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:
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.” (more…)
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.
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.
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…)
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.)
This post is a wee bit of a cheat in that it is a rewrite of a Quackcast, but I have three lectures and board certification in the near future, so sometimes you have to cook the wolf.
What does that mean: boost the immune system? Most people apparently think that the immune system is like a muscle, and by working it, giving it supplements and vitamins, the immune system will become stronger. Bigger. More impressive, bulging like Mr. Universe’s bicep. That’s the body part I am thinking about. What they are boosting is vague, on par with chi/qi or innate intelligence. They never really say what is being boosted.
The other popular phrase is “support”. A product supports prostate health, or breast health or supports the immune system. It sounds like the immune system is sagging against gravity due to age and needs a lift.
The immune system, if you are otherwise healthy, cannot be boosted, and doing those things you learned in Kindergarten health (reasonable diet, exercise and sleep), will provide the immune system all the boosting or support it needs. (more…)
One of the common themes regarding alternative medicine is the reversal of normal scientific thinking. In science, we must generally accept that we will fail to validate many of our hypotheses. Each of these failures moves us closer to the truth. In alternative medicine, hypotheses function more as fixed beliefs, and there is no study that can invalidate them. No matter how many times a hypothesis fails, the worst that happens is a call for more research.
Sometimes this is the sinister and cynical intent of an alternative practitioner—refuse to let go of a belief or risk having to learn real medicine. Often, though, there are flaws in our way of thinking about data that interfere with our ability to understand them.
As you can see, Science-Based Medicine is now back online and fully functional. We have moved to a new host and a faster dedicated server. It seems that our problem was just that we outgrew our previous host.
Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience. We will now resume our usual schedule of postings.
As many of you have probably noticed, the science-based medicine site has been having connection problems for the last week, and was in fact down for most of Friday. We are actively working on the problem and hopefully will have it fixed soon. The site is functioning now, but remains very slow.
Thanks for your patience, and sorry for any inconvenience.
Last week I discussed the dismal results of the “Gonzalez Trial” for cancer of the pancreas,* as reported in an article recently posted on the website of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. I promised that this week I’d discuss “troubling information, both stated and unstated [in the report],” and also some ethical issues. More has come to light in the past few days, including Nicholas Gonzalez’s own voluminous, angry response to the JCO article. I’ll comment upon that below, but first a brief review.
The trial was begun in 1999 under the auspices of Columbia University, after Rep. Dan Burton had pressured NCI Director Richard Klausner to fund it. It was originally conceived as a randomized, controlled trial comparing the “Gonzalez Regimen” to standard chemotherapy for cancer of the pancreas. In the first year, however, only 2 subjects had been accrued, purportedly because those seeking Gonzalez’s treatment were not willing to risk random assignment to the chemotherapy arm. In 2000, the protocol was changed to a “prospective, cohort study” to allow potential subjects to choose which treatment they would follow. Gonzalez himself was to provide the ‘enzyme’ treatments.
After that there was little public information about the trial for several years, other than a few determination letters from the Office of Human Research Protections and a frightening account of the experience of one subject treated by Gonzalez. By 2006 or so, those of us who pay attention to creeping pseudomedicine in the academy were wondering what had become of it. About a year ago we found out: the trial had been quietly “terminated” in 2005 after it met “pre-determined stopping criteria.” As explained here, that meant that the Gonzalez group had not fared well.
Four years after the trial’s ‘termination,’ the report was finally published: The Gonzalez cohort had not only fared much worse than the cohort that received chemotherapy, but it had fared worse than a comparable group of historical controls. Here, again, is the survival graph from the JCO paper:
The Gonzalez group had also fared much worse in ‘quality of life’ scores, which included a measure of pain.
Now let’s read between the lines. Forgive me for taking shortcuts; I’m a little pressed for time. (more…)