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.
Where do I even begin? Mike Adams, the self-proclaimed “healthranger” who runs the crank alt-med site naturalnews, has sunk to a new low, even though he was already scraping bottom.
Adams combines the worst CAM propaganda with a blend of conspiracy theories from across the spectrum, while selling supplements and other nonsense. He portrays himself as someone who is engaged in a righteous battle against the forces of evil – so hardly someone who is engaged in rational discourse.
In a recent rant, however, he has become a parody even of himself. This time he is raving about Monsanto and GMOs, writing:
Monsanto is widely recognize (sic) as the most hated and most evil corporation on the planet. Even so, several internet-based media websites are now marching to Monsanto’s orders, promoting GMOs and pursuing defamatory character assassination tactics against anyone who opposes GMOs, hoping to silence their important voices.
He doesn’t stop there, he goes full Godwin – right for the Nazi analogies, which he repeats throughout his article, complete with pictures of the Holocaust. He goes on:
Anyone who resisted the Nazi regime was condemned as “anti-science” in precisely the same way that anyone who now questions the wisdom of unleashing genetically modified seeds into the open environment is also called “anti-science.”
Thus, GMOs aren’t based in science at all. They are the domain of a radical cult where questions are not allowed and critical thinking is condemned and censored.
According to Adams’ logic, anyone accusing anyone else of being anti-science is just like the Nazis, because they did that too. But here is the money quote:
This official ceremony sends a message to the world, and that official message from the nation of Germany to the rest of the world is that “it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.” (UPDATE: Those are the paraphrased words of the German government, not my statement.)
The emphasis is Adams’. As you can also see, Adams added an update trying to distance himself from this statement. He has been feverishly adding such updates to this article, which I will get to. Perhaps some small part of him realized he has stepped over the line.
He also writes:
Today, Monsanto collaborators — publishers, journalists and scientists — have signed on to the Nazi genocide machine of our day: the biotechnology industry and its evil desire to dominate the world’s food supply and blanket the planet with deadly chemicals that have been scientifically shown to cause horrific cancer tumors. They use many of the same tactics as the Nazi regime, too: intimidation, character assassination, threats and fabricated disinformation. Hitler’s Ministry of Propaganda, it turns out, is alive and well today in America. Its headquarters is not in Berlin but St. Louis.
I’m hoping someone will create a website listing all the publishers, scientists and journalists who are now Monsanto propaganda collaborators. I have no doubt such a website would be wildly popular and receive a huge influx of visitors, and it would help preserve the historical record of exactly which people contributed to the mass starvation and death which will inevitably be unleashed by GMO agriculture (which is already causing mass suicides in India and crop failures worldwide).
Let me summarize Adams’ points here: Monsanto is equivalent to modern day Nazis committing their own genocide and bid for domination. Anyone who defends GMOs (or just doesn’t buy into anti-GMO nonsense) is a “Monsanto collaborator” and are just as bad as Nazi collaborators. He says directly, “These attacks all have one thing in common: they are orchestrated by paid biotech muckrakers — people I call ‘Monsanto collaborators.’”
These people should be named, their addresses and photos made public. And by the way, it is your moral right, even responsibility, to kill them.
He then tries to insulate himself from the unavoidable implications of his article by saying he does not condone violence and is not calling for vigilante justice. This is small comfort, however – the kinds of people who would respond to his obvious call to action are likely not to be dissuaded that he says it is not a call to action (wink, wink).
I also have to point out that Adams’ article is incredibly free of any facts or documentation. He states as a matter of fact that people are being paid by Monsanto to . . .
The Huffington Post recently published an article by Dr. Neal Barnard, MD. It is titled “New Study explodes the Eskimo Myth” and it makes some very salient points about the development of the supplement fish oil, its historical roots, and subsequent evaluations of its benefits. This was a pleasure to read—a rare science-based examination by the Huffington Post. Dr. Barnard points out that the original conclusions from investigating fish oil appear to be tainted by researcher error. The seminal 1976 survey had demonstrated abnormally low rates of heart disease among Inuit despite a high fat diet. But further research has shown that the original study was in fact poorly done and did not properly evaluate the true health history of the Inuit. A recent study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology reviewed the original 1976 research and outlined its major flaws. In 2003 and 2009 follow-up studies demonstrated higher levels of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit peoples, essentially invalidating the hypotheses. If Inuit diets are not cardio-protective what does that say about diets high in Omega-3 fatty acids overall? What does this mean to fish oil supplementation?
Fish oil was developed out of the so-called “Eskimo Anomaly”: the observation that Inuit consumed a relatively high-fat diet rich in blubber and fatty fish, yet also appeared to have low rates of heart disease. As with the “French Paradox,” scientists proposed a possible cardiovascular protective benefit from diets high in Omega-3 fatty acids, a proposition that has formed the basis of fish oil supplementation. The idea that fish oil can help prevent heart disease is has now become entrenched conventional wisdom. But if the original study has been invalidated, we must reconsider whether or not fish oil is actually beneficial. Is the discovery of fish oil a lucky accident or is it just snake oil?
It would seem highly improbable that an incorrect guess about the Inuit’s health would lead to an effective cardiovascular treatment, but it’s not impossible. Science is filled with happy accidents. The fact that fish oil was discovered due to an erroneous evaluation actually says nothing about the effectiveness of the treatment. Fish oil is one of the very few supplements in the United States to have been developed into a prescription drug, called Lovaza. Its active ingredient is Omega-3-acid ethyl esters, which are metabolized by the body into Omega-3 fatty acids. This drug is prescribed to lower serum triglycerides. Randomized, controlled research does show that it seems to be of moderate benefit for hypertriglyceridemia, a condition that predisposes people to cardiovascular disease and prancreatitis.
Unfortunately, proponents of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) often suggest that fish oil treats a variety of related and unrelated illness. In CAM, the uses for supplements seem to always exceed the evidence; fish oil is no different for them, and has been recommended to treat everything from cancer to headaches. Despite the large amount of research surrounding fish oil, CAM proponents always seem to find areas that haven’t been studied, using what I call the “drug of the gaps argument” and using what we don’t know about supplements to make wild speculation about benefits. In other words, if we haven’t done any studies for fish oil’s effect on stubbed toes, their assumption is that it will probably cure stubbed toes. Fish oil has tons of research, a lot is known about it and it is safe to say that we have a good grasp of what it can and cannot do. I think it is useful to review what is currently known about the supplement, highlighting what it is most commonly purported to treat as well as its problems.
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.
about what makes a person a terrorist
Recently in one of skeptics groups that I belong to on Facebook someone posted this picture they found on a conspiracy theorist group:
Apparently conspiracy theorists believe that because some people believe or do certain then that makes them a “terrorist”.
This picture is one of the most blatant examples of persecution complex that I have seen in a while and kind of shows the mindset of a conspiracy theorist.
I’m going to go through all of these claims and explain why believing in these things does not make you a domestic terrorist:
You raise/grow your own food
Why would this make you a domestic terrorist? The answer is it doesn’t.
Millions of people across the country grow their own food in one way or another, be it either in small plots as a hobby (as my dad does) and as a way to have fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables, or in greenhouses, or in large fields that provide enough food to feed their entire family. Heck, even the White House has it’s own vegetable garden.
If growing your own food made you a domestic terrorist, then why wouldn’t the government just go around to everyones’ houses and destroy their gardens and green houses? Or pass laws that make it illegal to grow your own food? They wouldn’t because growing your own food is harmless and effects no one.
Opposing GMO foods does not make you a terrorist. It might make you someone who doesn’t understand the science behind GMO foods, or someone who has embraced anti-GMO propaganda, but not understanding science or embracing some group’s claims without questioning them doesn’t make you a terrorist.
If opposing GMO foods made you a terrorist then there would be no organic foods in any grocery store or farmers market anywhere, and no laws meant to either label GMO foods or prevent them from being grown or sold would ever be proposed, much less passed.
Prefer natural medicines
If this was true then how come the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a official United States government agency that researches and promotes things like natural medicines, even exists?
While the government does restrict multiple types of alternative and natural medicines, this is only because some of them are dangerous, or the manufactures claim it can do something when infact it cannot.
If natural medicines made a person a terrorist then all forms of alternative medicine would be illegal and people who sale it or even promote it would be going to prison.
Refusing vaccines does not make you a terrorist as there no laws that say that you have to get vaccinated. However, it does make you dangerous to others, as well as your own self as it puts you at greater risk for getting infected with a disease that could kill you, as well as spreading said disease to others who either weren’t vaccinate because they also choose not to (or their parents choose not to have them vaccinated) or a person whom couldn’t get vaccinate for various medical reasons, or someone whom did get vaccinated but the vaccine did not take affect for some reason.
Have a Ron Paul bumper sticker
This does not make you a terrorist, it just makes you someone who likes Ron Paul and refuses to accept the reality that he’ll never be President, and someone who doesn’t know when to take a bumper sticker off of their car.
I have had a regular argument over the years with a family member about both the recreational use of pot and the use of pot and derived materials from pot. Many of the claims promoted by this family member surround its use in cancer. In fact, this person follows a group on Facebook called “Cannabis Cures Cancer.” Being a regular listener to scientifically-based podcasts, I was skeptical of the dramatic claims being made, as they seemed to be mostly anecdotal in origin. However, I thought I’d take a fresh look at the information to see where the science stands on cannabis.
In comparison to other treatments, the amount of information available discussing the science on this topic took a bit more digging. There are some preliminary studies for a wide variety of conditions, but no large scale studies or anything that would be close to market. To start, I looked over the information presented to me by this family member, which was a link to the National Cancer Institute at the NIH. I use the NIH website to find basic health information about medications I am taking, or to find out about treatments for minor injuries or illnesses, and find it to be a fairly trustworthy source.
However, this link makes me reevaluate that stance. Without any differentiation other than the web address, the entire topic falls under the umbrella of the NIH’s CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine) research. The only way to tell it falls here is in the web address itself; there is no disclosure on the page as such. The Science-Based Medicine blog does a great job covering why the NIH should not be promoting CAM. The problem I have lies with the lack of disclosure. The information in the article itself isn’t inaccurate, although the way it is written can be misleading.
One of the articles I did have in my stash of information is a recent blog from the Skeptical Raptor blog. This post does a great job summarizing the information being claimed about actually curing cancer. It actually uses published medical information, even linking to the abstracts in the NIH database. The article also addresses the above NIH National Cancer Institute page. Although some of the research into cannabis is interesting, it hasn’t progressed much beyond cell cultures and a couple of rat studies. The push-back I received using this article is because the “Skeptical Raptor” worked for the pharmaceutical industry, this is another attempt for “big pharma” to suppress the truth. The raptor does a great job addressing this:
…if cannabis or any of its components actually could show efficacy against any of the 200 or so cancers, Big Pharma would be all over it. Because, they would not be selling joints, they would be distilling the active ingredient, determining the exact dose, determining how to deliver it to the exact cancer site, funding clinical trials, filing documentation with the FDA, then getting it into physician’s hands. This is not an easy process, but it would be a profitable one if it worked. Big Pharma and the National Cancer Institute is looking at everything, and they ignore nothing for potential. If cannabis works (and it might), they are all over it. Big Pharma is providing a lot of the funding for it.
And he is right. A cure for cancer would be highly profitable. If it is one thing the conspiracy theorists and skeptics can agree on, it is that corporations are driven by profits. Making money in and of itself is not a sign of bad motives.
(CAM) Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Complementary medicine is another expression for “alternative” medicine, though the two are often linked as complementary and alternative medicine and referred to as CAM. (sCAM is sometimes used to refer to supplements and complementary and alternative medicine, since much of CAM promotes taking supplements as essential to good health.) The term ‘complementary’ seems to have been introduced by the purveyors of quackery in an attempt to produce the bias that untested or discredited treatments should be used along with scientifically tested medical treatments. There really is no such thing as “alternative” medicine; if it’s medicine, it’s medicine. ‘Alternative medicine’ is a deceptive term that tries to create the illusion that a discredited or untested treatment is truly an alternative to an established treatment in scientific medicine. By adding ‘complementary medicine’ to the repertoire of misleading terms, the purveyors of quackery have improved on the illusion that their remedies somehow enhance or improve the effects of science-based medical treatments. (source: The Skeptic’s Dictionary)
by Steven Novella via NeuroLogica Blog
Chiropractors and naturopaths would like to be your primary care physician. They are tirelessly lobbying to expand their scope of practice, with the goal of achieving full parity with actual physicians. This would be an unmitigated disaster, for reasons I will detail below.
Oregon is setting up coordinated care organizations to help promote improved care at reduced cost. The idea sounds plausible and is a good experiment in how to reduce health care costs. The idea is to set up local groups of health practitioners who work in a coordinated way to take care of the local population, including physical and mental health, with dental health on the way. These CCOs would focus on preventive care with the goal of reducing illness and ER visits.
With any new health care initiative (including Obamacare, and this CCO initiative) so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners see them as an opportunity to expand their power, reach, and scope. Unfortunately they have been largely successful – they know how to talk to both ends of the political spectrum, and the relevant science seems to get lost or distorted in all the propaganda.
A recent commentary in the Washington Times is a great example of this. The article was written by Peter Lind, a “metabolic and neurologic” chiropractor. Chiropractic neurology is pure pseudoscience, it relates to actual neurology as alchemy does to chemistry, or astrology to astronomy. Lind writes:
Governor Kitzhaber’s philosophy and current Oregon law says that CCOs cannot discriminate against complementary and alternative health providers (CAM) such as chiropractic physicians, naturopathic physicians, licensed acupuncturists, and licensed massage therapists. Governor Kitzhaber has said repeatedly that CAM providers cannot and will not be discriminated against in the new health care system and that chiropractic and naturopathic physicians will act in the capacity of primary care providers for those who wish to practice at the top of their licensure. These providers will help address the primary care provider shortage that is only going to grow when Oregon’s CCOs come fully online.
“Not discriminate against” is code for – abolish the standard of care. There are several political codes which ultimately just mean to get rid of the standard of care, or to create a double standard. “Health care freedom” is another. I have seen such “anti-discrimination” laws in effect with disastrous results. They mean, for example, that insurance companies are forced to pay for useless and sometime fraudulent treatments by CAM practitioners, and then have to write absurd rules (that apply to everyone, including physicians) in an attempt to limit the damage.
- Why Do People turn to Alternative Medicine? (illuminutti.com)
- CAM Practitioners as Primary Care Doctors (skepticblog.org)
- Alternative Medicine Use Common In Kids With Chronic Conditions: Study (prn.fm)
- Does Adding Alternative Medicine Cost Health Insurers More Money? (alternativendhealth.wordpress.com)