupuncture is, in short, a venerable medical miracle.
Or is it? Let’s cast a skeptical eye at one of the most popular “alternative” medical modalities in the modern world.
Exactly how ancient is acupuncture? Not nearly as ancient as you may think. The first clue is right there in the hands of the acupuncturist: Those slender, flexible, stainless steel needles. The technology to make them didn’t even exist until about 400 years ago.
There are even more historical clues. The Chinese have long kept detailed records. When we examine them we do, indeed, find references to a practice called needling, but the earliest dates to about 90 BCE. The needles from that era were large, and the practice of needling refers to bloodletting and the lancing of abscesses, a treatment nothing like today’s acupuncture. Earlier Chinese medical texts, some reaching back to the 3rd century BCE, never even mention it. There’s no evidence at all that acupuncture is anywhere near 3,000 years old.
No matter. At least acupuncture is Chinese, right? Maybe not.
Chinese scholar Paul Unschuld thinks that the practice may have started in ancient Greece, with Hippocrates of Cos, and later spread to China. A fundamental feature of acupuncture, namely the special meridian points where the needles must be placed, can be traced to the medieval Islamic and European ideas of astrology mapped onto the body. This rather obvious link led researcher Ben Kavoussi to call acupuncture “Astrology with needles” He writes:
…for most of China’s long medical history, needling, bloodletting and cautery were largely practiced by itinerant and illiterate folk-healers, and frowned upon by the learned physicians who favored the use of pharmacopoeia.
Accounts of Chinese medicine first reach Europe in the 13th century. None of them even mentioned acupuncture. Wilhelm Ten Rhijn, writing in 1680, was the first Westerner to reference acupuncture. But what he described bears little resemblance to the acupuncture of today. There was no mention of qi, which is sometimes translated as chi, or any specific points. He spoke of large gold needles that were implanted deep into the skull or womb and left in place for 30 respirations.
The first American acupuncture trials were in 1826, when it was seen as a possible method of resuscitating drowning victims. As Dr. Harriet Hall describes it, “They couldn’t get it to work and ‘gave up in disgust.’ I imagine sticking needles in soggy dead bodies was pretty disgusting.”
Even through the early part of the 20th century nobody spoke of qi or meridians. Practitioners merely inserted needles near the point of pain. In fact, qi used to refer to the vapor arising from food, and the meridians were called channels or vessels, which is part of acupuncture’s link to medieval astrology and vitalism.
So just when and where did meridians enter the picture, and qi finally become some kind of energy?
I usually don’t dwell too much on chiropractic, because so many other bloggers mock them so well. Chiropractors are generally antivaccination, they practice junk medicine in areas in which they are not trained, and they are essentially quacks utilizing some mystical alternative medicine, taking money from people who think they’re getting real medical treatment.
Basically, chiropractic is the belief in the “vertebral subluxation processes” that purportedly can be used to treat and cure a vast range of diseases which have no scientifically verified connection to vertebral anatomy. It’s based on the same general type of pseudoscientific mysticism that one finds with acupuncture.
Of course, modern chiropractic has tried to divorce itself from the vertebral subluxation, and attempted to evolve into the slightly more mainstream chiropractic treatment technique that involves manual therapy, including manipulation of the spine, other joints, and soft tissues. Chiropractic treatment also includes exercises and health and lifestyle counseling. Barely anything more than a good masseuse would provide to an individual.
Despite this evolution of chiropractic to the point that some health insurance companies actually pay for the procedures, chiropractic is a typical pseudoscience–make outlandish claims, minimize or ignore the risks, and make money off of those who think, or want to believe, that it works.
It’s appalling that some people, many who think that vaccines are dangerous (they’re not), believe that a chiropractor, who has very little real medical training, should manipulate the neck of a baby to treat some imaginary, or even real, condition. It boggles the mind.
So, what does real science say about chiropractic?
Via Open Parachute
The web site “Natural News” is a prime source of information for alternative and “natural” health enthusiasts. It promotes a lot of misinformation on fluoridation and is often cited by anti-fluoridation propagandists. So – no surprise to see a recent campaign in social media promoting a Natural News article Natural News exclusive: Fluoride used in U.S. water supplies found contaminated with lead, tungsten, strontium, aluminum and uranium.
The article was dutifully tweeted ad nauseum and of course local anti-fluoride campaigners also dutifully and uncritically promoted it. But no-one actually looked at the data in the article to see if it was in any way meaningful or supported the claims of contamination being made. In fact, it is just another example of the sort of misrepresentation I referred to in the article Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination. That is, people getting hysterical about contamination data which actually show very low levels of contaminants. Getting hysterical about numbers just because they are numbers without any understanding of what they mean.
Lead researcher – the Health Ranger
Mike Adams, who calls himself the Health Ranger, wrote the article which pretends to be a scientific investigation of contaminants in 6 samples of sodium fluoride obtained from Chinese sources. He reports the maximum and average values of a number of contaminants. Of course he uses parts per billion (ppb) because that gives him larger numbers by a factor of 1000 than the usually used parts per million (ppm). I will convert his values for readers and compare them with values found in Australia and New Zealand for contaminants in fluorosilicic acid, the most commonly used fluoridation chemical (actually fluorosilicic acid is also the most commonly used fluoridation chemical in the USA – so its strange that the “Health Ranger’ didn’t analyse that).
The table below compares “the Health Ranger’s” analytical values with those for fluorosilicic acid reported in my article Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination. Also included are the regulated maximum values for these two fluoridation chemicals. I have included . . .
In 1998 then Doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study in the medical journal The Lancet that claimed that the MMR vaccine causes autism, which was later found to be not true but still lead to a worldwide increase of measles cases, and in the end destroyed Wakefield’s career.
There are many things that I’ve noticed about Andrew Wakefield (none of them good) and I’ve come up with about five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about Andrew Wakefield:
5. He committed a terrible fraud.
I’m sure that everybody is aware that his aforementioned “study” was retracted in 2010 by The Lancet after a long investigation by the British Medical Journal and journalist Brian Deer. The investigation showed that not only had he manipulated the data in his study, it also found that he had patented his own measles vaccine a year before publishing his study, and that the study was funded by lawyers who sued vaccine manufactures.
To better understand how Wakefield manipulated the data in his study, please watch this video by Youtube science vlogger C0nc0rdance:
As awful as his fraud was it would not have been as bad as it became if it wasn’t for the fact that so many people took his study seriously and decided not to vaccinate their children because of it. This has directly resulted in the world wide increases of measles and mumps infections and infections from other diseases as well because many people were not vaccinating themselves or their children due to fear of any vaccines, a fear that was brought on by Wakefield’s study, which has also lead to numerous unnecessary deaths.
As for Wakefield himself his fraudulent study lead to his own career being ruined and his name being struck off the UK medical register, making it illegal for him to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.
4. He turned parents into paranoid liars.
One of the direct results of Andrew Wakefield’s study is that many parents have become paranoid of vaccines and have chosen not to vaccinate their children despite being legally obligated to do so in many places before they enter them into school, and the fact that it’s just good common sense to do so.
Inorder to keep their children in school while at the same time keep them un-vaccinated parents will often lie to health officials and school officials about either their religious or philosophical beliefs inorder to get a vaccine exemption for their child.
Other things that some parents will do inorder to fool health and school officials is that they will go to a fake doctor (ex. Naturopath, Homeopath) and get them to write up an exemption from getting vaccinate for their children, or write up they vaccinate the child when really they didn’t.
These types of actions are dangerous not only to the children whose parents did not vaccinate them, but also to anyone that couldn’t get vaccinated for a legitimate medical reason, or those who the vaccine didn’t immunize them for some reason.
3. He’s become the Lord Voldemort of science and medicine.
Much like Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter book series Andrew Wakefield’s name is something you don’t use in a discussion about science and medicine, unless he is used as an example for when bad or fraudulent research is taken to seriously by the public.
Alternative Medicine’s best friend, and in my opinion largely responsible for what popularity it has, is a gullible media. I had thought we were turning a corner, and the press were over the gushing maximally clueless approach to CAM, and were starting to at least ask some probing questions (like, you know, does it actually work), but a 2006 BBC documentary inspires a more pessimistic view.
The documentary is part of a BBC series hosted by Kathy Sykes: Alternative Medicine, The Evidence. This episode is on acupuncture. The episode is from 2006, but was just posted on YouTube as a “2014 documentary.” Unfortunately, old news frequently has a second life on social media.
First, let me point out that Sykes is a scientist (a fact she quickly points out). She is a physicist, which means that she has the credibility of being able to say she is a scientist but has absolutely no medical training. It’s the worst case scenario – she brings the credibility of being a scientist, and probably thinks that her background prepares her to make her own judgments about the evidence, and yet clearly should have relied more on real experts.
She does interview Edzard Ernst in the documentary, but he mainly just says generic statements about science, rather than a thorough analysis of specific claims. I wonder what gems from him were left on the cutting room floor.
The documentary does get better in the second half, as she starts to mention things like placebo effects, and the problems with the evidence-base for acupuncture. But she follows a disappointing format – setting up a scientific premise, then focusing on the positive evidence. There is a clear narrative throughout, that acupuncture is amazing and surprising.