This year The Amazing Meeting 9 (designated TAM9 From Outer Space) will be held in Las Vegas from July 14-17. If you have not registered, do it fast – this year the conference will likely sell out.

Among the many incredible speakers and events at TAM9 there will be a Science-Based Medicine workshop and an SBM panel discussion. The prominence of SBM at TAM9 partly reflects the new collaboration between SBM and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), who organizes TAM.

The SBM website is now a joint project of the New England Skeptical Society (who founded SBM) and the JREF – two non-profit educational organizations dedicated to promoting the public understanding of science. I am delighted that the JREF is making SBM a priority, and we all look forward to working closely with them in promoting high standards of science in medicine and improved public understanding of the relationship between science and the practice of medicine.

As part of this new relationship I have accepted a position at the JREF of Senior Fellow and Director of their Science-Based Medicine project.

The SBM Workshop at TAM9 (which must be registered for separately) will include names familiar to our readers: David Gorski, Kimball Atwood, Mark Crislip, Harriet Hall, and yours truly. Because it is a workshop we want to focus on practical information for the professional and non-professional alike. The title of this year’s workshop is, “Oh, no. Not Again!: Recurring Themes in Medical Mythology.” After examining unscientific and sectarian health claims for years it becomes clear that the same basic concepts are being repackaged over and over again. Even looking back over the centuries and millennia at the history of medicine we see the same recurring concepts.

We will discuss the most common recurring themes in sectarian medicine and give examples of how they have evolved over the years. We will demonstrate that many of the “new” treatments and claims that are being marketed today are in reality nothing new, but just a reworking of themes that have been dissected and discarded by previous generations.

The goal of the workshop is to give attendees a working knowledge of how sectarian medical beliefs originate and are typically formulated. There is and endless succession of new dubious health claims out there – too many to address every single one individually. But by understanding the common themes underlying these claims, and the flawed science and logic used to promote them, one can recognize the flaws in “new” claims as they occur. Before long you too will be saying in response to the latest “new” health claim, “Oh, no. Not again!”

The SBM panel will take place during the TAM9 main program. I will moderate the panel, which will also include the workshop presenters as well as Rachel Dunlop and Ginger Campbell. The title of the panel discussion is, “Placebo Medicine: The Mechanisms and Misunderstanding of the Mysterious Placebo.”

The nature of placebo effects is more complex than most realize, and I find that even among otherwise savvy scientists and skeptics there remain a great deal of misconceptions about how placebos work, and don’t work. We will explore not only the nature of placebos but the ethics of their use in medicine, and their role in clinical trials.

We hope to meet many of our regular readers there (it’s good to put faces to pseudonyms), so please come up and introduce yourself to us, or just to say hi if we have met you at previous meetings.

Thanks again to the JREF for their support of SBM. We are all looking forward to the conference and collaborating with the JREF in the future to make the practice of medicine a little bit more scientific.

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10 thoughts on “SBM at TAM9

  1. windriven says:

    Occasioned by the impending retirement of Dr. Edzard Ernst, The Economist published a wonderful leader and a more in depth article branding essentially all alternative medicine as quackery in the May 21st edition. Both go on to discuss the placebo effect in a rather more realistic way than is usually found in a general interest publication.

    You may find the leader here:

    And the article itself here:

  2. Dpeabody says:

    “I have accepted a position at the JREF of Senior Fellow and Director of their Science-Based Medicine project.”

    You’re just a shill for big skepticism.

  3. Nikola says:

    Oh man, I’d go to TAM in a second, that Placebo discussion is enough to hook me. Hope I can find it online afterwards!

  4. BillyJoe says:


    “You may find the leader here:

    They surely overstate the case for placebos though:

    “Placebos can bring relief, especially from nerve-related problems like pain and depression. They may also reach further than that. There is growing evidence that the strength of a person’s immune system is affected by his mental state, too: a healthy mind really does count, especially in an unhealthy body.”

    The placebo effect “works” on only a very limited number of symptoms – pain, nausea, fatigue – all of which are subjective and have great psychological overload. Also the benefits are often over-reported by patients to please the therapist who is trying hard to help them. And the benefit is ususally short term with little or no benefits long term. As for the effect of placebos on the immune system, where is the evidence for this?

  5. BillyJoe says:

    “And the article itself here:

    The article does so as well and it aslo misinterprets the Ted Kaptchuk as well. It definitely did not show that the placebo effect holds when patients are told they are recieving a placebo. That was just the authors false interpretation of their results which failed to take into account the way in which they promoted their clincal trial to potential participants

  6. windriven says:

    Give me a rest! This is a general interest magazine, not a specialist journal. In a forest of publications that slobber over every bit of quackery that rolls around, I found it refreshing to find The Economist slapping down the quacks.

  7. windriven says:


    You asked: “where is the evidence for this?”

    A very quick scan of PubMed produced this abstract:

    “Behaviourally conditioned changes in peripheral immune functions have been demonstrated in experimental animals, healthy subjects and patients. The physiological mechanisms responsible for this ‘learned immune response’ are not yet fully understood, but some relevant afferent and efferent pathways in the communication between the brain and the peripheral immune system have been identified. In addition, possible benefits and applicability in clinical settings have been demonstrated where behaviourally conditioned immunosuppression attenuated the exacerbation of autoimmune diseases, prolonged allograft survival and affected allergic responses. *”

    This certainly doesn’t rise to the level of slam dunk evidence provinging a clear linkage. But then again I’ve spent only about 5 minutes looking. And that certainly wasn’t the thrust of the Economist piece.

    * Behavioural conditioning as the mediator of placebo responses in the immune system.

    Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Jun 27;366(1572):1799-807.

  8. BillyJoe says:


    I didn’t say they weren’t “slapping down the quacks”, I said they were overstating the placebo effect.

  9. norrisL says:

    What the article barely touched on was the danger of prescribing placebo for someone who is actually “sick”.It is this false hope that quacks give that really gets me cranky!

  10. tmac57 says:

    Steve,that was a terrific interview that you did on Skeptically Speaking with Desiree Schell.
    For those who missed it here is the link:

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