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The Huffington Post’s War On Science

It is unfortunately a common human reaction to respond to criticism by attacking those leveling the criticism, rather than addressing the points being made. This is especially true if the criticism is legitimate and one cannot reasonably counter it.

Substantive criticism is also a central part of the scientific endeavor, and so the culture of science has developed a tolerance for harsh criticism and a general understanding that the only proper response is with logic and evidence. Examples of exceptions are legion, human frailty being what it is, but you cannot live in the world of science for long without learning the rules of the game. Peers are expected to pull no punches when criticizing the errors or countering the arguments of their colleagues. Everyone is expected to be their own harshest critic (criticize your own data before someone has a chance to). And when criticized yourself, acknowledge what is legitimate and make appropriate corrections, but feel free to defend yourself against weak criticisms by pointing out additional data, interpretations, or errors in the arguments of your critics.

This meat grinder approach to scientific discourse works.  Slowly, bad ideas and claims are beaten down, and only good ideas have the stamina to persist.

But here at science-based medicine we engage not only with the scientific community, but also with the public, and with those on the fringes of science. This means we often engage with those who do not play by the rules of science. A recent example is that of J.B. Handley from Age of Autism. David Gorski and I (and later Mark Crislip) wrote blog entries criticizing their 14 studies website with a detailed analysis. Handley responded with a full frontal personal assault sprinkled with irrelevant accusations. He ignored the vast majority of our actual criticisms, and those few he took on he completely botched.

Sometimes the targets of scientific criticism respond with another tactic – the diversion. Rather than make an obvious ad hominem attack, they try to distract the public (often the real target of the exchange) from the points of the criticism with a series of non sequiturs. They try to “re-frame” the discussion to make it about something other than the scientific evidence.

Creationists recently have been masters of this latter tactic. On scientific grounds, there is no debate about evolution. The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees that evolution happened, there is common descent, and natural selection is a dominant mechanism. Creationists cannot win this fight scientifically (though they keep trying), and so they try to distract from the science by trying to make it a political debate. So they accuse scientists of being dogmatic, of trying to exclude creationists from the debate, or for unfairly eliminating supernatural explanations from consideration. First they tried “teach the (fake) controversy,” and now they are trying “teach the strengths and (fake) weaknesses” of evolution.

Those who promote unscientific claims in medicine are no different. When scientists bother to examine their claims and level the sort of criticism typical of the scientific community at them, they often respond with some combination of personal attacks and distraction. Last week I criticised the Huffington Post for running a series of blogs and articles that are promoting dangerously pseudoscientific medical claims. I specifically commented on an outrageous article by Kim Evans, promoting the absurd claim that all cancers are caused by fungal infections, which in turn are caused by antibiotics. Evans has responded (sort of) with this week’s column, in which she addresses her critics, without naming anyone in particular.

Her response is right out of the pseudoscientific health claim play book, under “how to distract from legitimate criticism with logical fallacies and misdirection.” We have literally heard it all before, and have even answered much of it in detail. I will therefore not reiterate points that have been made before but will link to them.

She begins:

In a recent post I got a lot of flack for not speaking like a scientist. Something in that rubs me the wrong way because it presumes that only by a very narrow method can we come to any valid conclusions or make any new discoveries about the world we live in – while also presuming that only a tiny portion of the population, with a very specific set of skills and communication methods, has the ability to do so.

Here she is combing two common tactics – the claim that her critics are being elitist and that science it too narrow to encompass her wisdom (and she goes much further on these themes in the following paragraphs). Rather, she was criticized for promoting a dangerous health scam and not even attempting to justify it with anything resembling acceptable scientific evidence. In response to this criticism she did not either acknowledge the lack of evidence or provide references to such evidence – instead she “reframed” the criticism as being equivalent to saying that she is not in the club – an obvious appeal to elitism. (Handley, by the way, pulled the exact same ploy.)

She might as well have written that we were trying to “expel” her from the scientific discussion, because what she is doing is exactly the same as the Intelligent Design proponents tactics used in the movie by that name.

First she states that she was criticized for not behaving like a scientist, then she states, essentially, that science is not all its cracked up to be anyway.  At least she is being openly anti-science.

This attitude derives from the premise that the methods of science are optional – just one way of knowing how nature works. This is, in my opinion, the core of the struggle between science-based medicine and everything else.  But which rules of science, I wonder, would Evans recommend we abandon when it suits us? Should we ignore inconvenient evidence rather than take a systematic approach, use ambiguous criteria that are susceptible to bias, or not control for confounding variables?

There is nothing magical or arbitrary about the methods of science – they are merely careful observation and intellectual honesty rigorously applied.  To say this is a “narrow” approach is to misunderstand science or a deliberate distraction.

Next she launches into the toxin gambit:

A study in 2005 found that newborns are being born with literally hundreds of chemicals in their bloodstream, many of them known to cause cancer. Most people eat pesticides and herbicides in their every meal. I don’t need to tell you that these substances are designed to kill living organisms, because you already know that, but might I remind you that you, too, are a living organism. Rocket fuel has been found in milk. Drugs and birth control have been found in the water.

The only evidence she provides to support her claims is a link to a Newsweek article.  This is acceptable form in general for a blog, but does not do much to bolster her claims. The referenced article does site several studies that found detectable levels of various chemicals in the general population, but it also cites two NIH reviews of this data. The first found that there was little cause for concern, and the second that, based on animal data, there may be cause for concern and further study is necessary.  This hardly supports the alarm bell Evans is ringing.

First, this does not have anything to do with the criticisms of her original article, which was about antibiotics and cancer. But that aside, her hysterical warnings about toxins, like most health care pseudoscience, has a kernel of truth. There are toxins in the environment, and it is plausible that some of them may reach levels that have health effects. We should be eternally vigilant about what substances we put into our environment and our bodies and monitor their health effects.

On the other hand – toxicity is always about dose. Most substances decried as toxins are in such low doses that they likely do not have any health effects. For some we do need more evidence, and maybe even changes in policy. This is likely to be forever a moving target as technology and industry advances. Policy should be based on evidence – not vague fears.

Also, her use of the word “chemical” is misleading. The environment is loaded with naturally-occurring chemicals. We are made of chemicals. It is not enough to say that chemicals exist in our environment.

And keep in mind all of this is to promote her health claims – that cleansing toxins has health benefits. That is an entirely separate claim that is not supported by evidence or much plausibility.

Next up is the claim that doctors and mainstream medicine kill patients.

So, while all of this looms and is largely unaccounted for in the standard health care equation, critics judge harshly alternative views and hail a system that’s been found to kill almost 200,000 people a year due to preventable errors. The same system has been found to kill another 100,000 annually with drugs, and seriously harm another 2.1 million each year by the same means. They hail “proven” methods for cancer that are known to cause significant damage to the immune system, and are even known to be carcinogenic, which means to cause cancer. So, I ask, “Is this rational?”

Harriet Hall has already dealt with this claim.  First, it is a tu quoque logical fallacy. We all want better safer medicine. Failing to meet that goal in one arena does not justify pseudoscience in another. Further, these numbers are highly misleading (and almost certainly overstated) because they only consider the harm of intervention. But medical decision-making is about risk vs benefit. We need to know if the interventions in question save more people than they harm.

The standard in mainstream medicine is that each intervention should be backed by high quality evidence that its benefits outweigh its risks. Further, we are always trying to minimize risk whenever possible. And the principle of informed consent dictates that we give that information to patients and let them decide if the benefits outweigh the risks for them. Evan’s claimed treatments do not meet that standard, but she tries to distract from that criticism with the above non sequitur.

She concludes:

Oh wait, that’s exactly where we are now… So, in light of the numbers above and all of the proof that’s literally walking around next to us, maybe it’s time we started looking at and thinking about things a little differently. Because if a reliance on proven demonstrated science has gotten us exactly to the situation I describe above, perhaps a shift of focus to rational is the best move we can make.

Many of the commenters for this entry pointed out that science-based medicine has doubled the human life expectancy – that is also part of the situation. But again – at least she is flying her anti-scientific flag high and proud. Evans wants us to abandon science at our whim, certainly long enough to buy her book. She  somehow twists logic to argue that this is “rational”, but she gets there only by abusing the evidence – by exaggerating risks and ignoring benefits.

Evan’s rant, typical of those in her camp, is once again just another long rationalization for not wanting to play by the fair and honest rules of science because logic and evidence does not support her claims.

Posted in: Science and Medicine, Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (227) ↓

227 thoughts on “The Huffington Post’s War On Science

  1. Dacks says:

    Sounds like you’ve really touched a nerve (pun intended)! Seems to me that as Evans and others become increasingly shrill, calm argumentation must look a little more attractive.

  2. Aaron S. says:

    Nice post.

    I’ll keep updating my “General Bullshit Defense” wiki page. It seems like good examples just keep coming.

  3. Peter Lipson says:

    HuffPo is out of control. I don’t care what they write in their political pages—those are supposed to be ideological. But allowing all of this dangerous, deceptive, and wrong info, most of which is selling something—it’s shameful.

  4. gr8blessings says:

    Applause. This post does an excellent job at explaining how scientists think and what goes into the scientific method using Evans’ article as an example. It is a post like this that confirms why I like this blog and why I have no trouble referring my non-scientist friends here. Thank you Dr. Novella. Two-thumbs up!

  5. Brian Egan says:

    Did you happen to catch Jim Carrey’s post from this Saturday on the HuffPo:

    The Judgment on Vaccines Is In???

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-carrey/the-judgment-on-vaccines_b_189777.html

    Although it’s mostly the normal bag of tricks, I was waiting for a SBM writeup about it =)

  6. David Gorski says:

    You got one–sort of:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/04/fire_marshall_bill_discusses_vaccines.php

    I think the problem was that none of us could keep a response to Carrey’s nonsense “high brow” enough for SBM.

    :-)

  7. pec says:

    “science-based medicine has doubled the human life expectancy”

    That’s your old marketing PR, and utterly misleading, as you must know. A small number of major medical breakthroughs (such as antibiotics) have actually contributed to health and longevity. But MOST of our increased life expectancy (relative to when and where is not specified!) is accounted for by things like improved sanitation and decreased cigarette smoking). And infant mortality has been brought down from its naturally high level to near zero — this dramatically increases average lifespan without improving the health or life expectancy of adults at all.

    Determining how much our health and longevity (for adults) improvements result from modern medicine would be difficult. But you cleverly imply that the new drugs have played an important role — where is your evidence for that?

    This kind of statement is always used when trying to silence critics of current mainstream medicine. You try to convince us that if we’re over 40 years old we wouldn’t even be alive without it, and that our health depends on it. That is ONLY true, possibly, if our life has been saved by antibiotics or certain types of surgery.

    It is ILLOGICAL to imply that cholesterol and blood pressure lowering drugs, for example, are making us healthier. Or many of the new cancer drugs. Where is the evidence for that?

    And there are medical treatments that do prolong life for several months or weeks for terminal patients, but that can hardly be considered a triumph.

  8. cheglabratjoe says:

    pec,

    What is misleading about the statement that the life expectancy has doubled thanks to scientific medicine? If this doubling is due to a reduction of childhood mortality, then so be it. Nothing in Steve’s post mentioned the “health of adults” that you’re going on about. In fact, Steve didn’t really make the claim at all! He merely mentioned that many comments at HuffPo brought it up.

    Thus, your comment wasn’t even warranted based on this post. You just saw an excuse to spit out your typical knee-jerk anti-SBM response to an entry here, and happily took the opportunity.

  9. Dacks says:

    pec,
    Your examples prove the efficacy of science based medicine!
    If it is true that most of the increase in life expectancy is due to better sanitation and a decrease in smoking ( got any figures to back that up?) this happened because of systematic examination of the causes of disease. The focus on sanitation came through the development of germ theory; the link between cancer deaths and smoking came from studying the issue in a scientific manner.

    Alternative medicine has so far been resistant to taking a systematic approach to disease problems, one that must begin without preconceived ideas. Medicine is more than drugs, as I’m sure any of the doctors here would be the first to admit, but it should be based on evidence and efficacy.

  10. timely16 says:

    I agree, medicine has played a marginal role in life expectancy increases over the last century. Socioeconomic factors like better nutrition and less violence (war and other kinds of armed conflict, which have decreased homicide rates by 90% over the last century) probably account for most of the variance.

    Most life expectancy increases came between 1900 and 1950, when, simply, economic, social and sanitation factors improved significantly. Since 1950, life expectancy increases have slowed, while medical advances have increased exponentially. It’s to the point that some economists, like Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen, argue that the marginal utility of modern medicine is zero. That is, spending more on medicine, and getting more medical care, doesn’t increase your life expectancy at all.

  11. pec says:

    “If this doubling is due to a reduction of childhood mortality, then so be it.”

    But what if the new drugs are NOT making us any healthier? Then what is the whole point of “science based medicine?” You find out that a new statin drugs extends life for a small minority of patients, relative to an older statin drug. And you know VERY WELL that saying life expectancy doubled because of science-based medicine will NOT be interpreted to mean decreased infant mortality. It is a political strategy to mislead people into thinking the deadly modern lifestyle and the poisoned air and water are not relevant, because we are living longer healthier lives anyway.

    The idea that lifestyle makes a difference, and that environmental toxins can make us sick, comes from alternative medicine, not from mainstream medicine. Recently they started to go along with some of the ideas that are obviously true — physical exercise is necessary for health, for example.

    But the mainstream emphasis is still on drugs and surgery — so when they take credit for our longer lives, they STRONGLY imply it’s because of drugs and surgery used on adults.

  12. pec, as usual, missed my point. Evans gave a cherry-picked description of the modern “situation” and blamed it, without evidence or really any logic, on scientific medicine. I was just pointing out that a doubling of life expectancy is also part of the modern “situation” – this was to emphasize her cherry picking and simplistic assumption of cause and effect.

    I did not get into the complex claims of what factors have lead to the increase in life expectancy. However, since that point was raised – of course there are many factors. But a consistent rise in life expectancy has followed the adoption of modern medical practices throughout the world.

    Also – you have to look at all the data that shows that people with specific diseases, like cancer or diabetes, live longer with modern treatments. Vaccines prevent deaths from infectious diseases, as do antibiotics. You add it all up and you get a significant effect.

    Crediting CAM with lifestyle and environmental medicine is absurd and a complete rewriting of history for propaganda purposes. Risk factors for common diseases and preventive measure are all part of scientific medicine. It is CAM propagandists who have tried to steal it, so they can wrap their implausible woo in something reasonable.

    And – the notion that advances in medicine have no benefit is also absurd. The evidence contradicts this. It may be true that we are getting diminishing returns as we bump up against the upper limit for life span, but there is still room to increase the percentage of the population that makes it there. And also you have to consider quality of life – much of modern medicine is designed to improve quality, if not quantity, of life. That is harder to measure.

  13. Karl Withakay says:

    “But the mainstream emphasis is still on drugs and surgery — so when they take credit for our longer lives, they STRONGLY imply it’s because of drugs and surgery used on adults.”

    Correction, you infer what you believe they imply.

  14. Joe says:

    pecon 29 Apr 2009 at 12:33 pm “The idea that lifestyle makes a difference, and that environmental toxins can make us sick, comes from alternative medicine …”

    That is so bad it is not even wrong. Their ideas that are right are appropriated from medicine, and the rest are just wrong. AM pushers have not contributed anything to health.

    Not smoking- mainstream; exercise- mainstream; healthy diet- mainstream; sanitation- mainstream; vaccinations- mainstream. Generalized detoxification- quackery; supplements- (as practiced by n-paths and chiros) quackery; subluxations and spinal adjustments- quackery; iridology and applied kinesiology- quackery.

  15. pec says:

    “the notion that advances in medicine have no benefit is also absurd.”

    Exactly which advances are you talking about? The major diseases that cause the most death and suffering still have no cures and the new treatments may have only slight benefits. And most of the new drugs have side effects that DECREASE quality of life. The public is encouraged to rely on their MD and the new drugs, even though in many cases they are probably not necessary and only increase suffering.

    It is only relatively recently that mainstream medicine has bothered to study lifestyle effects — and I am very glad they did — and now they weakly encourage patients to try a bit of exercise.

    MDs do not always understand important concepts such as metabolic syndrome — which DID come from alternative medicine. They mistakenly think their patients’ high cholesterol and heart disease are genetic, when most of the time it’s from physical inactivity and refined carbohydrates. So their patients get statins and the drug companies get rich.

    The whole idea that a more NATURAL lifestyle is healthier comes from alternative medicine. The whole idea that there is intelligence in nature is utterly foreign to a medical philosophy which has been strongly influenced by materialist philosophy.

  16. weing says:

    Do you have evidence for ANY of your claims?

  17. pec says:

    “It may be true that we are getting diminishing returns as we bump up against the upper limit for life span”

    Wow that is just incredible. You believe your own PR. The major killing and disabling diseases are still killing and disabling. Hardly any progress is being made! And you don’t even know it!

  18. Karl Withakay says:

    Alty Python’s “The Life of pec”

    REG: All right, but apart for the sanitation, the antibiotics, insulin for diabetes, recommendation against smoking, recommendation for exercise, an understanding of nutrition, transplant surgery, and other life saving surgical interventions such as appendectomys, what has modern medicine ever done for us?

    XERXES: Eliminated smallpox.

    REG: Oh. Smallpox? Shut up!

  19. pec says:

    And by the way, I am not criticizing mainstream medicine for not finding effective treatments for cancer, heart disease, etc. I am criticizing them for BSing the public into thinking great progress has been made and cures are around the corner.

  20. pec says:

    sanitation
    antibiotics
    insulin for diabetes
    recommendation against smoking
    recommendation for exercise
    an understanding of nutrition
    transplant surgery
    appendectomies

    What? I don’t see any of the new drugs on your list. And, as I explained, lifestyle recommendations were adopted by mainstream medicine after being recommended by alternative medicine for decades.

    So the only new thing there is transplants — yeah most of us owe our health and longevity to that.

  21. Karl Withakay says:

    “It is only relatively recently that mainstream medicine has bothered to study lifestyle effects — and I am very glad they did — and now they weakly encourage patients to try a bit of exercise.”

    Relatively recently relative to the age of the human civilization, yes, but then again, modern medicine is a relatively recent development

    “Weakly”? Hardly weakly, I’d more accept the word”weekly” than “weakly” in the second half of that sentence.

    I know people who don’t like going to the doctor because every time they do the doctor tells them they need to loose weight exercise more, and eat healthier, and they don;t want to hear that message.

  22. pec says:

    Karl,

    Until recently MDs were taught nothing about nutrition in medical school. And holistic health magazines were talking about benefits of exercise for decades before mainstream medicine ever thought about it. It’s only very recently that the deadly effects of inactivity are being acknowledged. And patients still get the impression they can choose between improving their lifestyle and taking a pill. This partly the fault of TV drug ads, but MDs are as brainwashed as the public.

    And these misconceptions largely rest on the belief that without modern medicine we would be old and decrepit and barely alive at age 40. And that nature is mindless and evolution did a poor job of designing our bodies.

  23. Karl Withakay says:

    “What? I don’t see any of the new drugs on your list.”

    I intentionally left drugs off the list so you couldn’t claim I was making a straw man argument for you, not because I don’t believe drugs have been beneficial. I also note that you used the phrase “new drugs”, shifting the goal posts a little bit. I guess old drugs like antibiotics and insulin are OK, or maybe insulin doesn’t count as a drug

    ” And, as I explained, lifestyle recommendations were adopted by mainstream medicine after being recommended by alternative medicine for decades.”

    As we have explained, scientific medicine has been advocating “lifestyle recommendations” for a long time without any impetus from alternative medicine.

    What, no acknowledgment of the eradication of smallpox through vaccination?

    “So the only new thing there is transplants — yeah most of us owe our health and longevity to that.”

    Granted, I personally only know one person whose life has been saved through a transplant, but that’s aside from the point.

    Are you now looking for NEW things in medicine that extend life, appendectomies are OK because they’ve been around for a while, but what has modern medicine done for us lately?

    And what about all the injuries one can sustain these days that are repairable though surgery that would have been fatal or permanently deforming 100 years ago?

  24. Karl Withakay says:

    “Until recently MDs were taught nothing about nutrition in medical school. And holistic health magazines were talking about benefits of exercise for decades before mainstream medicine ever thought about it.”

    LOL,
    I’ll just have to defer on these points to someone who has actually attended medical school and gotten their MD, preferably sometime prior to the last 10 or 20 years.

    I wonder if we can find anyone around here that meets that criteria. :)

  25. I graduated med school in 1991 – I had a full course on nutrition, and nutritional information was part of most clinical rotations.

  26. Khym Chanur says:

    It is CAM propagandists who have tried to steal it, so they can wrap their implausible woo in something reasonable.

    I think it’s more that their mental model of “allopathic medicine” simply doesn’t allow for “allopaths” to recommend exercise/diet/etc, ergo they don’t.

  27. Joe says:

    pec on 29 Apr 2009 at 1:23 pm “What? I don’t see any of the new drugs on your list. And, as I explained, lifestyle recommendations were adopted by mainstream medicine after being recommended by alternative medicine for decades.”

    I don’t see any contributions from quacks on the list, either. As far as medicine catching-up to quacks on lifestyle; I doubt you have documentation. Sure, quacks have been talking about it; but were their recommendations reliable? I don’t think so.

    How about giving us a list of specific things (with citations), that were proven to a high standard by quacks, before they were adopted by health care professionals. That is your claim, the burden of proof is on you.

  28. gaiainc says:

    I graduated from medical school in 1999. We had a full semester on nutrition that was just nutrition and did not include all the other teaching we received on exercise and healthy eating in all our other rotations. To say that medicine is focused only on surgery and drugs is frankly disingenuous and misleading. Alternative medicine sure as hell did not come up with the idea of lifestyle change.

    Every time I see a patient who would benefit from a change in their lifestyle, I counsel her/him on it. I do family medicine. That counseling includes changing diet, getting more exercise, stop sitting in front of the TV, losing weight, and not picking up the cigarette. Every single fricking time. Some of my patients don’t like to see me because they know that is what they will hear, but hear it they will. Part of that counseling includes the risks of not making the lifestyle changes in which I include death, heart attack, and stroke. Part of the counseling about benefits includes my discussion that if my patient makes the changes, I can get them off the medication(s), and ultimately it costs my patient less. I give them handouts, I give them resources, I show them videos, I offer to send them to nutritionists, whatever, in order to get them to change their lifestyles.

    The overwhelming response I get is that lifestyle change is too hard, requires too much work, that my patient can’t do it, my patient lacks the willpower, and/or my patient doesn’t care. My patients want the pill, the surgery, because making lifestyle changes is too hard. They will not problem-solve with me. They do not want to hear that to lose weight they have to work at it, put in some effort, and actually try and fail multiple times before they might succeed. They rather take the pill, so they get the pill because part of my job is to try and prevent what long term complications I can.

    So when I read your comments, pec, I have a strong urge to reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4. That or you are welcomed to come to my practice to try and convince my patients to change their lifestyles. I wish you luck.

    Oh and if you have the temerity to suggest that I’m just doing it wrong, that if I just gave my patients the right information in just the right way that they would change their lives, I will reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4. More than once. With extreme prejudice.

  29. pec says:

    [their mental model of “allopathic medicine” simply doesn’t allow for “allopaths” to recommend exercise/diet/etc, ergo they don’t.]

    Lifestyle has never been the focus of the allopathic philosophy. Now that the scientific evidence is overwhelming they are going along. The allopathic approach has always been to diagnose and fight diseases, rather than prevention or following a more natural lifestyle.

    There is nothing wrong with diagnosing and fighting diseases. But mainstream medicine has historically been allopathic and has generally ignored lifestyle and disease prevention.

    That seems to be changing somewhat, but the idea of natural lifestyle and preventing disease comes from the holistic health philosophy.

  30. pec says:

    “I have a strong urge to reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4.”

    You are very violent and I am so grateful you are not my doctor.

  31. pec says:

    And furthermore I feel this blog is becoming dangerous and here is another reason I stay anonymous.

  32. pec says:

    But of course this raging violent MD won’t get banned.

  33. David Gorski says:

    And furthermore I feel this blog is becoming dangerous and here is another reason I stay anonymous.

    Give me a break, pec. It was obvious he was being metaphorical in expressing his frustration with you. There was nothing there to suggest to me that he actually wants to literally whack you upside the head with a 2 x 4. Indeed, note what he said right after:

    That or you are welcomed to come to my practice to try and convince my patients to change their lifestyles. I wish you luck.

    Perhaps he shouldn’t have used such colorful language. Personally, my favored term is to say I’d like to knock someone upside the head with a “clue stick,” which is more explicitly metaphorical. In any case, given your maddening inability to get the point of what Steve says, I can kind of sympathize. (No doubt from that you’ll next rant that I “sympathize” with wanting to do violence to you, which is not the case. I can sort of sympathize with people who are irritated enough by your obtuseness to use such language, though.) In any case, everyone knows who we at SBM are. It’s right there on each of our contributor pages. No one knows who you are. You have nothing to fear.

    Moreover, both here and at my other blog, if you want threats and harassment, I have been subject to attempts, beginning in 2005, to get me fired through complaints to my bosses. The first time around, I was relieved to see that my bosses didn’t care what I did on my own time. My Chair even called the idiot who threatened to sue (a laughable threat) an “idiotic bully.” Still, it was a chilling event.

    Most recently, either J.B. Handley, someone from AoA, or an antivaccinationist who read J.B.’s last rant about me (I can’t be sure which is the case) contacted my boss. He wasn’t perturbed either. But I can never be sure where I will be working and who will be my boss in the future, given that I have at least 20 years expected left in my career. Even if I stay in the same place the rest of my career, my chairman is likely to retire within 10 years. Still, if you want to see which “side” is more interested in actual discussion and debate, as opposed to trying to silence the opposition, I can’t think of a better example than my very own blogging history.

  34. maus says:

    Huffingtonpost is a terrible site, more interested in pageviews than the truth. During the election they invited all sorts of liars to write for them, not because Huffington *believed* them, but because they would stir the hornets’ nest.

    Oh, the pageviews and ad-impressions such arguments took in!

    The commenters since its inception have just gotten more and more stupid, barely rising up past the level of your average gossip-blog.

    Let alone the strict moderation on any “controversial” subjects. Deepak Chopra let loose his usual pseudoscience-filled blather on a bunch of entries, none of my polite but questioning comments were ever approved.

  35. maus says:

    “You are very violent and I am so grateful you are not my doctor.

    And furthermore I feel this blog is becoming dangerous and here is another reason I stay anonymous.

    But of course this raging violent MD won’t get banned.”

    And yet, through all this provocation, you’re never ever stating anything of interest or worth. Trolling internet message boards is something people do when they have nothing else to do, It’s sure as anything not to educate others or themselves.

  36. Karl Withakay says:

    “Lifestyle has never been the focus of the allopathic philosophy. Now that the scientific evidence is overwhelming they are going along.

    It’s impressive that pec can continue to get so much wrong in so few words when he/she tries hard enough.

    Let’s, for the sake of argument, treat this as a factual statement, even though that has already been rebutted. Would you prefer MDs “go along” with a practice BEFORE there is overwhelming scientific evidence to support it, or when there isn’t overwhelming scientific evidence to support it?

    “The allopathic approach has always been to diagnose and fight diseases, rather than prevention or following a more natural lifestyle.”

    Same old tired and false argument we hear over and over from the alt med community. Why do doctors bother with vaccinating or weighing patients if they only care about treating disease?

  37. pec says:

    “Give me a break, pec. It was obvious he was being metaphorical in expressing his frustration with you.”

    Yeah it is really amazing and shocking what you think is perfectly ok, as long as they agree with you. I have NEVER been physically threatened at a blog before, certainly not that directly and explicitly. And you think it’s just fine. And it was only because I tried to explain logically why current mainstream medicine is not responsible for the increases in longevity — lowered infant mortality, antibiotics and appendectomies are not exactly new. And no one could provide a logical argument against what I said. Only violent threats. Sure he is frustrated — he feels threatened and doesn’t have an answer. So he goes into a frustrated rage attack, and you sympathize. Well that says a lot about you.

  38. Eric Jackson says:

    pec -> You see that bit above about reframing the argument? That’s what you’re doing now. Last I heard there were no ‘ether’ translatable 2x4s, or means to transmit a physical force across the internet.

    Antibiotics actually -are- ‘new’ drugs. The quinolone antibiotics, notably ciprofloxacin have only been in wide use since 1987, which is fairly new by any standards, and newer versions have been introduced since. The Sulfonamides and beta-lactamases aren’t exactly ‘new’ by most standards, they’ve been in use for less than a hundred years. Antibiotics are one of the most active areas of drug development.

    Oh, nevermind the analgesics, anesthetics and antibiotics that make those appendectomies something an actual human being can survive.

  39. cheglabratjoe says:

    pec,

    You’ve completely derailed all conversation about Steve’s entry because you didn’t like how he cited other people’s comments on another site. You used that trivial point to launch into a baseless and repetitive rant about “allopathy,” and have continued throwing an e-fit rather than offer anything of substance. And now, someone sarcastically mentions hitting you upside the head, and you take that trivial point as an opportunity to act like a martyr.

    You’re pathetic, and impossible to take seriously. By all means, feel free to use that sentence to: accuse me of looking down on you and being elitist, accuse me of ignoring your “points” because I don’t have good responses, resorting to an ad hominem attack, or any other drivel you’re compelled to dump on this comment thread.

  40. Versus says:

    Pec, get a grip. Reaching through the ether with a 2×4 is not possible, I promise, so there is no reason to feel threatened. You really should learn to distinguish between plausible and implausible claims.

  41. shadowmouse says:

    pec – have you ever considered reality? Didn’t think so.

  42. Karl Withakay says:

    pec,
    “And no one could provide a logical argument against what I said”

    Of course, you didn’t provide any supporting evidence for your position, either.

    “…I tried to explain logically why current mainstream medicine is not responsible for the increases in longevity — lowered infant mortality, antibiotics and appendectomies are not exactly new.”

    Perhaps you should define when “current mainstream medicine” began so we can better understand what you are saying and what we are expected to refute and be sure the goalposts won’t magically shift when we respond to what we understood you to be saying.

  43. David Gorski says:

    pec – have you ever considered reality? Didn’t think so.

    Indeed. All her self-righteous huffing and puffing about some overheated rhetoric does serve as a convenient distraction from her getting pummeled on facts, science, and logic, though.

    It’s typical behavior for her. Whenever she’s getting her tuchas handed to her in the comments, she seems very good at finding something to become all self-righteous about.

  44. Mark Crislip says:

    1991? Old farts like me, who graduated med school in 1983, had nutrition education. and the benefits of exercise.
    course, we did bleeding and purging to alter the ballance of the three humors. and we had 4 channels of black and white tv. and I wore an onion on my belt, as was the style of the time. oh the good old days.

  45. hydropsyche says:

    Okay, here’s a contribution of modern “allopathic” medicine which is undeniably brand new and undeniably beneficial: the biologic drugs. Insulin no longer comes from pigs, it comes from bacteria. New, more effective chemotherapies are being developed everyday. And perhaps most remarkably, the TNF-a inhibitors have turned auto-immune diseases like Crohn’s, RA, and AS from permanent disabilities to mild annoyances in a few short years.

    “Naturopaths” offer us tumeric and cherry juice, while Big Pharma has offered us drugs that treat our diseases, reduce or eliminate permanent damage before it starts, and give us our lives back.

  46. Prometheus says:

    “pec” has defined “allopathic medicine” as:

    The practice of medicine that uses only drugs or surgery, treats only the symptoms of disease and is disinterested in disease prevention, lifestyle modification or nutrition.

    Fortunately, “allopathic medicine” isn’t currently practiced by anyone in the world. In fact, the term “allopathic” was coined by early homeopaths in order to define what they were NOT.

    Real medicine, on the other hand, was actively involved in prevention, lifestyle modification and nutrition before they became “alternative”. In addition, real medicine treats the “whole person” and “individualizes” therapy, as opposed to most “alternative” practitioners, who treat everybody with the same regimen (ever go to a chiropractor and get a recommendation for something other than “spinal adjustment”?).

    What “pec” has done is try to define (“frame”, if you like) “mainstream medicine” as something it is NOT. She/he calls this “allopathic” medicine, which is a convenient way for us to realize that she/he is talking about a straw man and not some real medical practice in the real world. It makes for an easier argument, but not one that based in the real world.

    There may be real doctors who only use drugs or surgery in their practice, who never tell their patients to lose weight, exercise more, eat better (or less), stop smoking, cut down on the booze, etc. There may even be some real doctors who prescribe only the latest and most expensive drugs in order to get more cheap drug company pens and note pads.

    There are always people in every field who fail to meet the minimum standards of their profession. The existence of a few “mainstream” physicians who don’t consider lifestyle, prevention and nutrition in their practice does not mean that this is the “norm” or even an accepted variant. It’s not what they were taught and it’s not what their peers are doing. Even my surgeon asked me about smoking (I don’t) and exercise (I do) and weight loss (I should) at every pre-op and post-op visit.

    The “allopathic” straw man that “pec” has constructed may represent a vanishingly small number of physicians, but it is not an accurate picture of even the average “mainstream” physician.

    On the other hand, it would be hard to argue that the vast majority of chiropractors believe that spinal manipulation can’t cure anything beyond a sore back. Or that most homeopaths don’t believe in the “Law of Infinitesimals” or that most acupuncturists don’t believe that they are somehow “unblocking” the flow of mystical “chi” (that unmeasurable and undetectable “vital energy”).

    It is not a straw man to say that “alternative” practitioners believe in – and base their “therapies” on – things that are not only have no data to support them but actually have data that refutes them. How indulging in fantasy remedies will improve people’s health is beyond me.

    Make-believe medicine generally only works for make-believe disorders. Someone who claims that homeopathy cured their [fill in ailment] is living proof of the placebo effect. Ditto for people who had their [anything but constipation] “cured” by a “high colonic”.

    Prometheus

  47. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    pec,
    “And most of the new drugs have side effects that DECREASE quality of life. The public is encouraged to rely on their MD and the new drugs, even though in many cases they are probably not necessary and only increase suffering.”

    Where do you get this idea, that most of the new drugs decrease quality of life? This is the kind of statement that someone pulls out of thin air, based on perception only. Unless you actually do have something to back this up?

  48. pec says:

    “You’re pathetic, and impossible to take seriously. By all means, feel free to use that sentence to: accuse me of looking down on you and being elitist”

    No I would never accuse you of looking down at me. I would accuse you of resorting to insults since you have nothing logical or scientific to say. Which is all too typical in pseudo-skeptic culture. Feel threatened, get enraged, blast childish insults.

    People who need a solid foundation of certainty get very scared and very angry when confronted with logic and evidence.

    My experiences with fundamentalist Christians and with materialist “skeptics” have been similar. Both get wildly emotional if their certainty is endangered.

  49. wales says:

    Yikes, straw men in Stedman’s.

    Stedman’s medical dictionary entry for “allopathy”: Regular medicine, the traditional form of medical practice. Cf. homeopathy Syn: substitutive therapy, heteropathy 2

    Yes, there is the comparative notation with reference to homeopathy.

    “Real medicine”: Sorry, but the Stedman’s Online Medical Dictionary doesn’t recognize this term.

    The OED does credit Hahnemann as the originator of the term.

  50. pec says:

    “Where do you get this idea, that most of the new drugs decrease quality of life?”

    So you haven’t heard about side effects? I am surprised, since some of them are even listed in the ads. Patients are often given a drug to treat side effects of another drug — for example a blood pressure medication may cause depression, so an anti-depressant is prescribed, and the anti-depressant may cause high blood pressure. I don’t remember every detail I have read about side effects but some of it would almost be funny, except for all the real suffering that is being caused. This is especially true for elderly patients who are often on multiple drugs with all kinds of interactions and side effects.

    It is impossible to believe that you have not heard of this.

    I am not saying none of the new drugs are needed, but very often they are prescribed routinely and unnecessarily. And even if a patient does need a particular drug, their quality of life will be decreased by the side effects. But never mind, they can always take another drug for the side effects, and another one for the side effects of that one, etc.

  51. pec says:

    And besides, as some commenters besides myself have acknowledged, we have no evidence that we are living longer healthier lives thanks to the newer drugs. That is a myth promoted by the medical industry in the hope that everyone, including children, will be drugged. And it’s working.

  52. pec says:

    And there is a trend in mainstream medicine to encourage prevention and healthy lifestyles, but my point was that this originated with holistic/alternative health theories and was not emphasized in medical schools until relatively recently. It did not originate with the mainstream medical profession.

  53. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    Those package inserts are really legal documents. Even something that has a very slim chance of occurring needs to be listed.

    What you said is that MOST of the drugs lower the quality of life. The great majority of people will not experience these side effects. (Seriously, if walking was a drug, they would have to say that you could get hit by a car and die, or breathe air pollution and get lung cancer. You probably think I am exaggerating, but I’m not. This does not mean that taking regular walks is going to lower your quality of life.)

    I just wanted to know how you came upon this conclusion. It is one thing to know all of the possible side effects, it is another to say that most drugs lower the quality of life.

  54. All drugs have risks. Anyone believing otherwise is naïve. Package inserts include all identifiable adverse events, even when they are probably not as a result of the drug or device. It is required by law not to scare anyone, but just in case it becomes more prevalent when used in a large population.

    I’m frustrated by pec’s comments, because they are truly childish in nature and because they don’t further the conversation here. I ignored pec when he decided to employ the pejorative term, allopathic. How quaint.

  55. pec says:

    Drug companies only have to list the side effects that showed up in testing, which is usually not long-term. Some of what I learned about side effects came from patient report web sites, while researching for sick friends and relatives. I found out that not only my sick friends and relatives, but many many other people, are adversely affected by some of the most common drugs.

  56. pec says:

    And the side effects are not always severe, but may still affect quality of life. For example, patients may feel constantly tired and depressed. And very often (not always) this is because of drugs that are not actually improving their health or prolonging their life.

  57. pec says:

    “I’m frustrated by pec’s comments, because they are truly childish in nature and because they don’t further the conversation here.”

    Yeah they kind of dampen the old team spirit sometimes. Sorry.

  58. joel_grant says:

    Let us not forget that people are people and not statistics.

    I am only myself. One of me is not enough to tip life expectancy statistics. I am nothing but an anecdote.

    To everyone but me, and my family, that is. I am alive right now because of scientific medicine. At some point in the past the heart attack I had back in 2000 would have killed me.

    But, thanks to the wonders of modern drugs and hear surgery and operating rooms and – well, of lots of things – I am here, able to read blog comments knocking scientific medicine.

  59. weing says:

    “For example, patients may feel constantly tired and depressed. And very often (not always) this is because of drugs that are not actually improving their health or prolonging their life.”

    Hmm. The drug is not prolonging their life? How are they able to let you know that if they are dead? I thought you knew that only homeopathic and naturopathic meds claim to improve a person’s health. If I can think of any drug that improves a person’s health, I’ll let you know.

  60. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    I am curious pec,

    If you were diagnosed with hypertension, asthma or other medically treatable conditions (including hyperlipidemia), would you refuse treatment?

    We assume that you are already living a healthy lifestyle. If you had these conditions, would you take medications under the supervision of a physician?

    I mean, you seem to think that medical treatments do not prolong life.

  61. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    Pec, you are still not answering the question on how you came up with the conclusion that most new drugs decrease the quality of life for those who take them. Just because you know a few people who have had adverse side effects you think this is true. I could say the same thing – that I have relatives who take drugs that have improved their quality of life and not given them side effects, so these drugs must do that for everyone based on this information alone.

    You think people are getting frustrated with you because you are presenting a different opinion, but it is really because you are basing your conclusions on perceptions instead of actual data.

  62. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    Also, I know you say you look at patient report web sites, but I find it hard to believe that you have looked at every single new drug, and determined that the number of reported side-effects was happening in the majority of people taking the drug.

    You also say that testing is not long term. Even after a drug is released, testing is continued to determine any longer-term side effects. Also, through complaints more side-effects can be added to the insert. It is not that only the side-effects found in the initial testing are reported.

  63. Khym Chanur says:

    @Mark: To get to medical school, did you have to climb uphill? Both ways?

    @Prometheus:

    In addition, real medicine treats the “whole person” and “individualizes” therapy, as opposed to most “alternative” practitioners, who treat everybody with the same regimen.

    If you ignore the actual remedies that homeopaths produce (pure water) and look only the the preparation of the remedies, then homeopathy provides perhaps the most individualized form of treatment around, since the “mother tincutres” that they prepare is matched to the exact set of symptoms their patient has at the time. And I recall reading somewhere that some homeopaths vary the recipe for their mother tincutres based not just on the symptoms, but on the personality of the patient, which is even more individualized, and could be interpreted as treating the “whole person”.

    @Michael:

    Actually, I was the first one to bring up the word “allopathic”.

  64. weing says:

    “And there is a trend in mainstream medicine to encourage prevention and healthy lifestyles, but my point was that this originated with holistic/alternative health theories and was not emphasized in medical schools until relatively recently. It did not originate with the mainstream medical profession.”

    This is another uninformed opinion that is complete bull. I am probably older than most of the people on this blog and studied before some idiots came up with the concept of CAM aka quackery. Prevention and a healthy lifestyle was known and taught and I believe it still continues to be taught.

    Of course we do not have cures for all diseases and we haven’t found out how to conquer death, and maintain youth. I think we would be closer to those goals if we hadn’t diverted scarce funding into CAM nonsense for all these years to satisfy the fantasies of some deluded idealogues who know nothing of medicine.

  65. Mark Crislip says:

    @Khym Chanur.
    In the snow.

  66. Chris says:

    Oh my Ed, Mark, that must have been in Minnesota! My time spent there taught me to never wish for a White Christmas ever agan!

  67. Steve Page says:

    I promised myself that I wouldn’t feed the troll, but…

    Pec wrote: People who need a solid foundation of certainty get very scared and very angry when confronted with logic and evidence.

    …that was just too good to ignore. Irony, thy name is pec.

  68. Norman says:

    “In a recent post I got a lot of flack for not speaking like a scientist.”

    Not relevant to the topic, but when did “flak” become “flack?”

  69. fosfolipid says:

    Not having actually graduated med school, I may not be qualified to enter the race with Mark Crislip, but since I happen to teach at one I have access to the archives of courses held in the past.

    We had a course about the beneficial effects of nutrition and excercise on our curriculum in the forties. No doubt, we have the CAM movement to thank for that.

  70. daedalus2u says:

    Be gentle with pec. Because she is someone who believes in immaterial things, the idea that a 2×4 could whack her through the ether is something (I presume) she takes quite seriously and may actually be frightening to her.

    Regarding improved life due to modern medicine, maternal mortality during childbirth is something that modern medicine has had dramatic effects on. Deaths due to puerperal fever didn’t drop until the 1930s.

    http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/72/1/241S

    If you look at table 3, only two of the leading causes of maternal death in the 1870s are among the top 8 in the 1970s. The total number of maternal deaths is down considerably, from 23,051 to 393 over superficially similar time periods (though the number of women at risk is likely considerably higher now than a century ago.

    If modern medical interventions were stopped, the death rate during childbirth would go back to what it was before those interventions brought it down. It is disingenuous nonsense to suggest otherwise.

  71. thequixoticman says:

    People, people… I think we’re all missing something that Pec said early on. “But what if the new drugs are NOT making us any healthier?” Thank you, Pec. And more questions abound. What if coffee and bananas, taken rectally, is vaccination against cancer? What if heart disease can actually be cured by Space Flu? What if the dung of pink elephants causes diabetes?

    We need to be willing to ask the hard questions.

  72. Dr Benway says:

    pec,

    Did I read somewhere that you are a chiropractor?

    If you discovered that subluxations do not exist and that many chiropractic claims about preventing disease by back-cracking are nonsense, what would you do?

    Just a hypothetical question, of course.

  73. One point no one has commented on yet – drugs are monitored after market (so-called phase IV studies) and when new adverse effects come to light the FDA mandated package insert is updated. In fact I frequently get these updates, as do all physicians, alerting us to the changes.

  74. Calli Arcale says:

    Regarding side-effects of drugs reducing a patient’s quality of life, pec apparently has chosen to ignore any improvement in a patient’s quality of life, thus producing a net improvement. For instance, with life-saving drugs, I would argue that most people would prefer some modest discomfort to death. (Obviously there are limits, which is why actual doctors recommend turning off life support and/or going into hospice at some point, because there does come a time when the gain from the therapy does not justify the side effects.)

    The Blind Watchmaker asks pec:
    If you were diagnosed with hypertension, asthma or other medically treatable conditions (including hyperlipidemia), would you refuse treatment?

    Since you mentioned asthma, I will use that to illustrate my point for pec.

    I have asthma. I carry a rescue inhaler. The drug is albuterol, which is a fast-acting beta-agonist and, when inhaled, acts as a bronchodialator. From personal experience, I can say that it’s effect is quite dramatic. I go from gasping for breath to a wonderful, fabulous state of being able to breathe in and out freely. There are definitely side-effects, though, such as tachycardia (racing heart) which can be distressing if you’re not expecting it. And you can’t sleep, or at least I can’t, because I feel unpleasantly wired. I don’t like that side-effect. And then there’s the tremor. I have a tremor; it runs in the family, and for other family members, responds well to beta-blockers. Albuterol is a beta-agonist, so it has the opposite effect — my tremor gets significantly worse.

    But being able to breathe again . . . oh, that is heaven, and well worth the shakes and the racing heart and the wired feeling! Plus, I do like being alive. While my asthma is not severe, there’s no telling when I might get a really bad one. Usually, I don’t need anything more than the rescue inhaler; a few squirts on a really bad day, and then I’m fine. Once in a while, though, my lungs get chronically inflamed and then I need steroids to get them to settle down again and stop the cycle of asthma attacks. (Beta-agonists don’t actually treat asthma; they just relieve acute symptoms.) Lately, I’ve come to like Advair for that; it combines an inhaled steroid with a long-acting beta agonist (salmeterol) that’s better targeted than albuteral (so no shakes or tachycardia). The combination reduces the risks of both drugs, because you need less steroids with the salmeterol, and the steroids mean that you don’t have to worry so much about salmeterol covering up worsening asthma. (Alas, I’ve tried Singulair, and it was not effective for me. Pity, because it’s even safer.)

    Despite the side effects, these drugs have GREATLY increased my quality of life. I’m especially aware of this now, as we move into my peak asthma season — the rainy, polleny springtime.

    My grandma has battled asthma for decades, and is a living testament to the improvements that have been made in asthma treatment in the past half century. When she was first diagnosed, the only real treatment was oral or intravenous steroids. As a consequence, her skin is shockingly fragile. She had her knee replaced a few months ago, and her skin tore a good two to three feet down from the knee. A simple procedure became quite complicated as they had to summon a plastic surgeon to repair the damage. But without the steroids, she would not be alive to have her knee replaced today. Her asthma is severe; if she hadn’t accepted the rather serious risk of those side effects, I probably would never have even met her. And until recently, she’s enjoyed a very high quality of life, despite her asthma. She was a full-time teacher, specializing in American Lit, drama, and remedial English, retiring only in her late 60s. (Firebrand, too; even the worst ruffians in her classroom quickly learned to respect her.) She’s traveled the world with her husband (who also owes a great deal to modern medicine). Indeed, she lived a very active life until very recently, when a combination of aging joints and a case of West Nile Virus knocked her down a few notches. She’s grateful to have inhaled corticosteroids, but she doesn’t regret the decades of prednisone, even though they’ve caused her some serious health problems. The balance has been overwhelmingly positive.

    Getting back to the actual topic of this thread, it is quite true that there are those who resort to personal attacks (particularly tu quoque, as if “well, medicine kills people!” is any justification for letting alternative medicine kill people) when they don’t have actual substance to back up their claims. This is usually because, despite their confidence in their claims, they don’t actually understand them or the topic anywhere near as well as they think. Unfortunately for her, pec is demonstrating this all too well, and is utterly oblivious to the irony of doing so in a post discussing how foolish this strategy is.

  75. pec says:

    “she is someone who believes in immaterial things, the idea that a 2×4 could whack her through the ether is something she takes quite seriously”

    daedalus2u,

    Threats of violence should always be taken seriously. What world are you living in? I ignore the moronic insults at these pseudo-skeptic blogs, but death threats cross the line. Too bad the authors and moderators here think moronic threats of violence are just fine — as long as the target isn’t someone on their own team.

  76. weing says:

    pec,

    Why are you afraid of an index card?

  77. Dr Benway says:

    So when I read your comments, pec, I have a strong urge to reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4. That or you are welcomed to come to my practice to try and convince my patients to change their lifestyles. I wish you luck.

    pec, context is key.

    Personally, if I were given the above two options, I’d prefer the etheric 2×4 engineered to whack sense into my head. It sounds quick and painless. Convincing patients to change their lifestyles is neither.

  78. pec says:

    If I had threatened anyone with that kind of physical violence the reaction would have been outrage. But since I threaten your worldview, you think bashing my head is not unreasonable. You are so biased and intolerant of alternate ideas here, it shades right into evil.

  79. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    pec, you are not threatening anyone’s worldview. Interesting that you keep talking about this imaginary 2×4, but still are not answering anyone’s questions. Yeah, you are a real threat.

  80. HCN says:

    Last night my son complained that his heart was racing.

    He has a genetic heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with obstruction (it is occurs in about 1 in 500 people, see information about it at http://www.4hcm.org/). His is pretty bad, the mitral has been damages by increased pressure, which is why he takes atenenol every day for it. Unfortunately he ran out before the refill was delivered by the online pharmacy (being an almost adult he is not very good at telling me he is running out). He skipped just one evening dose and he could feel the abnormal heartbeat.

    Fortunately (since I know the kid) I had a stash to tide him over until the next 90 day supply arrives in the next day or so.

    So, pec, what do you think is a better treatment for this condition than the beta-blocker? How should have we prevented the abnormal growth of the heart muscle? Is there some kind of “energy” medicine that should be waved over the other two children to prevent the possibility of their hearts adding extra cells (according to my son’s cardiologist it can happen anytime between birth and well into adulthood). What does your vast (and ever changing) education tell you about real medical issues, like genetic conditions that until the advent of echo-cardiograms were most often diagnosed after sudden cardiac death? Come on, give me a clue-by-four on how terrible the beta-blockers are and what would be better for his heart!

  81. pec says:

    I NEVER said mainstream medicine should not be used to save lives and I NEVER said it is useless. I said the claim that Americans are living longer healthier lives because of recent advances is a myth and is used as marketing PR. I said the idea that in all previous eras people were sickly and old at age 40 is part of that myth, and that you have no evidence to back up your myths.

    And a small number of readers acknowledged that longevity data is hard to interpret and that we really don’t know how much, if at all, recent advances may have helped the average person. Saying we are now living twice as long is a common refrain, which purposely distorts reality by not mentioning infant mortality.

    And no, I don’t want infants to die, but a percentage of offspring in most species are expected to die, and this could be seen as nature’s mechanism for keeping species healthy.

    Modern medicine has successfully disabled this mechanism, dramatically increasing average lifespan. But that says nothing about the health and longevity of non-infants.

    And that was my point, which no one could argue against and some agreed with. That constantly repeated triumphant claim is not based in reality, but it does convince millions to trust their MD and swallow barrels of pills with questionable value and possible harm.

    And it is very surprising that no one here has noticed anything wrong with the big drug companies’ marketing campaigns and the overuse of medications.

  82. lizditz says:

    Getting away from pec’s rantings and back to the topic, HuffPo’s war on science:

    Marianne Williamson is telling HuffPo readers to “pray away” swine flu.

    According to Martin Luther King, Jr. there is a power in us more powerful than the power of bullets.

    King knew that that power was the power of the Spirit. Call it a religious power, a spiritual power, the power of consciousness or whatever – it has to do with the power of the mind, joined with the power of a Divine Creator.

    So don’t be fooled when it comes to this conversation about the swine flu. This flu wasn’t created on the level of the body, because no disease is. It was created on the level of the mind, and it is there that we will root it out at the causal level.

    What horse pucky.

  83. Harriet Hall says:

    pec said “no one here has noticed anything wrong with the big drug companies’ marketing campaigns and the overuse of medications.”

    Once more she demonstrates her inability to read. We HAVE noticed and we have spoken out. Just two examples:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=126
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=461

    Yes, drug companies are out to make money and some physicians over-prescribe. That doesn’t mean the drugs don’t help people when used appropriately.

  84. autotroph says:

    I know that the plural of anecdote is “anecdotes”, not data. That said, pec’s (and others’) claims that science-based medicine didn’t recognize lifestyle (diet and exercise) changes until alternative medicine came along have at least some anecdotal counterpoints.

    I’ll cite one that I’m intimately familiar with: my grandfather, who was told in the 1930′s that he needed to eat more vegetables and grains, and go for regular walks (constitutionals) for his heart.

    Modern medicine may be advertising the need for healthy diet and exercise more today (in part because health trends demonstrate that people are ignoring the advice), but that kind of advice is as old as the medical profession itself.

  85. pec says:

    “That doesn’t mean the drugs don’t help people when used appropriately.”

    I agree. But they are very often used inappropriately and one reason is the PR claim that average lifespan has doubled thanks to recent advances. That was my whole point and no one has found anything illogical or unscientific about it. But I still get violent threats — do they want to smash my head because I have an “inability to read” Harriet? Or could there be other reasons?

  86. qetzal says:

    But [drugs] are very often used inappropriately and one reason is the PR claim that average lifespan has doubled thanks to recent advances. That was my whole point and no one has found anything illogical or unscientific about it.

    Nope. Nothing unscientific about making claims without evidence. Perfectly logical.

    Once again, pec demonstrates how much she understands science. (To wit – not at all.)

  87. pec says:

    qetzal,

    There was a recent post here or at neurologica where the author listed the causes of increasing life span, and no one objected. This information has been stated in many places and is generally agreed on. You can’t believe it because you don’t want to believe it. You need to see current mainstream medicine as a story of constant progress in all areas.

  88. weing says:

    “You need to see current mainstream medicine as a story of constant progress in all areas.”

    First correct thing you’ve said.

  89. christie says:

    Pec said: “Modern medicine has successfully disabled this mechanism, dramatically increasing average lifespan. But that says nothing about the health and longevity of non-infants.”

    Pec, I think you’re mixing terms here. Yes, it’s true, decreased infant mortality rates have had a significant impact on increasing the average life span (or the mean amount of time that humans survive). However, “modern medicine” (including better understanding things that contribute to health, i.e. sanitation, diet, exercise) has also increased average life EXPECTANCY (the amount of life left to live) among all age groups. In other words (and i’m blatantly making up numbers here because my friend currently has my biology of aging textbook) a twenty year old alive today will live another 60 years or so, whereas someone who was 20 in the early 1900′s may only have lived another 45 years. Sorry… no real argument here, just information. Someone with more knowledge on the subject than I can probably find good citations without a textbook next to them.

  90. pec says:

    [ “modern medicine” (including better understanding things that contribute to health, i.e. sanitation, diet, exercise) has also increased average life EXPECTANCY]

    Christie,

    You are defining “modern medicine” as an understanding of sanitation, diet and exercise, so your comment is not really a response to what I was trying to explain. Yes, understanding sanitation, diet and exercise, and knowing how to test their effects on health scientifically, gives us a great health advantage. But there is a lot more to modern medicine than sanitation, diet and exercise — in fact most people would define modern medical advances very differently, primarily in terms of pharmaceuticals and surgical technology.

    My point has been that mainstream medicine has not necessarily been progressing in all areas, and more recent advances should not be credited with increasing lifespan.

    So it depends on exactly how you define “modern medicine.” The statement that modern medicine has greatly improved our health and longevity is usually interpreted as meaning the newer drugs used for treating high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer, for example, are responsible for the increasing average lifespan. But I have not seen evidence for that, and most MDs will probably admit that it’s an unscientific assumption.

    And we hear that statement very often, and most people do not question it. The result is too much faith in drugs and surgery and not enough focus on lifestyle. Emphasis on lifestyle has always been typical of the holistic health perspective, while mainstream non-holistic medicine has usually focused on drugs and surgery.

    After all, you don’t need an MD to explain the basics of diet and exercise, but you do need an MD if you require drugs or surgery.

  91. SD says:

    Serious epistemological question: How do you know that there are no other ways than the scientific method of knowing how nature works?

    (Trivial example: Assuming the existence of a God who created everything, then He presumably knows how everything works, having designed it; however, it is implausible and presumptuous in the extreme to suppose that He used the scientific method to come by that knowledge.)

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t spend too much time enthusiastically blowing each other over how many people medicine, science-based or otherwise, has saved over the history of humanity; the simple, bald truth is that engineers, particularly civil engineers, have saved orders of magnitude more lives and improved quality of life by orders of magnitude more than any doctor – MD, naturopath, chiropractor or otherwise – ever achieved in his most spectacular wet-dreams. Yeah, that’s right: the humble math geek with a pocket protector and calculator has done more for humanity’s health, in any given five years of his working career, than 99% of MDs will ever do or have ever done over the course of an entire lifetime. (MDs like Jonas Salk are by far the exception to this rule.) The engineer’s screwups, should he commit them, are orders of magnitude more deadly than any screwup any MD ever makes, too. Doctors kill their patients one at a time, generally, or a handful at a time if they’re spectacularly incompetent; engineers do it en masse and without warning.

    Clean running water saves more lives on a regular basis than any medicine, vaccine, or procedure ever did. If you doubt this, look at some of the loathsome pits on this Earth where you don’t *get* clean running water, then tell me whether the people who live there would benefit more from a decent well and water-processing system or a pallet of drugs.

    Shit, the lesson Ignaz Semmelweis taught in the 19th century – arguably one of the most important lessons of modern health and medicine, namely “Wash Your Fucking Hands”, an admonition that takes on a special significance as a loathsome plague works its way across the world – is routinely ignored, as demonstrated by the appalling MRSA rates in hospitals from Kalamazoo to Karachi. The irony of medical practitioners causing harm by lackadaisically neglecting to use (*ahem*) *scientifically-proven* hygienic practices enabled and provided by hard-working engineers is not lost on me, though I suspect it will be lost on most of the crowd. I humbly suggest that perhaps MDs could spare themselves some self-congratulation and focus some of that wasted energy on personal fastidiousness, and on encouraging that habit in their colleagues who are sorely lacking of it.

    “engineer and proud of it”
    -SD

  92. Karl Withakay says:

    pec,

    Leaving aside my personal opinion regarding the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of metaphorical threats of violence, if you honestly feel your life has been threatened, or you have been seriously threatened with bodily harm, and you honestly fear for your safety, report it to the police and file a criminal complaint. Request a subpoena for the logs of science based medicine to determine the identity of “gaiainc”. If the courts and the police take you seriously on this one, we’ll likely do the same.

    Until then and otherwise, just post a complaining comment that you don’t find the comment appropriate or in good taste, note how such comments affect your opinion of the poster and anyone who agrees with them, and knock off all the phony pretense about fearing for your safety, and move on.

  93. qetzal says:

    pec did exactly what I expected. She defended her claims about lifespan by claiming things like “no one objected” to some previous post (uncited), and “This information has been stated in many places and is generally agreed on” (again uncited).

    She didn’t attempt to defend her even bigger unscientific claim: that drugs are “very often” used inappropriately because of the supposed false claims about general longevity increases.

    In all seriousness, I have no doubt she thinks her statements are entirely logical and scientific.

    P.S. I don’t have a strong opinion about the general effect of drugs on longevity. Certainly some drugs have had a huge effect on some patients (insulin for type 1 diabetics, antivirals for the HIV-infected, etc.). But I don’t claim to know what the aggregate effect really is, and the reason I don’t claim that is because I haven’t seen the evidence!.

    See, I always thought science meant drawing conclusions from evidence. “No one objected,” it’s been “stated in many places,” and it’s “generally agreed on” are not evidence.

  94. pec says:

    “just post a complaining comment that you don’t find the comment appropriate or in good taste, note how such comments affect your opinion of the poster and anyone who agrees with them”

    I thought that’s what I did.

    “and knock off all the phony pretense about fearing for your safety”

    I didn’t pretend anything like that. I thought it was horrifying that no one thought threatening to bash someone’s head was an offensive comment. Gorski thought it was perfectly understandable — if you disagree with someone of course you get so frustrated you feel like killing them, in his world.

    It shows how evil the online environment can become, and how people are used to it and don’t seem to mind. At least not here. When people are crazed by politics and ideology they can become evil.

    The person who threatened me seemed to disappear and good riddance. If they had continued then I would be scared.

  95. christie says:

    Pec, …seriously?

    [ “modern medicine” (including better understanding things that contribute to health, i.e. sanitation, diet, exercise) has also increased average life EXPECTANCY]

    Pec: “You are defining “modern medicine” as an understanding of sanitation, diet and exercise, so your comment is not really a response to what I was trying to explain.”

    I said that to AVOID debate on that subject because you all have already had it out. And I wasn’t TRYING to respond to that part of what you were saying. I was just adding that life expectancy and life span are two completely different things and that changes in them have different causes. Adhering to these definitions would allow everyone to phrase their arguments more clearly, and yet you completely ignored my point.

  96. Karl Withakay says:

    pec,
    Not to introduce a false dichotomy, but I personally can only see 2 possibilities here: You are either genuinely unable to distinguish reality from metaphor, or you are lying about being afraid.

    NOBODY threatened to kill you or do you physical bodily harm unless you believe in the metaphysical/ paranormal ability of someone to “reach through the ether”. Nobody stated they felt like killing you, that is a position you invented to further your persecution complex and better sell it to anyone who would listen.

    >>> “I have a strong urge to reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4″
    >>> “I will reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4. More than once”

    I dare say that nobody, probably not even yourself, took these statements as literal intention to do actual physical harm. You have done what you do with most other statements you reply to here, you have distorted and exaggerated a statement to lend support to your personal position, in this case that the posters here are crazed by politics and evil, and out to get you

    I personally wouldn’t have made statements like that. I understand what the writer intended, I understand the underlying feelings that the writer was trying to convey, and I certainly understand the writer was not threatening you in any way, but I would have found a different way to phrase the expression of my frustration with you.

    If you still maintain that you take those statements as a legitimate, serious threat, you need help. You either need to contact the authorities, or you need to see a psychiatrist:

    !!!Anyone who legitimately feels their life has been seriously threatened is a fool if they do not contact the authorities!!!

  97. pec says:

    >>> “I have a strong urge to reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4″
    >>> “I will reach through the ether and whack you upside the head with a 2×4. More than once”

    You can go on making excuses for your team mate, but if you think those aren’t expressions of violent impulses then you must be from some other world.

    “You either need to contact the authorities, or you need to see a psychiatrist:”

    And you need to go stick your head in a pig. And I mean that literally, not metaphorically. And I am done with this insult fest.

  98. pec says:

    “and yet you completely ignored my point.”

    Oh christie, big deal, I didn’t get your point. Sue me.

  99. Karl Withakay says:

    “And you need to go stick your head in a pig. And I mean that literally, not metaphorically. And I am done with this insult fest.”

    My red badge of courage! A direct condemnation from pec, I hardly feel worthy, given the lofty posters and bloggers who share this honor. I’d like to thank my parents, James Randi, Dr Gorski…….

    I feel scared that pec is going to come shove a pig over my head, which could lead to suffication and death! I maintain that she is crazed by politics and evil, and out to get me.
    ——————————————————————————
    By the way, pec, at NO TIME did I ever make excuses for “my team mate”. I believe I even implied I did not agree with his choice of words.

    And, one last time, put up or shut up: You either need to contact the authorities, see a psychiatrist, or just shut up on this topic.

    If you really believe your life was threatened, you are a total and complete idiot if you do not go to the authorities, period.

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