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Head-In-The-Sand Consumer Affairs

Editor’s Note: Please be aware that Ben is deployed in Iraq right now. What that means is that his Internet access is somewhat sporadic. He will show up from time to time to answer comments, however.

ERRARE HUMANUM EST, SED PERSEVERARE DIABOLICUM
- To err is human, but to persist
diabolical -

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – 65 AD)

The California (CA) Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has an informational booklet on Acupuncture and Asian Medicine that besides depicting many New Age fantasies about prescientific medicine, also makes the unfounded claim that based on a 1997 consensus panel, the NIH formally “endorses” the use of acupuncture for a set of specific conditions, and that there is “clear evidence” that it is effective for some of them. This booklet is available at:

http://www.acupuncture.ca.gov/pubs_forms/consumer_guide.pdf

Wondering about this “clear evidence,”  I wrote a letter a few months ago to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and asked for a clarification.

Their candid response explicitly stated that the CA booklet “misstates the purpose of the 1997 consensus panel on acupuncture.” The NCCAM also added that as a “Federal research agency, the NIH does not endorse any product, service or treatment, nor are NIH consensus documents statements of policy.”
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Posted in: Acupuncture, Politics and Regulation, Public Health, Science and Medicine

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Guess Who’ll Win A Nobel Prize, Win An 8GB iPod Touch

The following is an announcement from my friends at Medgadget.com:

Next Monday, the Nobel Foundation will announce the winner(s) of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In the following two days, two more Nobels will be revealed: in Physics and in Chemistry. Because of the success of last year’s inaugural Guess-A-Nobel Contest, we decided we’ll repeat this event annually until there is no more science worthy of the prize. This year we’re giving out three 8GB Apple iPod Touch devices to those who correctly guess in each of the three science categories. Because we profile a good deal of apps for the iPhone/Touch platform, we thought this might be a useful tool beside all the fun it can provide on the off time. Furthermore, if someone does manage to guess all three correctly, he or she will be getting the souped-up 64 GB version of the iPod device with all the trimmings.


Here are the rules of the game: (more…)

Posted in: Announcements

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What’s wrong with this picture?

My youngest and I often do the “Find 6 Different Things” in the Sunday comics. He is good at finding anomalies. All day at work I showed the picture in the link that follows and asked: What is wrong with this picture?

Almost everyone found at least one thing wrong (I find two) in less than 10 seconds, my 12 year old included.

Click on the link,  look at the first  photograph and you tell me.

What’s wrong with this picture?

http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2009/09/new_clinic_opens_at.html

I will post  my answer tomorrow in the comments.

Posted in: Acupuncture, Humor

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The Need for Transparency

A recent editorial in PLOS Medicine discusses the need for transparency in the medical literature, specifically with regard to comparative effectiveness research (CER). The editorial makes many excellent points, but also puts into clear relief the double standard that is consciously being fabricated by proponents of non-science-based medicine.

I wrote previously about another editorial that took a very different approach. Speaking for The Kings Fund, Professor Dame Carol Black said.

“The challenge is to develop methods of research that allow us to assess the value of an approach that seeks to integrate the physical intervention, the personal context in which it is given, and non-specific effects that together comprise a particular therapy.”

The editorial essentially defended the use of CER and other forms of evidence to bolster the evidence base for so-called CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) in order to promote its use.

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Posted in: Science and Medicine

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Cold Flusion?

This is a quick entry to allow me to have a little spleen venting.  And I am cross posting this over at Medscape.

Background for you youngsters.  In 1989 two electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, announced they had successfully developed cold fusion: nuclear fusion at room temperature.  Pons was chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Utah at the time and lent a fair amount of respectability to the announcement.

A great deal of brouhaha followed, but in the end “is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” Cold fusion was and is a bust, although millions were spent in pursuit of that pot of gold.

Fast forward to this week.  Here is the data upon which important public health decisions are being made, in its entirety:

“new Canadian study — which has not yet been peer reviewed or published —that found those who receive the seasonal flu vaccine become two times more likely to get H1N1.”

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Posted in: Science and Medicine

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AAFP Endorses CAM

I recently chastised the American Family Physician (the journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians) for assigning a high SORT (strength of evidence) rating to acupuncture treatments that did not merit that rating. While the AAFP claims to strongly support evidence-based medicine, I have observed a gradual infiltration of CAM into their journal, their website, and their CME offerings. They seem to be more concerned with the popularity of CAM and with not offending its believers than with maintaining scientific rigor. The problem is only getting worse.

Recently a “News Now” article was published on the AAFP website: “New Report Details Billions Americans Spend on Complementary, Alternative Medicine: Physicians Can Benefit from Adding CAM to Their Practices, Says FP” It is very disturbing. (more…)

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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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. This starts at the top with Arianna, and is actively encouraged by medical and health editors like Patricia Fitzgerald and Dean Ornish.  In the spring, our complaints were picked up briefly by the larger blogosphere and for a while, HuffPo appeared to have toned it down.  Some of that may have been due to our critique of their flu coverage, much of which was mere infomercials for patent medicine.

As the old joke goes, “Break’s over—back on your knees.”  HuffPo has jumped back into the quakery pond with full abandon.  Venues like HuffPo are one of the reasons a site like this one are necessary.  So let’s take a look at the latest abominations from “the other side”.

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Posted in: Homeopathy, Science and the Media, Vaccines

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The price of anti-vaccine fanaticism: Case histories

One of the major themes of SBM has been to combat one flavor of anti-SBM movement that believes, despite all the evidence otherwise, that vaccines cause autism and that autism can be reversed with all sorts of “biomedical” quackery. Many (but by no means all) of these so-called “biomedical” treatments are based on the false view that vaccines somehow caused autism. I and my fellow SBM bloggers have expended huge quantities of verbiage refuting the pseudoscience, misinformation, and outright lies regularly spread by various anti-vaccine groups and two celebrities in particular, namely Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey. Most of the time, we discuss these issues in terms of the harm to public health that is done by falling vaccination rates due to the fear engendered by the message of the anti-vaccine movement and the threat of the return of vaccine-preventable diseases that once wreaked havoc among children.

There is another price, however. There is a price that is paid by autistic children themselves and their parents. It is a price paid in money and lost time. It is a price paid in being subjected to treatments that are highly implausible from a scientific standpoint and for which there is no good scientific evidence. It is a price that can result in bankruptcy, suffering, and, yes, even death.

It is a price, I think, that is best demonstrated through a few case studies. This is a situation when anecdotes have their use.
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Posted in: Health Fraud, Public Health, Science and the Media, Vaccines

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Bill Maher endorses cancer quackery

Over the last five years or so, I’ve often asked, “Is Bill Maher really that ignorant?” I’ve come to the conclusion that he is, and a couple of weeks ago laid out the evidence why right here on this very blog. (Lately Maher has been issuing Tweets that call people who get flu shots “idiots.”) Indeed, I even included in the post perhaps the most hilariously spot-on riposte to Maher’s crankery. This occurred when Maher proclaimed that he never gets the flu and wouldn’t get the flu on an airplane, which his guest Bob Costas to exclaim in exasperation, “Oh, come on, Superman!”

Bob Costas won my respect that day. My favorite part was when Maher looked at his guests, who were shifting in their seats, all embarrassed and unsure of what to say, and observed, “You all look at me as though I’m crazy.”

Why, yes, Bill, we do. Let’s put it this way. When Age of Autism likes you, you have a serious problem when it comes to being credible about medical science.

In that same post, I complained about Maher’s being awarded the Richard Dawkins Award by the Atheist Alliance International (AAI). I liken giving Bill Maher an award that lists “advocates increased scientific knowledge” anywhere in its criteria, not to mention being named after Richard Dawkins, to giving Jenny McCarthy an award for public health, given that, at least when it comes to medicine, Maher is anti-science to the core. Along the way, I’ve ruffled the feathers of some of both Dawkins’ and Maher’s fans.

I regret nothing.

Not only do I regret nothing, but on September 18, a mere two weeks before the AAI Convention, Maher provided me with more ammunition. In fact, this is probably the most blatant bit of crankery I’ve seen from Maher in a long time. Watch and learn. The “alternative medicine” nuttery begins at around the 0:50 mark:

Laetrile? Really? Laetrile?? How 1970s cancer quackery!
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Posted in: Cancer, Faith Healing & Spirituality, Health Fraud, Science and the Media, Vaccines

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HIV/AIDS denialists do it too!

Remember my post from Monday about fake scientific conferences organized by the anti-vaccine movement that are designed to paint a picture of legitimate science being done, so much so that they even fool some academics into speaking there? (I realize that the server issues we had from Monday through Wednesday that rendered the site completely FUBAR may have prevented some of you from reading it.)

Well, it turns out that HIV/AIDS denialists do it too!

Why am I not surprised?

Posted in: Medical Academia, Science and Medicine, Science and the Media

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