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.