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QEDCon is fast approaching (indeed, I can't believe I have to leave for Manchester tomorrow night), and because my talk there will be about the phenomenon of "integrative medicine," I've been thinking a lot about it. As I put together my slides, I can't help but see my talk evolving to encompass both "integrative" medicine and what I like to refer to as quackademic medicine, but that's not surprising. The two phenomenon are related, and it's hard to determine which has a more pernicious effect on science in medicine. One aspect of quackademic medicine that I probably don't write about as much…
Naturopathy and naturopaths are a fairly frequent topic on this blog—and for very good reason. If there is an example of a pseudomedical "discipline" that has been gaining undeserved "respectability," it's naturopathy. It's licensed in all too many states, and physicians who have fallen under the spell of so-called "integrative medicine," a specialty that rebrands science-based lifestyle medical interventions as somehow "alternative" or "integrative" and uses them as a vessel to "integrate" quackery into medicine, seem to have a special affinity for naturopaths. Indeed, so common has the…
I sometimes like to write about things happening in my neck of the woods that are relevant to the kinds of things I normally blog about every day. This habit of mine dates back at least to the days when investigative reporter Steve Wilson of our local ABC affiliate used to lay down fear mongering barrages of nonsense about mercury in vaccines that would have made Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. proud if he ever knew about them. Then there was a report on "orbs" seen in photographs where the reporter speculated whether they were actual spirits. Then there's the periodic fascination with veterinary…
Last week, I wrote about Rigvir, a highly dubious cancer therapy developed in Latvia. Rigvir is an oncolytic virus, and its proponents claim that it targets only cancer cells for destruction, leaving normal tissue alone. Its history and how it came to be approved in Latvia in 2004 and added to the Latvian Health Ministry's list of reimbursable medications in 2011 remain rather mysterious, but how it is being marketed does not. For example, Rigvir has become a new favorite treatment at a number of quack clinics, such as the Hope4Cancer Institute in Mexico, where Rigvir is offered along with…
John Weeks has long been an activist for what is now known as "integrative medicine," earlier known as "complementary and alternative medicine"(CAM). Basically, for many years Mr. Weeks has been at the forefront of encouraging the "integration" of quackery with real medicine and promoting what I like to refer to as "quackademic medicine," a perfect term to describe the increasing encroachment of pseudoscience and quackery in medical academia in the form of—you guessed it—integrative medicine. Despite his having zero background in scientific research or the design and execution of experiments…
Two years ago, I wrote about a study that demonstrated how the antivaccine movement had learned to use Twitter to amplify their antiscience message. At the time, I noted how in 2014, when the whole "CDC whistleblower" conspiracy theory was first hatched, antivaxers were so bad at Twitter, so obvious, so naive. The Tweeted inane claims at government officials, scientists, legislators, and whoever else might have influence on vaccine policy, using hashtags like #CDCwhistleblower and #hearmewell. (These hashtags are still in use, but much less active.) However they did get better, to the point…
Last week, an antivaxer "challenged" me to look over a paper purporting to show that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines cause inflammation of the brain and therefore contribute to autism, a paper that she would be "citing frequently." Being someone who lives by the motto, "be careful what you wish for," I looked it over in detail. Not surprisingly, my conclusion was that the experiments were poorly done using obsolete and not very quantitative methodology and that the results do not support the conclusions made by the authors. I was not alone in this conclusion. Skeptical Raptor was, if anything…
This blog is based in the United States, and I'm an American. Unfortunately, this produces a difficult-to-avoid baked-in bias towards medicine as it is practiced in the US and, to a lesser extent, as it is practiced in the English-speaking world, because English is my language and I can read accounts coming out of English-speaking countries. The same bias exists with respect to pseudo-medicine, with our concentration having been primarily on either quackery that is practiced in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia (and sometimes New Zealand). It's not because I'm not interested in medicine and…
Back in the day I used to do a weekly feature every Friday that I used to call Your Friday Dose of Woo. For purposes of the bit, woo consisted of particularly ridiculous or silly bits of pseudoscience, quackery, or mysticism, such as the Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface. Amazingly, I managed to keep that up for a couple of years, but over time I started sensing that I was getting a bit too repetitive. The same bits of pseudoscience kept recurring. Over time I had to dig more and more to find suitable bits of woo that amused me enough to inspire me to ever more over-the-top heights of…
? "Why, oh, why do I have to die in the cause of such crappy science?" For antivaxers, aluminum is the new mercury. Let me explain, for the benefit of those not familiar with the antivaccine movement. For antivaxers, it is, first and foremost, always about the vaccines. Always. Whatever the chronic health issue in children, vaccines must have done it. Autism? It’s the vaccines. Sudden infant death syndrome? Vaccines, of course. Autoimmune diseases? Obviously it must be the vaccines causing it. Obesity, diabetes, ADHD? Come on, you know the answer! Because antivaxers will never let go of…
It's Friday, and it's been a rough week. So, after digging into an epidemiology study yesterday, I'm in the mood for something a bit less...heavy. Antivaxers sometimes call me to task when I point out what to me is a simple fact, namely that antivaxers are basically conspiracy theorists. In essence, to believe many antivax views, you have to believe that there is a vast conspiracy among big pharma, the government, and the media to hide great harm from vaccines because...well, it's never quite clear. To protect pharma profits? Really, this is no different than the cancer quacks who claim that…
A week ago, I wrote about a naturopath in Utah named Harry Adelson, who was advertising his use stem cells to treat lumbar and cervical disk problems, including degenerated and dehydrated disks. That alone was bad enough, but what elevated "Not-a-Dr." (my preferred translation of the "ND" that naturopaths like to use after their names to confuse patients because it's so close to "MD") Adelson above and beyond the usual naturopathic quackery is his cosplay of an interventional radiologist, in which he purchased a C-arm to use fluoroscopy to inject his "stem cells" right into the intervertebral…
In the early 1980s in the wake of reports, publicized by a news report and later a book by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher (DPT: A Shot in the Dark), that the whole cell DPT vaccine was linked to encephalitis and brain damage, a flood of product liability lawsuits was on the verge of bringing the US vaccine program to its knees. Later studies exonerated the DPT, especially a large case-control study, but those studies did not come until the 1990s. Even though existing evidence at the time did not clearly support a link, it did not clearly rule one out. As a result vaccine manufacturers…
Acupuncture is nothing more than a theatrical placebo. I wish I could take credit for the term "theatrical placebo" to describe acupuncture, just as I wish I could take credit for coining the term "quackademic medicine" to describe the unfortunately increasing infiltration of quackery into academic medical centers and medical schools and as I wish I could take credit for the term "Tooth Fairy science" to describe doing scientific studies on a phenomenon that has not been proven to exist, but alas I cannot. I can, however, use the terms as I see fit, even if it might annoy some believers in…
One of the most common tropes used by antivaxers is to attack herd immunity as not being real. Herd immunity, or as its sometimes called, community immunity, is a name for a phenomenon in which in a population with high levels of immunity to a disease members susceptible to the disease are protected. Basically, because the vast majority of members of the population are immune to a disease, that disease can't gain a foothold in the population and lead to an outbreak or an epidemic. Basically, transmission from person to person is interrupted because any susceptible person who becomes infected…
One of the problems we as skeptics and advocates for science-based medicine face is that quackery and pseudoscience are legion. They are everywhere. Worse, in many cases, they can be a good business model. For example, back when Oprah Winfrey was peddling The Secret, the magical mystical belief that if you only want something badly enough, the universe will somehow provide it, and promoting Jenny McCarthy's antivaccine beliefs, skeptics were all over her. Many were the refutations of the nonsense that she promoted published in a wide variety of blogs, websites, and magazines; yet her brand…
You know how you know when you've been effective deconstructing quackery or antivaccine pseudoscience? It's when quacks and pseudoscientists strike back. It's when they attack you. As much as Mike Adams' near daily tirades against me last year caused problems and poisoned my Google reputation (which was, obviously, the goal), I could reassure myself with the knowledge that his attacks meant that I had gotten to him. When Steve Novella was sued by a quack, as much as I didn't want to be sued by anyone, I knew that the fact that someone would sue him was testament to his effectiveness.…
If any of you are bloggers out there who like to write about studies, have you ever decided that you wanted to write about a study and discovered as you started writing that your university doesn't have access to the journal? Yeah, that happened to me last night. I had wanted to move on from writing about antivaccine nonsense, as it seems that that's all I've been writing about for the last several days (probably because it almost is), but I couldn't because I couldn't count on someone getting me a copy soon enough to be able to write about it last night. So until I get a hold of the paper…
As I sat down to lay down my daily (or at least week-daily) dose of Insolence last night, my thoughts kept coming back to vaccines. Sure, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, we seemed to have dodged a bullet in that President Trump appears on the verge of appointing someone who is actually competent and pro-vaccine as director of the CDC. Of course, none of that changes the issue that Donald Trump's proposed budget takes a meat axe to public health programs, including vaccines, and that if Republicans succeed in dismantling the Affordable Care Act a large chunk of money going to vaccine…
One of the most persistent narratives latched on to by advocates of "integrative medicine" is that the "mind" can somehow "heal" the body. Sometimes, the claim is that such interventions work through "powerful placebo" effects. Sometimes it involves the abuse of emerging science, such overblown claims about what can be accomplished through epigenetic modifications of DNA and gene expression. While my wife and I were away on vacation last month, there was another example of this claim popping up in the media under headlines like these: Mindfulness and meditation dampen down inflammation genes…